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10,000 Online Archives to Confirm What Many Already Knew About Chicago Police’s History of Torturing Black Men

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During the summer of 1984, Philip Adkins heard a knock on his door early in the morning. It was the Chicago Police Department, and they were there to arrest him. In the hours that followed, the physical violence began. According to court records, “without warning one of [the police officers] slugged” Adkins while he was handcuffed in the back of their police car. The three detectives then drove him around random parts of the city, and the CPD officials stopped at McDonald’s.

While still driving, they interrogated him about the reason they arrested him in the first place: They suspected that he had participated in criminal activity the night prior. After finding his answers unsatisfactory, one of the detectives started jabbing him “with great force” in the crotch area with a flashlight. As they continued to drive around, the two detectives who were not driving took turns beating Adkins in his groin, knees, elbows and ribs. From the official court transcript comes this question and answer:

Q: “So they beat you until you urinated on yourself and defecated on yourself?”

A: “Yes.”

From the early 70s to the early 90s, over 100 Black men were brutally tortured by CPD officers in an effort to force confessions, drive them to incriminate co-defendants, and/or to intimidate victims and witnesses of police brutality. These men endured racial profiling that became then-unconstitutional horrors. One of these torture victims was Adkins.

This month, at the University of Chicago, an online archive detailing these atrocities will open. The 10,000 file collection is a combination of interrogations, court files from criminal trials, civil-litigation documents, journalistic articles and essays, records of the activism instigated by the cases of torture from the Chicago Police Department, which were documented between 1972 and 1991.

torture-1-minThe massive collection that is online thus far has been drawn from court records and defense files provided by the attorneys who represented the victims. Once the full collection is online, the public will have access to an encyclopedic resource to study the cases.

Susan Gzesh, the archive’s director, has admitted to narrowly missing a potential issue regarding the victims and disclosure. The Atlantic reports that she cannot confirm that victims and their loved ones were alerted about the archive at all, let alone its existence.

“Their lawyers gave us the materials. I would assume that they have informed their clients that they are putting this stuff up,” Gzesh said.

Gzesh also notes that the timing of this archive is important. She speaks of “an entirely energized movement led by young people” that has come to prominence in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and from groups like Black Lives Matter. She reportedly hopes that activism around this period of Chicago’s history can inform other young activists.

“To bring something out as an archive, a set of cases that were going on for the last 30 years really makes sense right now.”

In regard to local activism and advocacy on this subject in Chicago, the timing of the archive’s release aligns closely with recent actions in Chicago surrounding these cases.

Last year, some of the torture cases saw a kind of formal closure with the passing of legislation to help the victims: the Reparations for Burge Torture Victims ordinance by the Chicago City Council. The ordinance was named for former Police Commander Jon Burge, who oversaw the Chicago Police Department when the officers were torturing people. With the passing of this legislation comes closure for survivors that is 30-plus years in the making; they, their children and families, and their supporters, now have the torture cases formally acknowledged by the city.

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