History is our Opportunity: An open letter to Chicagoans and supporters of Reparations
In 2019, the city of Chicago made history by electing Lori Lightfoot mayor. But it was not the only time in recent memory. In 2015, the City Council passed Chicago’s historic reparations legislation, thereby marking the first time that a U.S. municipality authorized an ordinance or resolution addressing racially-motivated police violence. As a critical and explicit component of that ordinance, the City pledged to create a memorial to and for the survivors, as well as their families and communities, who endured and survived police torture under the reign of disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. We, the undersigned, call for the City of Chicago to fulfill its commitment to fund the public memorial honoring those harmed and haunted by these horrific crimes.
We hail from many walks of life: we are police torture survivors, civic leaders, artists and cultural workers, members of the legal profession, philanthropists, designers, curators, writers, educators, historians, students, healers, counselors, therapists, community organizers, and Chicagoans. Many of us are activists who have been involved in the struggle against racism and for human rights in this city for years, some of us for three generations.
We stand with Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) who—along with their partners at Arts + Public Life, the Chicago Torture Justice Center, and many, many other organizations and individuals—has worked side-by-side with police torture survivors and affected communities to enact a deep community process to realize the promised memorial. This process includes: conducting community surveys and meetings to gather data about community wishes regarding what the memorial can and should do; identifying artists and commissioning proposals; visiting artist studios; curating exhibitions; organizing lectures and artist talks; researching potential sites; and convening a jury composed of survivors and stakeholders from every level of engagement who chose “Breath, Form & Freedom” by Patricia Nguyen and John Lee, a memorial and gathering space to be built on the south side of Chicago.
This memorial will honor the police torture survivors and their resilience, as well as the struggle for justice they waged with family members and local activists. It will also guarantee that this terrible history is not erased from our collective memory. 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 positive change and repair systematic harm.
We applaud Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to racial equity and respect her desire to alleviate people’s harm and suffering through a city-wide reconciliation process. We believe this memorial will serve as a concrete, visible representation of restorative justice, collective healing from long-standing legacies of racism, and a reminder of our city’s commitment to create a more just future for all Chicagoans.
We know the City Council shares our vision for a just Chicago and we ask them to provide the necessary funds for the memorial.
Ben Austen, Journalist
Howard Brookin, Alderman, 21st Ward, City of Chicago
Stuart Chanen, Partner, Chanen & Olstein, Advisory Board Member of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
Debbie Chizewer, Board Chair, Shriver Center on Poverty Law
Cathy Cohen, David and Mary Winton Green Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago
Karen Daniel, Director Emerita, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
Dr. Eve L. Ewing, Assistant Professor, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Director, Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, The City University of New York
Adam Green, Associate Professor, American History and the College, University of Chicago
Reverend Marshall Hatch, Senior Pastor, New Mount Pilgrim Church
Tempestt Hazel, Arts Program Officer, The Field Foundation
Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International, USA
Mary Jane Jacob, Director, Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Brandon Johnson, Cook County Board Commissioner, 1st District
Jamie Kalven, Founder of the Invisible Institute
Mariame Kaba, Executive Director, Project NIA
Barbara Koenen, Founder and Executive Director, Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx)
Lisa Yun Lee, Executive Director, National Public Housing Museum
Khalil Gibran Muhammad , Professor, History, Race and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Sara Paretsky, Author
Angelique Power, President, The Field Foundation
Jane Ramsey, President, Just Ventures
Barbara Ransby, Professor of History, Gender and Women’s Studies and African American Studies, UIC
Don Rose, Columnist and Consultant
Jennifer Scott, Director and Chief Curator, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
Dick Simpson, Former Alderman, 44th Ward, City of Chicago
Elissa Tenny, President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Elizabeth Todd Breland, Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois, Chicago
Andre Vasquez, Alderman, 40th Ward, City of Chicago
Amanda Williams, Artist
Eric Williams, Owner, The Silver Room
*Organizational Affiliations are listed for identification purposes