Transcribed from the 23 March 2019 episode of This is Hell! Radio (Chicago) and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:
The historical narrative was changed from a shoot-out between the Panthers and the police to a shoot-in. It was changed to murder and then ultimately to a political assassination.
Chuck Mertz: Chicago has been the home of police violence and torture for a very long time. It’s also been the home of fighting police violence and torture for a very long time. Here to take us on a guided tour of the past, present, and possibly the future for police violence in Chicago, easily one of the greatest humans I have ever met, Flint Taylor, founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago and author of The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago. Flint’s book is a memoir on his years of fighting police violence.
You’ve been doing this work through the People’s Law Office. What is the People’s Law Office? And should the fact that it is a private firm give people pause when considering your work fighting police violence?
Flint Taylor: The People’s Law Office will be celebrating (if that’s the correct word) our existence for fifty years later on this year. Private firm? Yes. We started out as a collective, and we still are a collective in terms of how we operate, the decisions we make, and how we pay people who work there. We survive, for better or for worse, on fees that we primarily get by fighting police brutality and police violence cases in the courts and succeeding against the city of Chicago, Cook County, and other places for money judgments.
Everybody’s entitled to scratch their chin if they want, but they can take a look at fifty years of what we’ve done and make decisions for themselves as to whether we are a people’s law office and if our work qualifies as fighting police brutality and police violence or not.
CM: As an attorney, why did you choose to fight police violence? Why, of all things, do you work to stop police violence?
FT: It kind of chose me, and chose my fellow People’s Law Office lawyers and students. It chose us during a period of our history where people were being murdered, particularly people like Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panthers: people were being arrested, beaten, shot, railroaded to prison. This was a racist and white supremacist operation by the highest levels of police and government officials.
In that sense, there was very little choice, in my mind, but to take up the work and continue to do it right up to the present.
CM: How much does white supremacy depend on enforcement by police?
FT: A great deal. It’s enforcement by police, judges, prosecutors, correctional officers, officials who run the schools—we can start right at the beginning in terms of how we deal with our children, and take it all the way through to the prisons and solitary confinement, the whole nine yards.
CM: Has they ever been any evidence that police violence, police intimidation, in any way leads to less crime? Of course police violence and intimidation are crimes in themselves. But has there ever been any evidence that police violence has led to less violence, less “crime”?
FT: I’ve never seen any. As you point out, there certainly is a lot of official crime: police violence is certainly a crime—a systemic crime, a racist crime. I don’t think there’s ever been a serious study that’s said if you torture someone to get a false confession you’re going to cause there to be less crime and a more just criminal justice system. Obviously nobody should be tortured; guilty, innocent, or unknown.
CM: What explains why people are attracted to endorsing police violence? What explains why people are like, “Yeah, I want those cops to go in there and kick some ass!” if we know that leads to more crime in the future?
FT: White supremacists (and people who don’t challenge white supremacy) don’t really think rationally about whether there’s a cause or a result that is beneficial to society. Even if you could say that you can reduce crime by police violence (which you can’t), would that be a good result? Is that the only way you can reduce crime? Don’t you need to look at the economic and social causes of crime?
What do we really need to do to solve these problems rather than just come down on it with violence?
CM: Your work fighting police violence started with the 1969 murders by police of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton and Panther Mark Clark. You were 23 when Fred was assassinated. That case lasted thirteen years. While that case was originally dismissed by a lower court, a court of appeals overturned the dismissal, finding that evidence supported allegations of conspiracy among the Chicago police, the Cook County state’s attorney, and the FBI against the Black Panthers. The appeals court further ruled that the government should be sanctioned for refusing to turn over 200+ documents the feds had collected on the Black Panthers. They also concluded that you and your law partner Jeffrey Haas were wrongfully cited for contempt in 1982. The case was settled for $1.85 million.
First, why were you cited for contempt?
FT: That’s what they call a long story. I did spend a few hours in jail, and during that time I wrote the “J. Sam Piggie Blues.” J. Sam Perry was the judge who sent me to jail—he was decidedly against us from beginning to end in that trial. I allegedly knocked a water pitcher off of the counsel table, and it broke against the jury box. The jury wasn’t there at that time. My defense was that I was just throwing my papers down on the table in complete frustration because of the rulings the judge was making, and the court of appeals in reversing my contempt said I had “reached the limit of my forbearance” with regard to this judge, and overturned my contempt. That’s the short version.
CM: So was it on purpose?
FT: I’m not under oath, so I don’t have to take the Fifth Amendment like John Burge and his people have done. Let’s put it this way: my memory is a little foggy about how intentional it might have been or not.
CM: Gotta love the Reagan defense.
Was any single officer ever held accountable for the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark?
I don’t think that the murder of Fred Hampton and the struggles that we went through led to any meaningful police reform. However, what it did lead to was a movement.
FT: No. In terms of criminal sanctions, no. We were able to hold them responsible civilly, in terms of the higher court’s finding: there was a very strong case of conspiracy between the FBI, Cook County state’s attorney Ed Hanrahan, and the police who raided. In that sense we held them accountable. The narrative was changed, which was very important. The historical narrative was changed from a shoot-out between the Panthers and the police to a shoot-in. It was changed to murder and then ultimately to a political assassination, which is accepted—and righteously so—at this time.
But in terms of anybody going to jail: no. There was a prosecution for obstruction of justice against Hanrahan and the raiding cops. Not for murder, not for attempted murder. That case was thrown out on the eve of the 1972 election of Hanrahan, by a judge who was totally wired to the Democratic machine.
CM: How significant a victory was the Hampton case in fighting police violence? Did Hampton’s case lead to the police instituting reforms? Did it have a legacy in undermining police brutality and violence?
FT: That’s a political question more than a legal question. I don’t think that the murder of Fred Hampton and the struggles that we and the movement went through led to any meaningful police reform. However, what it did lead to was a movement: a movement that arose out of the outrage at the murders themselves, that was rekindled when the feds covered up and wouldn’t indict anyone. Then when the special prosecutor actually brought those obstruction of justice charges and the machine judge threw them out in order to help Hanrahan get reelected as state’s attorney in 1972, the African-American community arose again and created a movement that not only voted Ed Hanrahan out of office but can be traced in a direct line to the election of Harold Washington over a decade later. Some people say it also had some impact on the election of Obama many years later.
CM: How much of an effect can voting and electing different leadership in Chicago have on fighting police violence? Isn’t police violence just always in the background? With president Obama, people said he couldn’t get things done because of obstructionism or because of too many things built into the system. Donald Trump says he can’t get things done because of the “deep state.” To what degree can politicians actually have an impact on fighting police violence?
FT: They certainly have an impact. With Harold Washington, there was the start of some changes with regard to police reform. However, he had a tremendous amount of political and racist resistance to what he was trying to do, and he would often say, “You need to make me do it” to the people who got him elected. In other words, the movement—the people—have to make those changes, and make those politicians make whatever changes they have to make.
Now we’re on the brink of a mayoral election which, on the face of it, looks like it could be a game-changer. Two African-American women running against each other; both have at least superficially (Lightfoot) and more actually (Preckwinkle) taken some strong stands over the years against torture and police brutality. But just electing them certainly isn’t going to make a difference in and of itself. If the people and the movements who have fought against police violence continue to be in the forefront, maybe they will be held accountable and make whatever changes are pressed upon them to make.
There will be one right in front of them, right there at the beginning: the cop academy. There’s a movement now to say No Cop Academy. We don’t want to put $100 million into training these cops to be “better” cops, to do their jobs “better.” That money should go to the community. It should go to deal with mental health issues, with educational issues. Ultimately there should be the abolition of the police.
CM: How much better is police accountability today? In your life have you seen it wax and wane? Did it increase under Harold Washington and then decrease again? How would you describe the trajectory of police accountability in your career?
FT: I don’t think Harold Washington got to change the trajectory much. In fact, the police torture described in my book was at its height during the eighties. His police superintendent, Fred Rice, was informed of it and did nothing about it, the same way that Daley (who was a state’s attorney at that time) did nothing about it and covered it up.
I think the trajectory, unfortunately, is fairly straight. In some ways, fighting against police brutality and police violence is a resistance to it. If there isn’t that resistance, then the white supremacy and violence will increase. In some ways we’re holding back a tide more than we’re actually advancing the bar.
CM: In 1987, you were part of the team of lawyers who represented death row prisoner Andrew Wilson. Wilson alleged that his civil rights were violated by Area 2 Chicago police commander John Burge, who had tortured Wilson with electric shocks and forced Wilson to confess to the 1982 murder of two Chicago police officers, which is why he was on death row.
Why did you and your team of lawyers take that case? What was so compelling about Wilson’s story that made you believe it was a court fight that you and the attorneys not only wanted to fight but you thought you could win?
FT: Those are two different questions. When we got into the case, I don’t think we had any anticipation we would win it. Andrew Wilson was convicted and on death row at that time for killing two white police officers. On the other hand, it was compelling because it was an outrageous case of torture. When I use the term torture in this context, it’s the kind of torture described in the book and characterized by the “torture machine.” It was electric shock, it was suffocation with a bag, it was burning on a radiator, it was burning with cigarettes, it was beating—it was all kinds of extreme torture to get a confession from Andrew Wilson.
Because he was a “cop-killer,” no one wanted to represent him in suing under the constitution for the violation of his human rights. So when he came to us, knowing about our reputation for fighting in the Fred Hampton case for all those years, we discussed it in terms of human rights violations, and decided that regardless of who he is and what he was convicted of, he, like everyone else in society under this supposed constitution and under international human rights law, should not have been tortured. And if he was, the people who tortured him should be brought to account.
Since the powers that be would not prosecute John Burge, we could at least prosecute him in a civil context. That’s what we decided to do. When we decided to do it, we had no anticipation that we would uncover what we uncovered, or that I’d be sitting here thirty-two years later talking about it, and seeing the Chicago Sun Times, upon the death of John Burge, refer to him as the “notorious torturer” and also talk openly about mayor Richard Daley’s involvement in the cover-up.
It was terrorism at its finest. Official police terrorism. They kicked in doors, they pulled people out of their homes, they beat people up. If they thought that the people had any knowledge of or proximity to the area where the shootings took place, they tortured them.
CM: In your new book The Torture Machine, you write of the Wilson case: “Chicago was rocked by a series of fatal shootings of police officers in broad daylight. On February 9, 1982, two uniformed CPD officers, Richard O’Brien and William Fahey, were shot and killed during a routine traffic stop on Chicago’s south side. They had just attended the funeral of a Chicago police officer who had been shot only days before. Two black men fled the scene in a brown Chevy, and mayor Jane Byrne and her police superintendent, Richard Brzeczek, mandated what would become the most massive manhunt in Chicago’s history. Brzeczek designated lieutenant John Burge, who headed up the violent crimes unit in Area 2, to direct the search for the killers. The geographical area that was policed by Area 2, which covered most of Chicago’s predominantly African-American far south side, became the main focus of this manhunt.”
How intense was the manhunt, and were there any reports of abuse?
FT: It was terrorism at its finest. Official police terrorism. They kicked in doors, they pulled people out of their homes, they beat people up. If they thought the people had any knowledge of or proximity to the area where the shootings took place, they tortured them. They took them to two of the Southside detective areas and did everything from suffocation to taking them on the roof of the police station and putting their hands into boltcutters. When they had the men they thought committed the shootings, they tortured them with suffocation and electric shock. Then it turned out they weren’t the persons who had done it, and so they went back on the street and continued their terrorist rampages in the Black community until they found the Wilson brothers, and of course then the Torture Machine was put into operation again.
CM: You write, “The investigation had zeroed in on a group of young men who lived close to the murder scene. A contingent of Area 2 detectives, including Frank Lafferty, a stand-up cop who believed in telling the truth, went to the mens’ house and took six of them into custody. Lafferty was about to transport them to Area 2 when Burge approached him and directed him to relinquish custody—Burge intended to take them to police headquarters at Eleventh and State for interrogation. All too aware of Burge’s reputation, Lafferty pointedly told his boss, ‘He’s cuffed, he ain’t hurt, he ain’t been touched.’ Lafferty later told me that he cared more about the case being done right than about some punch in the head.”
How often in your line of work have you come across stand-up cops?
FT: Frank was the only one, in the sense of someone who told the truth when he was working on the job. He exposed secret files that the police department kept, and that got him busted from being a detective to watching recruits give urine samples over at police headquarters. What happened to Lafferty, who was the Serpico of Chicago, made it so that the cops who wanted to talk about Burge’s torture felt that they could not come forward. They only came forward anonymously.
The book talks about “Deep Badge,” the anonymous author of letters I got that laid out the map, so to speak, for investigating the torture cases and the systemic and racist nature of them. I never found out who that person was. There was another anonymous cop who gave us information. We went to meet that person at a bar, and they did not show up. But they were all telling us anonymously what we were learning: that there was a police torture system.
In 2004, after several Black cops retired who had worked with Burge, and who knew what they called the “open secret” that he and his crew were torturing people, I took their statements. Because they were no longer in the department, they told me what they knew. Burge never let any Black detectives into the rooms where they were torturing. One Black detective did walk in on a scene once. But they knew from just hanging out and hearing. They actually saw the box, for example, so they told me that. But they waited until they were retired and could no longer be subjected to the kind of ostracism and threats of violence that Lafferty suffered because he came forward.
You have to understand that it takes a tremendous amount of courage for a Black officer to step forward. Renault Robinson and Howard Saffold started what was known at the time  as the African-American Patrolman’s League, and they spoke out and called the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark what it was: murder. Well, Howard was taken off the job and Renault was put to patrol behind police headquarters. They paid a huge price as police officers for stepping forward.
The Fraternal Order of Police is extremely powerful, maybe more powerful even than the police department itself, and has supported Burge for all these years. They supported Van Dyke, the killer of Laquan McDonald, all these years—paid for their defense when the city didn’t. Where were the Black officers, then? Well, the the board of directors of the Fraternal Order of Police is all white, except for perhaps one. So the Black officers, although I’m sure many of them didn’t want their dues to support a torturer like Burge or a murderer like Van Dyke, really had no power, and did not have the courage that was necessary—and I’m not criticizing them for that, because I’m not a Black police officer in the Chicago police department.
But the men who did have the courage, like Howard Saffold, like Renault Robinson, and women like Pat Hill, who headed up what was known later as the African-American Police League—they paid a huge price. You have to be willing to pay that price to fight the system—the very powerful police system and union system—and there are precious few police officers, Black or white, who were.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. We really have to take it all the way back: who do the police serve and protect? Do they serve and protect people? Do they serve and protect the communities they patrol? Or do they serve and protect property and the powerful interests of the city and the government? If we want to spread the blame around, we can go right back to white supremacy. We can go right back to the whole economic system, the power structure in this city, and all of that as well.
CM: You write, “[In the Andrew Wilson case] Anthony Williams, nicknamed Mertz, later identified Burge as one of his interrogators. Burge cuffed Anthony to a chair, beat him with a phone book, placed a plastic bag over his head. He then said, ‘Let’s take the cuffs off of him, take him to the staircase, shoot him, and say he was trying to escape.’ After consulting with a detective for a moment, Burge returned to the room, pulled out a long silver-barreled gun, said that he was going to ‘shoot this n****r,‘ and put the gun to Anthony’s head. Anthony was saved from further abuse when a Black cop entered the room. After Burge left, the officer told Anthony to pretend that he was being beaten in case Burge was listening.”
How much does police violence divide Black and white officers? How much do you think police violence is dividing police departments? Do you think there’s an internal debate happening?
The culture of the department hasn’t changed, in all these years. We still have a code of silence. We still have the kind of police culture that we had back when we started doing this work.
FT: I’m not privy to that one way or the other. Obviously there are more African-American officers and leaders in the department. But some of the superintendents under Daley who countenanced police torture were African-American. Fred Rice, LeRoy Martin. And now we have Eddie Johnson, and also Terry Hillard was an African-American chief. All of those chiefs, for one reason or another, went along with, covered up, justified, or denied police torture.
It’s not the race of the person in leadership, but who they serve. Eddie Johnson is a perfect example of that. When the Laquan McDonald case broke, [mayor] Rahm [Emanuel] had to do all the things that he felt he had to do to keep his whole administration from going up in flames, and he brought in Eddie Johnson. Eddie Johnson knew where all the bodies had been buried, because he’d been in the department working these spots as a leader for decades. Rahm fought against bringing in an independent leader who might actually do something to change the culture of the department.
The culture of the department hasn’t changed, in all these years. We still have a code of silence. We still have the kind of police culture that we had back when we started doing this work.
CM: You negotiated reparations following the Laquan McDonald case. You write, “Those who continue the fight for the constitutional and human right to a fair hearing free from torture and brutality encounter added resistance from the public’s short attention span and the desire on the part of politicians for finality, to put the torture scandal behind us. The truth is that it will never be behind us, and Chicago’s collective conscience will not be cleansed, until and unless the city of broad shoulders and the nation as a whole reckon fully with the systemic racism of law enforcement and the criminal courts, of mass incarceration and the death penalty, and of the political power structure. Until then, the struggle must continue.”
How much do the reparations that you helped negotiate, that the city of Chicago gave to Burge victims—how far do those go towards fighting police brutality? How much do you think that will help in the fight against police brutality?
FT: Reparations was a tremendous effort, an inter-generational and interracial movement that arose to put wind in the sails of reparations, something that seemed impossible only years before. Those reparations included not only financial reparations to the living survivors of police torture (who had never gotten any money—there was no legal basis for them to get money, though there was a moral and political basis) but more importantly non-financial reparations: a center on the Southside, which is up and running, where families can be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems that arose from the torture; a memorial (there’s a fight going on right now because Rahm tried to take away the money for the memorial to the survivors of police torture!); an apology which Rahm and the city council made to the survivors; and most significantly, I think, teaching the history of police torture to eighth and tenth graders in the Chicago Public Schools.
That has started, and that has a huge impact. The narrative that we fought to change, in terms of torture and its systemic and racist nature here in the city, is now being embodied in teaching about police torture. I think it’s a very significant accomplishment, these reparations. It has, in some form or another, been implemented in other places like Little Rock and New Orleans. It stands as an example of restorative justice, and it’s a model for people going forward because it’s outside of the judicial system per se. It doesn’t have to do with prosecuting the torturers; it has to do with making whole the victims or the survivors of police violence, and also with bringing a narrative for people to understand what the nature of police violence and torture really is.
I had the honor of speaking to a class of seventh and eighth graders in Pilsen, and one of my close clients and comrades Darrell Cannon has spoken all over the city to different schoolchildren. I can tell you what kind of an impact it had on us: the students’ willingness to learn about it, ask about it, and relate to it is overwhelming. Each student wrote me a letter afterwards, and each student that Darrell Cannon has spoken to wrote letters. There was resistance among the pro-police and white communities of the city. They raised hell about teaching their kids the truth about police torture, because their fathers and uncles were police officers. But teaching it in communities of color—those children can relate to it in a very personal way: “The cop treated me, or my sister or my brother, a certain way on the street; I have a relative who was a victim of mass incarceration; I have seen police brutality or suffered police brutality in some form or another.”
The history is really important. I take hope from young people. You hear them speak—some of them, eight, ten years old, can lay down a rap that many of us would be jealous of. I think if we’re adding to that in this city in some way, that is the greatest accomplishment of the reparations movement here.
CM: Let’s get back to the Wilson case just for a second. You write, “A high-ranking Cook County assistant prosecutor from Richard M. Daley’s state’s attorney’s office, Mike Angarola, was also present at Eleventh and State during the interrogations, and reporting to Daley’s first assistant, Richard Devine. According to Walter White, Angarola was present when detective Fred Hill beat him. In contrast, a Black Area 2 detective named Sammy Lacey, and the Black commander of Area 2, Milton Deas, who had reported to headquarters after hearing that the cop-killers had supposedly been captured, were relegated to an office distant from the interrogations.”
So could Daley have stopped the torture with one word to Angarola? Could he have done something about ending John Burge’s reign of torture?
FT: Yes. Obviously Devine, who was Daley’s first assistant at that point, or Daley himself, or Kunkle, who was third in command—any of the state’s attorneys who were obviously on notice—they could have gone down there and, instead of encouraging the torture, said what Lafferty said: “I don’t want to dirty up this case with torture.”
They had an eye witness. They didn’t need to do what they did. They did it out of revenge, they did it out of racism, they did it out of anger. Daley, just a short time after Wilson was tortured and a doctor was outraged by seeing the injuries on Wilson, told Brzeczek, the superintendent, that something had to be done about this torture. Brzeczek, covering his rear-end, gave Daley the information that the Wilson brothers had been tortured. Instead of acting, which could have stopped ten years of torture by moving on Burge right away, Daley covered it up and commended Burge—and proceeded, with the evidence of torture, to convict the Wilson brothers.
CM: Were the police who committed the violence so arrogant, so certain that they would never be caught or punished, that they became sloppy in covering their tracks? Or are they so good at police violence that they do an exceptional job of not leaving any traces?
Skeptical is a kind word for how I feel about prosecutors after my fifty years of fighting the Torture Machine. Who’s the first prosecutor who came forward to talk about John Burge? We’re still waiting. There has never been one.
FT: There was a tremendous amount of arrogance. The arrogance shown in the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark is another example. They left the apartment open for us to go there and take evidence and show the true nature of the assassination—that reflected their arrogance. They thought they could call it a shoot-out and that would be the end of it; the press would buy it—which they did, initially—and people would buy it, and that would be the story.
The torture was an open secret. They had a tremendous amount of arrogance. They were sloppy from time to time. Burge was very angry they left marks on Andrew Wilson’s face. Then again, he was in charge of the electric shock torture, and when Wilson was electric shocked he was handcuffed across the radiator, and those ribs burned his chest in a pattern that showed the radiator. Without those physical injuries, the Andrew Wilson case probably never would have led to an Illinois supreme court decision that overturned his death sentence (he ended up with a life sentence on appeal).
They were very arrogant. They figured they could get away with this. And why not? The prosecutors were in the station houses, taking the statements. When they brought Andrew Wilson into the prosecutor and he said “are you ready to confess?” Andrew said, “They’re torturing me; I’m not going to confess.” And the state’s attorney said “Get the jagoff out of here.”
So their fingerprints were all over this too. They used the confessions to prosecute and to send people to death row. The prosecutors and of course the judges were very complicit.
CM: Everyone knew. The way you describe the torturing going on at Area 2 headquarters, everyone could hear the screams. Everyone knew this was going on. Did the media know?
FT: We can go all the way back to Hampton again, when the four dailies were all calling it a “shoot-out.” The only reason the narrative started to change was because a young reporter came to the apartment—we showed him the reality, he wrote an article, and the Sun Times editors buried it on the obituary pages. He quit. That caused the chief editor of the Sun Times to come down to the apartment and to look at the scene, and to see that in fact we were right, that it was a shoot-in. Then the Sun Times and the Daily News, the field papers at that time, changed their approach to the case.
Fast forwarding to the torture cases: yes, the media knew about it. To a limited degree they covered it. But [John] Conroy was the first one to actually take it on, in the Reader. He thought it was going to be a major exposé that would lead to fundamental change in approach in the media. But the media’s approach was: “Well, he’s covered it, so we’re not going to.” That made him completely cynical about it. But some more independent reporters, such as Carol Marin at Channel Five and a few others, started to listen to what we were saying, and started to see the systemic nature of it. That started to change the narrative of police torture in the city.
CM: How good a job has the police accountability board done in holding police accountable? And should I be concerned about supporting, say, a former prosecutor who was on the board, and what they might do if they become mayor?
FT: You mean Lori Lightfoot?
CM: I didn’t say that!
FT: It’s interesting that we have two African-American women running for mayor. I suppose it’s a good thing, given the history of the Torture Machine, the Democratic Machine. I deposed Lori Lightfoot (meaning I took her testimony in a civil case) after she left as the head of the office of professional standards, the disciplinary agency at the police department at that time. She had attempted to implement some reforms in dealing with repeater cops, trying to track who the “bad apples” were, so to speak, who repeatedly committed police violence and misconduct. She was shot down by the union and the powers that be, the old-school leaders of the department. That program, like many of its predecessors that attempted to reform the department, went in the trashbin of history.
She then became a lawyer at Mayer Brown, and had a pretty spotty record in terms of who she represented: corporations, prosecutors who had committed crimes in getting wrongful convictions. In her deposition, I wanted her to admit to having done something good while she was at the police department, something that should have been implemented but made the city look bad because she was overruled. Her name was on the documents. I sat there across from her the way you and I are sitting here today, and for many hours questioned her about this. And she stonewalled me.
She wouldn’t admit to writing the documents that had her name on them. She wouldn’t embrace the programs of reform that she had attempted to put into place years before. Rather, she defended the city and the city’s interests. We know she represented the cops in the Jefferson Tap case, an outrageous case where some Black businessmen were beaten up by thirty drunken cops.
She has a spotty record. I have to give her credit for what she’s done in the past few years, stepping forward as the head of the police accountability task force and making some strong recommendations, and saying in the report that the police department is not only racist in its nature but has a code of silence. Those findings are important in the fight against police brutality.
So I guess people can change. We can hope that she’s changed. There are a lot of people I respect who are supporting her. But we have to remember from whence she came, and have some skepticism about her being the “outsider.” Skeptical is a kind word for how I feel about prosecutors after my fifty years of fighting the Torture Machine. Who’s the first prosecutor who came forward to talk about John Burge? We’re still waiting. There has never been one. We’ve at least had some anonymous cops who came forward. We have Frank Lafferty who came forward. We have the Black cops who came forward. I’m still waiting for that first prosecutor to come forward. Many of them, to this day, are still in the [Kimberly] Foxx state’s attorney’s office, and they show up against the men who are trying to get out now, decades later, based on tortured confessions.
We have to be very skeptical. I was glad Kim Foxx got elected. She’s trying to change the culture: the culture of police racism, the culture of the state’s attorney’s office, the Law and Order idea, the mass incarceration concept—but you can’t change that just by changing the leadership, unless that leadership has the power, energy, and commitment for it.
We’ll see if Lori Lightfoot can change the culture of the police department in ways that we’re talking about here. But if history is any teacher, that’s going to be a hell of a job.
CM: Good lord. Thank you Flint, I really appreciate it.
FT: Really enjoyed it as usual.
Featured image source: People’s Law Office