It’s Not Just About A Few Rogue Cops
The Use Of U.S. Anti-Terrorists Tactics On Black And Brown People Everywhere
BlackCommentator.com -A View from the Battlefield by Jamala Rogers, Published March 5, 2015
The scathing report from the Department of Justice on its investigations into the Ferguson police and court practices is only an indication of a systemic problem in our justice system. The issues of police violence and corruption have garnered national center stage since the killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson cop Darren Wilson last summer. The DOJ has confirmed what we already know: The racist system unfairly targeted African Americans in the streets and in the courts. And while these encounters are definitely important and well worth the attention, I believe we often fail to fully examine the expanded impact of racist and militaristic policies and the human and financial toll on civilized societies at home and abroad.
Long before the so-called War of Terrorism which was designed to respond to the September 11 attacks, there was the war on black and brown communities replete with torture and other abuses by law enforcement.
Let’s take as contemporary examples the lives and times of the infamous Jon Burge and Richard Zuley. I’m using these two vile characters because their criminal careers intersect and because they caught the eye of the media recently. Burge was released from the final phase of his sentence at about the same time a scathing expose’ was released by the Guardian on Zuley. The report also revealed the existence of secret interrogation facilities dubbed “black sites” that are allegedly used by Chicago police to torture confessions.
It is through the examination of the careers of these two Chicago police detectives that we vividly see the circle of torture being applied and perfected on primarily communities of color whether it’s Northside Chicago, Vietnam, Guantanamo or Iraq. There are the likes of Zuley and Burge in virtually every urban police department in this country. It’s one of the compelling reasons why we must demand accountability on all levels and fight for immediate transformation of police departments.
Under his 20 year regime as a Chicago police commander, Burge and his detectives beat and tortured hundreds of Chicago citizens leading to forced confessions, sometimes by innocent citizens–some who ended up serving years in prison and even some who ended up on Death Row. His Area 2 command was known as a torture chamber and it was no secret chamber. It was known by the black and brown communities who were victims – and obviously condoned by the highest echelons of government in Illinois including mayors, prosecutors, states attorneys and governors and well as elected and appointed officials on local and state levels.
Demands for investigations into Burge’s despicable and sadistic practices came from everywhere from community organizations to Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH to the Black Police Officers Association. As a result of these charges, then Republican Governor George Ryan was forced to clear out Illinois’ Death Row by either exonerating inmates (the Death Row 10) or reducing the sentences of other inmates on Death Row.
Burge was fired in 1993 but it would be years before he had to face criminal charges. He was never held accountable for the many lives he ruined; he was convicted in 2010 on only perjury and obstruction of justice charges. His brutal rein costs the City of Chicago and Cook County nearly $100 million in lawsuit settlements and legal fees. Burge only had to serve a few years in prison and will receive his monthly police pension of $4000 until he dies.
The Goldston Report that led to Burge’s firing detailed some of the barbarous tactics used in Area 3 but ultimately we see similar techniques used not just in other police districts in mostly black communities but in U.S. prisons. For example, telephone books were used by St. Louis police to force a confession from Reggie Clemons in the Chain of Rocks murders. We have tried to forget that Abner Louima was sodomized with a broom by New York City police.
The issue of the militarization of U.S. city police departments also came under scrutiny during the Ferguson unrests when Ferguson streets looked like the streets of Kabul. It isn’t just about the surplus military equipment that local police departments get from the Department of Defense; it’s also about the interrogation practices between civilian and military that gets mixed into one circle of torture.
Before Burge came to the Chicago Police Department in the 1972, he served as a military police in Vietnam. Burge and his psychopathic team utilized a number of torture techniques usually reserved for prisoners of war (and even in those cases, such use is in violation of the Geneva Convention).
Police interrogators have moved from assaults that could be seen on the body such as cigarette burns and punches to the face to tactics that are less visible but just as effective. One such technique used by Burge and his henchmen was called the “Bell Telephone Hour,” a tactic he learned in Vietnam that wired detainees’ faces and genitals to a black box and electrocuted them with an old style hand-cranked telephone called a Tucker phone. Cattle prods and the violet wand were also used for electric shocks along with beatings with phone books. Other cruel tactics were the dry submarino, choking until unconsciousness occurred and threatening to kill family members or to rape mothers or partners. No victims were too young; a black child as young as thirteen years old received electric shock.
Zuley was able to perfect his torture techniques for nearly 40 years as a Chicago cop, much of it at the same time that Burge was doing his torture. In 2003, Zuley was assigned to interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. His techniques used in Chicago precincts bore a merciless and inhumane similarity to those he used in the interrogation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo. The expose of Zuley’s interrogation tactics became a best-selling memoir in a serial report by the Guardian. The torture of Slahi has been called “one of the most brutal in the history of the notorious US wartime prison.” A Chicago cop was at the center of it all.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture issued its “Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture.” It came as no surprise that the United States beat out countries like China and Russia as having committed the most heinous abuses. The report called for the thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of cruel and degrading treatment by law enforcement and most important, to bring perpetrators to justice. (DOJ, do you hear that?!)
All this comes as no revelation to people who’ve been doing this work for decades but it does serve as additional validation to the depth and breadth of the issue of state-sanctioned terrorism against U.S. citizens. A delegation from the Ferguson uprising registered its concerns on such abuses last year at the U.N.
Our refusal to deal with these ruthless practices by domestic law enforcement has led to its widespread use in this country and to the exportation of them to other parts of the world. The conclusions of Ferguson policing by the DOJ could easily be applicable to any city were people of color face the full range of racial and economic oppression.
I suggest we take that DOJ report and replace the name Ferguson with Chicago, Detroit, New York or whatever city you reside in. The community would then issue a statement of condemnation and commit itself to intensifying the struggle against an emergent police state. Our strategy must end the militarization of police, the end to the assembly line to the prison industrial complex and an end to torture both home and abroad.