Joe Moreno Demands Accountability
Chicago made history this May, thanks to our DMO of the Month. Between 1972 and 1991, Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates used beatings, suffocation, and electrical shocks during interrogations with over 100 suspects, most of whom were African-American. This month, the Chicago City Council voted unanimously to create a historic reparations fund for the victims of this torture. Cities face a perceived lack of legitimacy when it comes to dealing with criminal officers. Community members often associate police misconduct with the local government, and feel as though no one in power represents their interests. Our DMO of the Month for June is Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, who championed the reparations ordinance and showed that his city takes police abuse seriously.
The Atlantic provides further background for why victims of torture felt abandoned by the city, and why it took until 2015 for this kind of official response:
Despite widespread accusations of torture, Richard M. Daley, then the Cook County State's Attorney and later Mayor of Chicago, did not investigate Burge and continued to use confessions elicited by torture to make convictions.
The statute of limitations for most of Burge’s alleged criminal acts ran out long ago, but prosecutors were still able to charge him with perjury because he had lied under oath about his acts of torture during a civil case. Though Burge was convicted in 2006, he was released in October after serving less than four years in prison, and a police board determined that he could retain his pension. Meanwhile, most of those Burge tortured have received no compensation. At least nineteen people who were convicted on the basis of confessions elicited with torture remain in prison.
When an individual experiences police abuse it can seem like the entire system is stacked against them. In their understanding, no police officer is going to turn on one of their own if you report the crime, and illegal law enforcement tactics have at least the tacit approval of the city. It is essential to disprove this narrative that so many people have formed over their lifetimes.
Alderman Moreno co-sponsored the reparations ordinance with Alderman Howard Brookins to address these acts of torture, with DMO President Emeritus Joe Moore playing a key role in shepherding the legislation. Support for the bill came from Mayor Emanuel's office in addition to the City Council, presenting a clear message that the city intends to move forward from this dark chapter, not by sweeping it under the rug, but by making good on past failures. The ordinance went much further than officially acknowledging that torture did occur. Hallmarks of the bill include
• A $5.5 million reparations fund, which will provide up to $100,000 for each torture victim.
• Calling on Chicago Public Schools to include a history lesson on the torture in their curriculum.
• Support of public memorials that recognize the struggles of those who were tortured and fought for justice.
• A formal apology to the victims, their families, and affected communities on behalf of the city.
• The establishment and funding of a center to provide psychological counseling, health care services, and vocational training to survivors.
• A recommendation that the city's Corporation Counsel take whatever legal steps are available to strip Jon Burge of his policeman’s pension.
These reparations are a proactive declaration that Chicago’s elected officials will not tolerate the actions of officers like Burge and his men. While the city has already spent $100 million on court costs and settlements, a reparations fund saves up to 80 of the victims from the lengthy and expensive litigation process that would otherwise be necessary for remuneration. More than a simple apology, by passing this ordinance Moreno has taken a terrible liability for the city and used it to take a stand against police abuse.
Alderman Moreno’s work calling for reparations displays a rare kind of character: the willingness to shine light on shameful truths rather than hope they won’t draw attention. Some elected officials believe they can skirt by on deniability. But what truly matters to the public is accountability. This month, Alderman Joe Moreno and the Chicago City Council voted unanimously to show that they know which is more important. DMO is proud to name Alderman Moreno our DMO of the Month for June.
Proco Joe Moreno began serving Chicago’s 1st Ward in 2010. A graduate of Augustana College, he worked at a union printing company before attending DePaul for his M.B.A. He participates in the CAPS community policing program. Alderman Moreno was recently tapped for the Chicago task force on paid leave, and submitted an earned sick time ordinance that would allow every worker in the city to bank one hour of leave for every 30 hours on the job.