Testimonies from a Hearing on the John Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #15 in December 2015]

Following are transcripts of three of the testimonies offered during the City Hall Finance Committee Hearing from April 14, 2015 that discussed the proposed reparations ordinance for survivors of Chicago Police torture ordered by ex-CPD chief John Burge. AREA Chicago strove to transcribe every word and remain faithful to the testimonies as they were given. We acknowledge that these pages contain racially violent language, as the police under Burge’s command are often quoted and specific acts of torture are described, at times in detail. We are grateful to the survivors for sharing these testimonies with the public and for challenging us to hear, to remember, to act.


Anthony Holmes

My name is Anthony Holmes. I was one of the first ones that was tortured by Burge.  In 1973 he came to my house, kicked the doors in, threw me on the floor, put a shotgun to my head, near my neck, and said “Nigger I’m gonna kill you if you don’t be still”. From there he took me to Burnside. He told my family he was taking me to 61st and Racine because I lived in Englewood. But he took me to Burnside, where they tortured me. I don’t know — I can’t say if it was two days or three days because that’s just how messed up I was. He went out of the room, got a brown paper bag, came back in, and in that brown paper bag was a machine with wires on it. It was like a little generator. I was handcuffed behind my back. I had handcuffs on my ankles.  He said “Nigger, don’t you bite this plastic bag”. He put a plastic bag on my head, I bit it. He put another one on my head. I couldn’t bite through that. From now on, it was all about electrocution and the suffocation. There was other police in the room with him, didn’t nobody help me. I figured, you know what I’m saying, I had never seen nothing like this before, I didn’t expect it. But to bring it to a head. He tortured me. I felt like I was dying. He, ah. He got to me. He broke me. I thought needles were going through my body. I was electrocuted. Three or four times I thought I was dead. They brought me back, lifted me up. They forced air into my body. From there they took me outside, put me in the chair of this thing. I had at that time been tortured for three or four hours.

I’m making this kind of short because I know my time is short. For him to do me like that which — I never thought the police would do that. I mean, I’m used to — I ain’t no good guy, I ain’t no bad guy. You know if I do something wrong I expect to get caught in it. That’s understandable. You know, that’s the life we live. But the thing of it is for him to do that — it is hard. You know. I couldn’t believe it. And he didn’t care.  You know what I’m saying?

His problem was, he let me live.  And I came back. And I went to court and testified on him. They couldn’t get him for the torture but they could get him for obstruction of justice and perjury. The jury believed what I told them. The judge believed me. He ended up getting four and a half years. But the sad part about that is all them years I served in the penitentiary didn’t nobody believe what I was telling them.

My lawyer then came to court and verified the fact that I did tell them I had been tortured. But during that time they didn’t want to hear, they didn’t want to accept it.  And then Flynt Taylor came and a lot of stuff started opening up for me because other polices, they been talking about me and told him about me. You’ve got good police, you’ve got bad police. Burge and them were some racist bad police, bottom line. There ain’t nothing that could change that. Nothing could take the pain or the suffering that we went through. Especially me. I can’t speak for other people. I can only speak for me. It ain’t a day that go by that I don’t suffer. But that’s part of the life I got to live. My family, some of them died, some of them didn’t. My kids, I came home to them and they were glad to see me, they came to see me when I was in jail.

But I’m not the only one that’s suffering. I have a grandson who told me, Granddad, I want you to go home and I said, I can’t go, because I have a sentence for something I didn’t do, but I have to wait until the court is cleared. Each year for the time I was in there after ten years, I was going to the parole board and asking them for parole. My auntie came down — she was my favorite person that came to see me, because my mother and father had passed. On my last, in ’03, she died. The parole lady she told me, she said look, I’m going to help you, and she did, and so I’ve been paroled.

But the bottom line is, what I’m here today to say to you all is, them police there, they deserve everything they get. Because they’ve wronged a lot of people. You’ve got some good ones out there that’s suffering because of them. They didn’t like Black police with them. Because a Black officer came in and tried to help me and he was talking with me and I thought they were laughing. But he wasn’t laughing. He was trying to help me out and I didn’t even know it. So when I came home he came up for the hearing. He came up and tried to talk to me I wouldn’t talk to him. I figured, there ain’t no Black police left so why should I talk to him?  But the bottom line is he is the one that told Flint and all of them about me. So. All I can say is, I’m grateful that you’re all finally believing what we’re saying. I’m grateful for that.

It’s hard for me to speak on this. It always has been and it is going to continue to be.  But I try. I just need your all help to understand that what I’m going through and what all the other citizens are going through that survived this. You know I speak for the Step Center all the time. That’s what I speak to the other people about. That was God came into the penitentiary and it became one first step. And through it all I came out and I said to myself, like I tell you about my grandson, he didn’t want to leave me.  And I told him, I said “baby you’ve got to go”. I told him “your father is going to take you home”. I told him “you want him to bring you back to see me again, don’t you,” he said, “yes, Granddad.”  I said “well, you go home with him”, and he did. But that made me realize that I’m not the only one suffering in this. My whole family suffered. And they’ll continue to suffer just like that. And they’ll continue to suffer just like I suffered each day. And each one of us that we’ve been through this, all we got was a look at you and a put you down. We couldn’t even get a job. And that’s what we suffered with.  And that’s what we still go through. But we get the hand — what they call day labor and stuff like that. We try to make it the best we can. But don’t try and feel sorry for me. Understand, I’m going to be alright. But understand that what I’ve been through — I hope nobody will have to go through it again. And I hope that you all will do something about it. And help us. Because we need your help. I thank you.


Dorothy Burge

My name is Dorothy Burge and I am here representing the Chicago Justice Torture Memorials and also Blacks Against Police Torture, an organization that was founded to work to free the Death Row Ten.

What I’d like to say today is this. We want the City Council of Chicago to pass the Reparations Ordinance as a way to help heal what happened to the African-American community after what happened under the reign of Jon Burge and officers who were under his command. We want the City Council to pass the Reparations Ordinance as a way to heal all of the strain that has happened because we as the African-American community were impacted by this torture. It became similar to the process that happens in a lynching in the South, where an act happens and then the whole community is impacted. It’s a way to get a whole community in line and because of that you have to behave very differently as an African-American in the city of Chicago when you’re relating to the police. So as an African-American mother, because of this torture and this police abuse, I have had to interact with my children in a way that other people have not had to interact with their children. I don’t know any African-American mother, and I’m trying not to get emotional about this, who has not had to have this talk with their children about how to behave when you are encountered by the police.

This ordinance is a way to begin to heal. It is not an end all, it is the way of a beginning of a process to begin to heal, to say the city of Chicago has recognized and takes responsibility for the actions that happened here in this city. And not only are we taking responsibility for that, we are moving to help heal and make whole those people who were impacted by this torture. I am here to really talk about the fact that what we are asking for is a restorative justice process. We’re asking for a process where people admit that harm has been done. We ask for a process that not only have you admitted that harm has been done, but you talk about who did the harm and then what should happen to make the people who were harmed whole, and what should happen to make the community who are harmed whole, are the things that we are asking for in this reparations ordinance. We’re asking for a formal apology. We’re asking for education so that our children will understand why this was such an important issue and also the fight that we had to go through in order to get justice.  In terms of education what we’re asking is — and it is my hope that the Chicago Public School System will develop a curriculum that will talk about the history of policing in this country and also in Chicago. And it will give insight into people like Jon Burge. Not only Jon Burge, but people like him, people who came under him, people who came after him. It will provide an overview of the torture cases and it will examine what was Chicago like in 1972 when these tortures began to happen. It will also talk about how the torture continued over the years and what that struggle was to continue to keep this issue in the forefront of people who were concerned about justice. Who was involved in the torture? Who was targeted by the torture? What was the process that led up to the firing of Jon Burge? And who were on both sides of this issue for and against Jon Burge. What was the trial? Who testified at the trial? Why was the trial important? Why was it that he only received a very minimum sentence? What was it about the statute of limitations? The whole fact that we had to go to another country in order to get them to believe us — before we could get the city of Chicago to believe that torture happened in the city — is something that I think young people and future generations should know. We want to talk about the sentencing, we also want to talk about the next steps to ensure that this kind of police torture doesn’t happen again. So in addition to this, we think that everything that we’re asking for is part of this reparations ordinance. We want an official apology. We want counseling. So as you see, people are still be impacted today. Their family members are being impacted. Their grandchildren and children are being impacted. The whole community is being impacted by this torture that was allowed to go on for decades. We want counseling. We want a memorial that says, we recognize that this torture happened and that we are beginning this process of healing. We want financial compensation for the survivors and their families. And we want this to be done in a restorative justice process.

We have not come here talking in your traditional manner about justice. We are here talking about what is the harm that was done to our community. We are talking about who was involved in that harm and now what is needed to begin the healing process so that we can be made whole. Thank you.


Thank you Ms. Burge.  Alderman Mitts did you have a question?

Alderman Mitts:

No I had a comment I wanted to make to you. As a victim, I feel your pain.   And I live your pain. I am a family member of a victim of Jon Burge. So nobody knows the pain that we go through because they wasn’t in those shoes. But let me just say, justice will be done. Because we won’t give up from talking about this. And we’re going to make sure that our community, everyone in our family feel the pain that money can’t even pay for. That will be our everlasting pain. And we want to make sure that don’t happen to anybody else. So I appreciate you expressing your concern.  And I feel the same way. But they don’t feel the same way. Because if you ain’t in our shoes, you don’t know what we’re going through. But I want to know  whatever the council do, it is going to be a step. This has been worked on far too long. We came a long ways and we have been working a long time to get to this day, to put something on the table for these family members who suffered.   […]

Dorothy Burge:

And I appreciate you saying that. And what we are trying to say is, in terms of the restorative justice process, it is key that the survivors have a say in what they want.  And so the survivors have told us that they are happy that this ordinance, and we want this ordinance to pass.


Darrel Cannon

My name is Darrell Cannon and I’m a survivor of having been tortured by three of Jon Burge’s main henchmen. Peter Dignan, John Byrne and Charles Grunhard. Up until November the 2nd 1983, I had a partial idea of how Black people felt in the South when they were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. In my case, I was tortured by the New Wave Klan. The new wave Klan wore badges instead of sheets.

On November 2nd 1983 was a day that will live with me as long as I have breath in my body. Because on that particular day there I found that you can in fact terrorize a man. You can terrorize a man by taking him to an isolated area on the South Side of Chicago around Torrence. Way out there, drive through a pike, onto an isolated area.  Taken out the car, in handcuffs, by three white detectives. During that day, at that site there, they played a game called Russian Roulette on me. The way that they played it, they didn’t play it with a revolver, they played it with a shotgun. They took a shotgun while my hands were cuffed behind my back and while I was standing out there one of the detectives told me, and I quote, “Nigger, look around. Nobody is going to see or hear anything we do to you today.  You can scream all you want but nigger before you leave here you are going to tell us exactly what we want to hear”. They meant business beyond a shadow of a doubt that morning. During that morning, Peter Dignan took a shotgun and showed me a shotgun shell. My hands was cuffed behind my back. He said “Nigger, listen”. And he turned his back to me. And I heard what I thought was the shell being placed in the chamber. And he jacked the shotgun. It was a pump shotgun. And when I turned around, I did not see the shell. So I had to assume that the shell was in the chamber. They said “now nigger, we know what happened, but we want you to tell us though”. And when I told them, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about”, one of the other detectives said, “well go ahead and blow that nigger’s head off”. And he tried to force the shotgun barrel in my mouth.

And I would not voluntarily allow him to do that so he ended up chipping my teeth and splitting my lip and forcing the barrel of the shotgun in my mouth. And all the detectives said, tell us what we want to hear. And again I had to tell them that I had nothing to say to them whatsoever. And that’s when Peter Dignan pulled the trigger.  I heard the click. And they did this three separate times. The third time that I heard that click the hair on the back of my head stood straight up because I honestly thought that he blew my brains out. And when that didn’t work they tried to hang me by my handcuffs, which was cuffed behind my back. They tried to wrench my shoulders, because of the fact that every time he tried to hold me up, because of the fact that Byrne he tried to hold the cuffs in the middle and then let me go. It didn’t work. It didn’t work that morning because there was a fine mist rain and Byrne couldn’t keep his balance on the back of the bumper. So the next thing they did was they put me in the back of the detective car and I remained sideways with my feet on the ground. My cuffs was in front of me and one detective came around the passenger side, back side, and they made me lay down sideways in the detective car, they pulled my pants and shorts down and they took an electric cattle prod. . .



Take your time.


Thank you.

They took an electric cattle prod.  And he turned it on. And he struck me on my genitals. With that cattle prod.  (crying.)

I had never in my life . . . I had never in my life experienced that kind of pain. Then, or since then.

And I’m here to tell you that I looked at their faces. I didn’t keep my eyes closed. I looked at their faces. And believe me, they enjoyed what they were doing. It wasn’t a job. It was just fun. And games. Now I cried not because I hurt. I cry because I’m mad. I’m still mad. Today. Because of what happened to me. And I’ll stay mad. Can’t no one tell me to forgive, forget. Or anything else. Because you do not expect the people that have a badge to treat you in that manner. But again, Darrell Cannon is not the only one that they’ve done this to. And because of that fact, I’ve made it my personal mission to speak about this at every junction, every chance I get. I want the world to know exactly what happened here. Today is a historic day. It’s a historic day is a day because we’re about to do something that has never been done now. In any other city, in the United States. I’m proud to be a part of this. I’m sitting here in City Council. I’m sitting here knowing that no longer will it be swept under the rug, Jon Burge and company. Instead, the Chairman as well as other prestigious Alderman have taken the position that they will right the wrongs that has been done.

I’ve been asked: the monetary gains, is it enough? Without hesitation, no it’s not.  You know that as a human being and as a citizen of Chicago, I know that to get this far is in fact a victory of itself. And then to receive the monetary gains that we will receive is fantastic. And I tell you what I intend to do, whenever you give me a little piece of the money, I’m going to buy me a motorcycle. And I’m going to ride around City Hall one time. I’m going to do a lap. To say hey, thank you, for finally stepping up and doing the right thing. For too long now, this has been an ugly situation in our history and I say it repeatedly and I’ll say it again. I do not condemn all of the Chicago Police Department for what a few bad individuals did. There are some good police officers in the city, beyond a shadow of a doubt. You know, it’s just regrettable that the position that they were in caused them to be a part of the problem. Because of the fact that they did not speak out long before this came about.

When Anthony Holmes was tortured, those police officers that knew about it should have spoke up, and did not. You know it took too long. You know I’m reminded of what Dr. King said: justice too long delayed is justice denied. And that is what has happened to all of us up until now. But you see again, Dr. King said, man can’t ride your back if it ain’t bent. My back ain’t ever been bent. I have always stood straight and I’ll continue to stand straight. For those that are in prison, that will get a chance to see this, can now have some hope, that justice will prevail. That justice has prevailed in this instance.

It is regrettable that it took so long but thanks to everyone together, Joey, a lot of these lawyers that did this on their own personal time, and used their own personal finances, and as you have heard them say today, they seek no money in this here.  Why? Because they know that an injustice was did. Darrell Cannon, you know, there’s a lot of men who are in prison. We need help, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I’m asked about psychiatry — you know psychiatry will help some, but it won’t help me. It won’t help me because it’s not going to bring back my mother, my father, it’s not going to bring back none of the people that died while I was in prison unjustly.  So. There’s nothing you can tell me about repentance — nothing you can tell me that would justify what I’ve been through. Nothing. But you know, I can take hope in knowing that the chairman and them will make it possible to help those who need some help and because of that I’m so thankful, I’m so grateful to God that I have lived to see this day come about. And for all of you please note that we are making history we are doing something that has not been did in any other state in the union. That’s saying something about Chicago, that’s saying something about Chicago politics. So again, please, now that you have embarked on the right course, never allow yourself to sway off this course here, because this is the right thing to do. This is the right thing to do for the right reasons. So on behalf of myself, Anthony, those who are still in prison, I thank you, we thank you, and please, never allow injustice of this nature to go this long unchecked. Thank you.


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