Black People Against Police Torture
"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.
I am changing the things I cannot accept."
- Angela Davis
As is widely reported, Willis, through his law practice at the Law Office of Standish E. Willis and as Chicago chapter chair of The National Conference of Black Lawyers, founded Black People Against Police Torture to center the ideas and concerns present at the grassroots level in the African-American community. He emphasized the essential need for the movement to demand legal recourse for torture and to reflect the faces, voices, and leadership of those victimized by the police and the system, which necessarily included the families of the survivors and the community. The importance of empowerment, agency, and consistent leadership roles by Black people - including those directly and indirectly impacted -leading the decision-making and at the table from the outset is key. That is what empowers the impacted community, begins the healing, and is a crucial part of reparation. The following discussion provides highlights and key accomplishments of Willis and BPAPT with important additions to published historical accounts and timelines.
In a culture of torture where Burge was fired with a lucrative pension for "mistreating" a suspect, BPAPT and The National Conference of Black Lawyers were the first to consistently frame the brutality as torture of the nature condemned in the international arena. Willis was the first to raise the human rights framework and led the movement to redefine Chicago Police Torture as a human rights crime transcending civil rights legal redress. Many more firsts continued to follow; for example, BPAPT was the first to oppose Chicago's Olympics bid, labeling the city as the "Torture Capital" of the U.S. We were *244 also the first to call for reparations and articulate the multiple holistic forms that those reparations should ideally take. Many of those are in process today at various levels, and BPAPT members, mothers, families, and most importantly, the survivors physically, mentally, and emotionally tortured by Burge and detectives he trained have continued to work for justice in the Chicago police torture saga, which remains unresolved.
Attorney Willis first organized a coalition of attorneys, educators, activists, legislators and former victims to testify at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C to reach beyond the local remedies and the special prosecutor who was stonewalling and letting the statute of limitations run out. This international forum is located in the nations' capitol, and thus was more accessible than Geneva as a first step toward internationalizing this issue. It was clear from the US Attorney's presence that the testimony of torture victim David Bates, attorneys, educators and others were getting attention.
Black People Against Police Torture formally emerged early in 2006, out of the significant community response for regular information and updates that Willis provided in his organizing work around the torture issue as early as 2004 and throughout 2005. This work included hosting many Town Hall meetings and teach-ins throughout 2005 to inform the Black community about the torture cases, human rights versus civil rights legal remedies, the implications of the Special Prosecutors' report delays and ultimately its findings. In discussing the international human rights strategy, through countless media interviews and community fora, Willis taught the components and methodology of developing a stakeholder's report, participated in periodic review and testimony opportunities and processes, and supported the first report to the United Nations' Committee Against Torture ("CAT"). He was unable to be released from an appellate court commitment in order to make this first trip to Geneva *245 himself, but did so at the next opportunity. The concluding observations reflected much of the language and call for justice envisioned by the human rights strategic work that began right here at home, in the Black community. A good start, but the work was far from done.
BPAPT co-chairs Professor Pat Hill, retired Chicago police officer and former head of the African American Police League ("Afro-American Patrolmen's' League"), Attorney (Ret.) Larry Kennon, journalist Delores McCain, Professor Dorothy Burge and her husband and daughter, Willis, Casanova-Willis and many others across all walks of life, generated ideas and actions that continue to be pursued and emulated. Most importantly their work changed the game in the Chicago Police Torture cases after decades of little substantive progress for the victims, families, and community. We brought the UN Rapporteur on Race to Chicago to investigate racism in the city's policing and torture tactics, and hosted the famed 1968 Olympian John Carlos here to stand with us in condemning the idea that a city that tortures should be rewarded with a contract to host the Olympics. Hill delivered hundreds of thousands of names on a petition to the Olympic Committee in Utah and traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to represent Black People Against Police Torture in raising these issues. The regular meetings continued, engaging the community in leading creative solutions.
In 2008, Attorney Willis authored and filed a report with the UN and traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to once again present evidence of Chicago Police Torture. Willis testified in Geneva, Switzerland before the CERD Committee, the Committee to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Burge was finally indicted a few months later. Willis convened a *246 group to share ideas with the Department of Justice on how Burge could in fact be prosecuted despite the statute of limitations issues, again underscoring the impact of creative lawyering to demand justice. Comparing our report with the recommendations of the Concluding Observations is very enlightening, as they clearly are informed by the direct input from the Black community, thousands of miles away in Chicago, utilizing the international human rights framework via grassroots organizing by BPAPT.
It stands to reason that the affected community, empowered to lead the ideation and action for justice in issues directly impacting them, would devise solutions that did not previously occur to others supporting, but not living in the struggle on a daily basis. This surely explains why BPAPT was also the first to articulate the need for wide-ranging repair, calling for Reparations and outlining detailed components in the first draft of a sample Reparations Ordinance shared with the community and coalitions in 2007. The proposed reparations as envisioned by BPAPT include not just funds, but holistic reparations consistent with international human rights standards. BPAPT's ideas included compensation and the following: (a) a center for therapy and other healing services to treat domestic torture survivors; (b) curriculum in the Chicago schools, in the spirit of teaching the truth about history to ensure that no one will ever forget, nor repeat such horrific circumstances; (c) services for formerly incarcerated victims and their families (education, job training, work); and importantly (d) freedom for those still incarcerated Torture victims.
In another precedent-setting move by the dedicated community group, we brainstormed ways to affect legislation since existing law seemed bound to punishing the innocent and protecting the criminal police actions. BPAPT proposed state legislation to create a commission with power to hear Burge et al., torture cases and to free or grant new trials to those who had no other recourse. Regular meetings concerning the legislation continued at the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, and BPAPT took busloads of community members to Springfield, Illinois to advocate for the Bill. After months of organizing, educating, meeting, and lobbying, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Act ("TIRC") was passed in 2009 and finally signed into law by then Gov. Quinn on August 10, 2010 - the last day before it would have taken effect automatically. The TIRC was conceived, written, and advocated for by a grassroots community group from the Black community, which was incensed at the treatment of their brothers and families, in solidarity with the mothers and children of those tortured, murdered, or incarcerated by a corrupt system of law enforcement that required new tactics and courageous action. No other community group has done anything like this in the Police Torture cases, and several Burge et al victims have won relief as a result of the legislation.
This Torture Inquiry and Relief (TIRC) law, drafted by Attorney Stan Willis on behalf of BPAPT and sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, created a Commission to review torture claims and created a process to provide new options for hearing, release, and compensation for those still-incarcerated torture victims who had no other legal recourse under current law. Importantly, the TIRC Commission was specifically designed to include civilian members so as to empower the affected community in resolving and repairing the damage from Chicago Police Torture. Unfortunately, the status quo seen in decades *248 of protecting brutal police at all costs continued in the form of consistent efforts to undermine the Torture Commission. Tactics included stalling, defunding, refusing to appoint or replace commissioners in a timely fashion, attacking the original chairperson and generally destabilizing the unique community solution, which offered the only way out of prison to dozens of Burge Torture victims.
Without question, evidence of institutionalized racism, which permeates the Chicago Police Torture saga, has been evident in the handling of the Torture Commission. That fact notwithstanding, BPAPT organized for it, fought for it, and won it, nonetheless, which speaks volumes about the vision, tenacity, collaboration and agency of community members confronted with injustice and indifference to the suffering of their own people. This specific victory is likely a unique accomplishment in U. S. legislative history. The lesson is that we did not turn a blind eye to the suffering of our brothers so abused by those hired to serve and protect. While the powers that be played with a few large settlements to a small number of mainstream law firms, the people of the community continue to volunteer their ideas and energy to devise creative solutions in the face of continuing injustice.
Where are the creative and courageous minds of BPAPT right now? We are still fighting, still working in our respective areas and consulting together, publicly when needed, on a range of issues as the Chicago police torture story continues to unfold. Two members are no longer living but made significant contributions to this struggle, and, as we see today, their work was not in vain. Willis and BPAPT members continue to advocate, teach, write, and work together and in coalition with others on this torture issue, as justice is not yet served. We salute the Black youth of Chicago and their contributions to the recent wave of energy around the partial reparations package noting that it borrowed much from the Black Lives Matter momentum of last summer. That recent momentum also was bolstered by the UN filing and delegation of We Charge Genocide youth supporting the wrongful tasing death case of Dominique Franklin, whose family is represented by The Law Office of Standish E. *249 Willis. We continue to stand with, and elevate, the courageous torture victims/survivors and especially their mothers, and other family members, who have been equally devastated by psychological and emotional torture at the hands of our insensitive culture of policing.
For decades, the Black community was cheated of the time, talent, presence and contributions of these young boys and men. We will not rest until every one of them is freed, true reparations are provided to make them and all those affected whole, and until the other conspirators in the Burge et al torture conspiracy have been held accountable. Not a single additional police officer in this ring has ever been charged. The prosecutors and judges who failed us all have not been held accountable. As headlines and statistics confirm, the criminal legal system in Chicago and beyond is broken and has done grave harm to the African American community at large. One clear need is to support primary leadership roles of those directly impacted in envisioning and implementing the solutions and repair for these wrongs.
The Law Office of Standish E. Willis, Attorney Willis as a community activist, The National Conference of Black Lawyers, and members of BPAPT continue raise the issue of torture and inhumane treatment of those who remain imprisoned, as well as those who are back with us. The aforementioned continue to file additional stakeholders' reports for International Human Rights Treaties on torture and racism, and other treaties as part of delegations from U.S. citizens exercising their rights to be present and give feedback when *250 the US reports on its human rights record in the international arena. The Willis' most recent 2014 human rights stakeholders report filed with the CAT through the US Human Rights Network, reiterated the need for full reparations, and called for a moratorium on torture in the form of solitary confinement. This reports' signatories elevated the names of nine mothers of those tortured, and dozens of Chicago police torture victims/survivors. As in 2008-2009, the UN's Concluding Observations after the 2014 review again clearly reflected the urging and language of our report. Empowering the affected community to ensure the centrality of our ideas, voices, and unique perspective based on lived experiences is not only correct; it is effective.