By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — One of the most shameful chapters in the story of Chicago is about to be taught to students all over the city.
On Monday, the Chicago Public Schools announced that a pilot program launched last year in which students are taught about a police torture scandal that has dogged the city and the police department. The episode will now be part of the curriculum for every 8th grader and high school freshman in the nation’s third-largest school district.
“Only by facing history directly and honestly can we heighten understanding of this dark chapter and increase our ability to confront its challenges,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
Monday’s announcement comes more than two years after the City Council approved an ordinance that called for the city to pay $5.5 million in reparations to the African-American victims of torture at the hands of former Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives. That adds to the more than $100 million the city has paid victims, some of whom spent decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, over lawsuits related to the scandal.
As part of financial settlement with some of more than 100 people tortured by Burge and his so-called “Midnight Crew” of detectives, the ordinance also included a formal apology from the City Council, psychological counseling and other benefits such as free tuition at city community colleges and other measures as well as the commitment to teach students about the torture in schools.
The reparations are part of a larger effort to regain public trust in the department that eroded over the years, in large part because of stories about how Burge and his detectives shocked black suspects with cattle prods or beat them with phone books until they gave false confessions in the 1970s until the early 1990s.
The distribution of the $5.5 million early last year at the time the city was trying to heal the wounds of another incident: the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer who fired 16 shots into the body of the teen. The incident was caught on dash cam video.
The students will learn about the torture that devastated lives and tore families apart — and will hear from the victims themselves about what they and their families endured. Students will also learn about the failures of the police department and other officials that allowed the torture to go on for years as well as efforts by community groups and others that ultimately helped win the release of torture victims from prison.