Ex-Chicago Cop on Trial for Torturing Hundred's of Black Men

Ex-Chicago Cop on Trial for Torturing Hundred's of Black Men

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Darrell Cannon was asleep with his common-law wife and son in 1983 when a group of white police officers burst into his Chicago apartment. They said he knew something about a homicide, threw him in the back of a police car and took him to a secluded location.

In an effort to get details, the officers first performed a mock lynching. When that didn't work, one of the officers pretended to load a pump-action shotgun, put the shotgun in Cannon's mouth and pulled the trigger three times.

"One of them said, 'Go ahead, blow that nigger's head off.' And that's when [officer] Peter Dignan forced the shotgun in my mouth. And he said, "You're not going to tell me what I want to hear? You're not going to tell me?" I said, "No." And that's when he pulled the trigger," said Cannon. "The third time they did it, when I heard the trigger pull, in my mind, I thought he was blowing the back of my head off, because the hair on the back of my head stood straight up when I heard that click."

Finally, the rogue cops pulled down Cannon's pants and forced his legs apart. Using a battery operated cattle prodder, they repeatedly shocked Cannon's testicles. It was the final straw, Cannon told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

"Finally I agreed to tell them anything they wanted to hear. Anything. It didn't matter to me. You know, if they said, "Did your mother do it?" "Yes, yes, yes." Because the diabolical treatment that I received was such that I had never in my life experienced anything like this. I didn't even know anything like this here existed in the United States," Cannon said.

Not only does such treatment exist in this country, prosecutors in Chicago allege that it flourished under the wicked guidance of ex-police Lt. Jon Burge.

In all, Burge may have overseen the torture of and obtained coerced confessions from more than 100 African American men over the course of a 22-year career.

Burge was finally fired in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but not before he'd gained forced confessions by putting guns into people's mouths, placing bags over men's heads to suffocate them, and, as endured by Cannon, applying electric current to their genitals.

It was Burge's treatment of black men that convinced then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan to release four black men from death row and to eventually commute the sentence of all people on death row to life imprisonment before he left office.

Cannon ended up spending more than 23 years in prison -- almost half of it in solitary confinement because he would not stay quiet about the abuse that he suffered - before he was able to win his freedom. It took three years for Cannon to get out of jail even after prosecutors dropped his case as a result of the coerced confession.

Prosecutors found sufficient evidence to charge Burge with torture in 2006 but by then the statute of limitations had expired. Burge is now being tried for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil suit about whether or not he inflicted torture.

"He is looking forward to an opportunity to finally face these people in court with a jury that will hopefully understand the law and the evidence and do their best to give him a fair trial in light of all the negative publicity that the plaintiff's lawyers and politicians have feasted upon at his expense," Burge's attorney Richard Beuke told the Chicago Tribune. "We want to make sure that this trial is tried in the courtroom."

Flint Taylor, an attorney who represented many clients who say they were tortured by Burge, said the next battle is to change the laws regarding torture.

"Well, that's the statute of limitations problem and one of the many unaddressed issues in Chicago. We are very pleased that Burge is being prosecuted, but there is much left to do, and that includes dealing with federal and state statutes, legislation that would make torture a specific crime," said Taylor.

"And since it's a crime against humanity, there would be no statute of limitations, like there is no statute of limitations for genocide or murder. And in that instance, in the future, if there were another Burge or other torture -- another torture ring and it were covered up successfully for many years, then he could still or they could still be prosecuted for torture," Taylor added.

And it isn't just Burge. There are other police officers who participated in the alleged tortures or who knew what was going on but said nothing. There are the prosecutors who continued to send black men to prison and to death row even though some of the confessions or other evidence may have been concocted.

Thousands of lives were ruined because these black men were tortured into admitting to crimes. Hundreds of children and family members probably had their lives change for the worse because they did not have the financial nor social benefit of having fathers, husbands, sons or uncles around.

At the very least, prosecutors should look to bring everyone who was involved to justice even if they have to use a perjury statute, as they are against Burge. The next step, as Taylor says, is to change the law so that those who participate in these crimes in the future may be prosecuted.

The Innocence Project estimates that, of the 254 men cleared using DNA evidence, almost 25 percent gave false confessions.

This can and does happen in America. Not surprisingly, Taylor believes Burge learned his techniques after being imprisoned in a POW camp in Vietnam. It was not long ago that charges of torture rocked the U.S. military at installations such as Abu Ghraib.

Cannon's ordeal was akin to a modern-day lynching. He was sentenced for a crime he was tortured into confessing to and no one cared. This was not a one-time incident. This was, allegedly, a purposeful conspiracy by Burge and others to send black men to prison.

For anyone living under the illusion that our criminal justice system is fair and impartial and doesn't target black men, let this be a wake-up call. This can and must be dealt with now.

"So there has to be an understanding that what we're dealing with here is a microcosm of what's going on and isn't going on nationally, in terms of prosecutions, in terms of restorative justice, in terms of dealing with the victims and the survivors of torture, and compelling the court system and the powers that be to deal responsibly and thoroughly and in a just manner with the whole scope of torture as an issue, both nationally and locally," Taylor said.