Lab Director Alice Kim on Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases

Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice 

Six years have passed since the city of Chicago passed historic reparations legislation providing redress to Jon Burge torture survivors. Since then, the Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC) has opened its doors to survivors of Burge torture and all who have been impacted by police violence. It has become a sanctuary, an organizing space—a second home to Chicagoans like Gregory Banks, a Learning Fellow at CTJC who now teaches “Boxing as Healing” to community members. Other components of the reparations package included a $5.5 million fund disbursed to torture survivors; a curriculum taught to all 8th- and 10th-graders in the Chicago Public Schools about the systemic torture carried out by disgraced former commander Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” of white detectives, and the struggles for justice in the Chicago police torture cases; a public apology from the city of Chicago; and free tuition at Chicago’s community colleges for survivors and their family members. 

The only component of the reparations package that has yet to be realized is a permanent public memorial to the survivors of Jon Burge police torture. To demand that Mayor Lori Lightfoot honor the city’s commitment to fund this memorial, police torture survivors gathered at Daley Plaza last week, holding flags bearing the names of survivors and the dates they were tortured. This gathering was one of a series of events organized this month by the Chicago Torture Justice Center and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials to commemorate the six-year anniversay of Chicago’s reparations package. You can see recordings of past events and announcements of upcoming events featuring a range of voices from the struggles for justice over the last four decades here. Many of these voices were guest speakers in the course I taught last quarter, “Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases.” 

I have worked for justice in the Burge torture cases in various capacities for over two decades. One of the most enduring lessons I have learned is that getting proximate to the lived experiences of people who have have survived torture and incarceration, as well as those who are actively working to change systems and build freedom, can be transformational in our journeys to understanding and making a more just and humane world. Embracing what I call a solidarity-centered pedagogical practice, our class met over Zoom twice a week to learn about and wrestle with Chicago’s legacy of torture.

We learned about the trauma of torture and the will to fight for justice from Ronald Kitchen, LaTanya Jenifor Sublet, Anthony Holmes, Greg Banks, and Mark Clements, all of whom were gracious enough to share their stories with us—and meet with students individually to be interviewed for students’ final projects. We read John Conroy’s groundbreaking story “The House of Screams,” published in 1991 by the Chicago Reader. We watched the documentary “The End of the Nightstick” and met with key activists and lawyers featured in the film including Jeff Haas, Mariel Nanasi, and Kai Barrow. We read writings by People’s Law Office attorney-activists Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, and talked with them about the battles for justice in the courtroom and the streets. And at the end of the quarter, when students presented their final projects, I was astonished and inspired by the creativity and critical analyses reflected in their work. I’m sharing some of these projects here as a testament to the practice of “reimagining justice.”

The Living Breathing Story: A Memorial of Faces
Lena Diasti, AB’23 (Common Year) 

“Memorials represent a part of our society’s social memory. In my work, I hope to create an experience where people can come and be immersed in a living, breathing story, an archive that has voice and life.” 

The Chicago Torture Justice Center: Its History and Role in Community Healing 
Julian Gonzalez, AB’22 (Global Studies) 

“There is no one set criteria for how the Center operates. It will take on a political identity, address a person’s spiritual health, and also stand with people as they struggle for justice. The personal testimonies of Gregory Banks, Learning Fellow and torture survivor, and Dorothy Holmes, community organizer and mother of Ronnieman, show just how much the Center’s work means to people.”

The C Word: What is Crime and How Does It Relate to Police, Prisons and Abolition
Cheryl Hao, AB’22 (Sociology)

“‘Crime’ is a word that we see daily, often politicized and mobilized by fear of it, fear of crime-ful areas and fear of people who commit crime. This political construction of crime often clouds our understanding and ability to address what real crime looks like. I hope this zine serves as a tool to unlearn this political construction of ‘crime.’” 

Reparations Now Podcast 
Chase Leito, AB’22 (Sociology)

“Welcome to this week’s episode of Reparations Now where we re-examine successful cases of reparations and discuss the important lessons we can learn from them: how each case can reimagine what justice looks like and most importantly how we can address and prevent the harm caused by the carceral system. I’m your host, Chase Leito…” 

Refusal to Forget: Memorialization and the Burge Torture Cases 
William Trlak, AB’22 (Comparative Literature)

“The history of police violence in Chicago cannot be confined to one single site; violence at the hands of the Chicago Police Department permeates the city. Following the lead of The Community Remembrance Project, this photo essay is concerned with the ways that the histories of police violence are dishonored in the living archive that is the City of Chicago.”

Chicago’s “Reparations Won” Curriculum: Changing Everything, One Lesson at a Time 
Lily Zheng, AB’22 (Public Policy)

“In 2015, the Reparations Won curriculum was codified into law in the first municipal reparations package for survivors of police violence. As a revolutionary curriculum, Reparations Won and its implementation has implications for other municipalities and governments’ reparations efforts and contains lessons for activists, educators, and all of those seeking an end to the carceral system.” 

Last month, we welcomed the news that torture survivor Gerald Reed was released. UChicago alum Britt Dorton, who has actively supported Gerald Reed since she first learned about his case in class, offers her reflections on Gerald’s hard fight for freedom with this essay. 

Solidarity Is Showing Up
Britt Dorton, AB’20 (Comparative Human Development, Human Rights) 

“The simple act of showing up is powerful. It is solidarity. It is love. It may not be justice, but in a world full of so much injustice, showing up to provide support is a radical form of direct action. We all have a part to play in the fight for justice, and it begins by just showing up. I know this is only the beginning of Elijah’s story, and of the work that he and Armanda are both committed to doing on behalf of other survivors and incarcerated folks. It has been a privilege to bear witness to their journey and to have played some small part in this fight. They taught me that if we care about justice, we must care for each other. We must show up for our community because it is care that leads to change, and it is care that reminds us what this work is all about.”