Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) condemns the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and too many other Black people who have been killed by the police in the U.S.
We share our condolences with their families, loved ones, and the Black communities who have suffered these devastating losses. We support the hundreds of thousands of people in Chicago, across the U.S. and around the world expressing outrage about these murders and the unrelenting anti-Black racism that propels this law enforcement violence. We also denounce the violence we are witnessing inflicted on protestors by police officers in the midst of these righteous demonstrations.
Many of us have been reflecting on the long history of entrenched, systemic anti-Black racism that has brought us to the moment we are in today. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently shared her own belief that the murder of George Floyd evoked a long history of violence against Black people by law enforcement officials in Chicago, including the 125 Black men and women who were tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command from 1972 to 1991.
In response to Burge’s reign of terror, torture survivors and others struggled for justice for decades, culminating in a successful organizing campaign which secured the passage of unprecedented reparations legislation for the Burge torture survivors, their family members and affected Black communities in Chicago’s City Council on May 6, 2015.
The City of Chicago made history by becoming the first municipality in the U.S. to pass legislation to address racially-motivated police violence. Over the past five years, CTJM and others have worked tirelessly with City officials to implement the reparations legislation. The legislation provided holistic redress which included: an official apology; monetary compensation; the creation of the Chicago Torture Justice Center; a history curriculum about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public Schools (“Reparations Won”); free enrollment in Chicago City Colleges; and the creation of a public memorial for the Burge torture survivors. The one component of this legislation that has yet to be fulfilled is the creation of the permanent public memorial.
A design for the memorial, entitled Breath, Form and Freedom, has been selected by a jury of torture survivors and community members. CTJM is working toward securing a location on the South Side of Chicago for the memorial.
CTJM demanded the memorial be included as part of the reparations legislation to ensure that this chapter of racially motivated state violence is not erased from public memory by inscribing it onto the landscape of Chicago. The memorial is a testament to the survivors, their families and communities who persevered and struggled for justice as they grappled with their unrelenting trauma. Like memorials in South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Germany, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, Chicago’s memorial will show the nation and the world how public art can bear witness to the ugly truth of our past and how people can come together collectively to seek change and repair systematic harm. It will serve as a call to action that connects the past with the current struggles to end racist police violence and systemic racism.
With the recognition that monuments and memorials are essential tools of public acknowledgement and education, cities across the U.S. including Philadelphia, Alexandria, and Richmond have recently committed to removing racist monuments and memorials. The City of Chicago needs more permanent symbols of justice and peace.
The City of Chicago, when promising to build the Burge torture justice memorial, appropriately acknowledged that “education about the transgressions of the past is essential to laying claim to a future that is free of racism, discrimination, inequality and cruelty.” CTJM wholeheartedly agrees.
CTJM demands that Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago’s City Council publicly commit to building the memorial for the Burge torture survivors and devote on-going funding the the Chicago Tortue Justice Center. The Mayor’s Arts & Culture Transition Team recommended Mayor Lightfoot fund the memorial as soon as possible. A widely circulated petition now includes thousands of names from across the country in support of the memorial.
By building the public memorial for the Burge torture survivors, the City of Chicago will make history and demonstrate true leadership in condemning racially-motivated police violence.
You can join us in demanding that Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago’s City of Council publicly commit to building the Burge torture justice memorial by signing CTJM’s petition. You can also help build this memorial by donating to the financial costs of this memorial, doing so here.