From Jon Burge to Death Row

Revolutionary Worker #976, October 4, 1998

For more than a decade, during the '70s and '80s, Lt. Jon Burge of the Chicago Police Department ran a torture chamber at the Area 2 and Area 3 police stations. Burge is by no means the only brutal police officer in the city--but through public exposure he has become one of the most notorious. In 40 documented cases of torture, Burge and his subordinates extracted "confessions" from people held in custody. Their methods included suffocation with typewriter covers, use of cattle prods, electric shocks, beatings and "Russian Roulette." After years of protest and public exposure, Burge was finally removed from the force in 1993. His "punishment"? He is allowed to live his retirement years on a comfortable government pension. His subordinates remain unpunished and have continued where he left off.

On the morning of September 12, a protest in support of the Death Row 10 brought the Burge legacy right to the doorsteps of the Chicago police headquarters. The Death Row 10 are Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Stanley Howard, Ronald Kitchen, Leroy Orange, Leonard Kidd, Andrew Maxwell, Frank Bounds, Reginald Mahaffey, and Jerry Mahaffey. These men were convicted and sentenced to death--in part or solely based on "confessions" extracted by police torture under Burge's watch.

The protest was called by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Many of the 60 people at the protest had been directly touched by the crimes committed by Burge and his men. Speakers included family members of the Death Row 10, a lawyer for one death row inmate, and representatives from Mother's Against Injustice, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, October 22nd Coalition and International Socialist Organization.

Jeanette Johnson, mother of Stanley Howard, was one of the family members who spoke at the protest. Months before her son's arrest in 1983, Jeanette received a visit from the police. They were searching for Stanley and said they would "jam him" when they caught him. They kept their word. In custody, Stanley was beaten and suffocated by police with a typewriter cover. His only prior conviction was for driving without a license. After his forced "confession," he found himself accused of being at the center of a crime spree. He was charged and convicted of robbing two cops, raping a 64-year-old woman and killing a man.

Fifteen years of injustice have hardened Jeanette's views about the police. "I'm thinking the police supposed to serve and protect you," she told the RW. "Now I couldn't care if they all dead. That's the attitude I have now. Don't know which one is good, which one is bad."

Louva Bell remembers the phone call she got from her son Ron Kitchen after he was arrested in 1988 as a suspect in a multiple homicide. "My child is steady screaming and hollering, telling me, `They're gonna kill me up in here, somebody come and get me out of here.'" Louva said that the police were angry because they had not been able to nail Ronald on drug charges, and now they had a chance to get their revenge. Ronald was beaten with fists and phone books and kicked repeatedly in the groin by Burge and his men. The torture left his testicles swollen and bloody. At court time his medical records were never introduced. The doctor and jail guards who witnessed his condition were never called to testify. The "confession" was never challenged. Ronald was convicted and sentenced to death. His case is currently on appeal.

Martha Maxwell talked of her brother Drew, who "confessed" in 1986 after beatings and suffocations at Area 2. Joanne Patterson announced a clemency hearing in December for her son Aaron, who was convicted after his torture by suffocation and threats with a gun in Area 2. After more than a decade on death row, Aaron will have a mere 20 minutes to argue for his life in front of a panel of judges.

Many people at the rally pointed out that the brutality carried out by Burge is not a matter of crimes past--there is an ongoing pattern that continues to this day. Maxine Franklin's son Jerry Gillespie signed a statement after being beaten, kicked, slapped and choked during 30 hours of police interrogation. Even though Maxine received a letter from the city's Office of Professional Standards acknowledging the abuse, her son was still convicted of a murder he had no part in. "A lot of people on my kid's report is the same officers [connected with] Burge. They haven't did anything with them, and they're still doing the same thing they did 15, 16 years ago."

The same point was emphasized by Susan Ester as she called on people to take action. Susan's son Andre is currently serving 21 years because of a "confession" coerced by police officers. "We need to deal with the fact that for almost two decades now, we have been dealing with Jon Burge issues. Jon Burge did torture people in Area 2, and he had people that worked under him in Area 2. And from the '70s to the '90s, some of these officers have transfered to other police districts, and some have become lawyers and judges. There's something wrong with our system. What the system is saying is, it is OK to beat our people, make them sign false confessions, convict them of the charges, keep them incarcerated. And then these guys and ladies step on to become lawyers, judges, and state's attorneys. We as a community, all communities, need to band together, start coming against these people that in fact violate us. And we need to be angry enough to start marching in the streets and doing something."

From inside death row, Stanley Howard had this message to those on the outside: "We cannot do this ourselves. Without all of you we only have half a chance. It's then up to you. It's really up to the people out here. You've taken the time to rally on our behalf--the courts have turned their backs --to force them to listen to us. Me, I'll work for justice in here. You, you work for justice out there. If not, these people are actually gonna kill us. It's gonna be a party, or it's gonna be a funeral. It's that simple."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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