Throughout the continuing saga of the Chicago police torture cases, the legal system failed the survivors and community every step of the way. The courts failed to stop Burge and others from torturing Black men and women for decades, or prevent the use of their coerced confessions to obtain wrongful convictions. State and federal prosecutors failed to hold Burge and other detectives fully accountable for their crimes and international human rights violations. The civil legal system was not designed to provide, and therefore incapable of providing, the holistic redress needed by all of those harmed by Burge and his men.

While lawyers and legal workers played an indispensable role in these cases, zealously advocating for their clients and using both the criminal and civil cases to investigate and document the torture practices and those harmed, the courts were not the vehicle that yielded the measure of justice achieved in these cases. Lawyers could not have litigated this to success. It was the power of the people - torture survivors, family members, organizers, activists, lawyers and legal workers - that made this dream into a reality.

The reparations package is not a perfect solution, and it is not a panacea for stopping and redressing racist police violence. But for decades, we have witnessed this perpetual cycle of racist police violence, righteous responses, and then failed prosecutions of killer and torturing police officers. A call for reparations that are expansive in scope and that center the needs of people targeted for police violence may be a new way for us to think about accountability and justice for police brutality in the face of our fatally flawed legal system.


Joey Mogul, a partner at the People's Law Office and Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University College of Law.