Teachable Instant: Chicago Makes Amends for Police Violence

May 9, 2015

Chicago decided on May 6, 2015, to provide reparations for its history of brutal police abuse, after decades of organizing by activists. This brief classroom activity uses two quotes to help students consider the news and its implications.  

Print out the following quotes

Quote 1

"Hopefully it’ll be a beacon for other cities here and across the world for dealing with racist police brutality so prevalent in the past in this country and, we’re unfortunately seeing, continues to this day."


Quote 2:

"I'm a firm believer that you can buck the system, you know, people power can move mountains, literally. And because of that, I get up every day hoping and praying that I get the opportunity to ... let [people] know what happened and to say, please don't let it happen again. Please stand up and demand that justice prevail in these situations."
 


A historic decision by Chicago


Give a volunteer Quote 1 and ask him or her to read it out loud.

"Hopefully it’ll be a beacon for other cities here and across the world for dealing with racist police brutality so prevalent in the past in this country and, we’re unfortunately seeing, continues to this day."

Tell students that this quote is from Chicago civil rights attorney Flint Taylor, who was part of a 30-year struggle to win reparations for over 100 people (nearly all Black men) who had been tortured and abused by a group of Chicago police officers from 1972 to 1991 under the supervision of police commander Jon Burge.  Police suffocated their victims with plastic bags, beat them with phone books, and shocked them with cattle prods, trying to force them to confess to crimes.

Over the past decade, the City of Chicago has spent more than $500 million on legal settlements and other costs related to police misconduct.

But on May 6, 2015, Chicago became the first city in the country to pay reparations to the victims of police abuse. Elicit or explain that the word "reparation" stems from the word "repair." It refers to actions that are intended to make amends for a wrong that has been done.

The City Council unanimously agreed that the city would:

  • provide $5.5 million in reparations to those who had been tortured by the police officers
  • formally apologize to the victims
  • create a permanent memorial recognizing them
  • begin teaching public school students about the police torture in 8th- and 10th-grade history classes
  • provide counseling for the victims and their immediate families


Ask students:  

  • What do you think about Chicago’s decision to make amends to these torture victims?
  • Do you think the measure will make a difference in Chicago or elsewhere? How?
     

'People power can move mountains'


Give another volunteer quote 2 and ask him or her to read it aloud:

"I'm a firm believer that you can buck the system, you know, people power can move mountains, literally. And because of that, I get up every day hoping and praying that I get the opportunity to ... let [people] know what happened and to say, please don't let it happen again. Please stand up and demand that justice prevail in these situations."

Tell students that this quote is from Darrell Cannon, who was brutally tortured by Chicago police in 1983, and forced to confess to murder. He served 24 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. He’s been out of prison for seven years now, and has been fighting for reparations. Cannon is now 64 years old.  On May 6, he said:

"Today is a historic day. It’s a historic day because we’re about to do something that’s never been done in any other city in the United States. I’m proud to be a part of this."

Ask students:  

  • What does Darrell Cannon's statement tell you about how Chicago's recent decision came about?
     

The reparations question


Tell students that the U.S. has paid reparations to several Native American tribes, and also paid reparations to Japanese-Americans who were held in "internment camps" during World War 2.  

Ask:

  • Are there other injustices you think we should pay reparations for? If so, what are they?
  • Who do you think should pay the reparations? 
  • Are there better ways to address injustice than reparations? If so, what are they?
     

Optional additional activities
 

  • Have students view and discuss this 3-minute NY Times video about Chicago police torture victim Anthony Holmes.
  • Ask students to research the debate over reparations for slavery and reparations for Native Americans, then discuss in class.
     


Sources


The news from Chicago: 


Reparations: