SG and Campaign to End the Death Penalty sponsor teach-in on racism and alleged torture of “Death Row 10” inmates

By Margaret Ryznar

In an effort to raise awareness concerning police brutality and racial profiling, a panel of five speakers met in Harper 135 at 6:00 p.m. yesterday to address the injustices that have been occurring in Chicago’s justice system for the past three decades. The panel, entitled “Teach-In: Chicago Police Torture & The Death Row 10,” was sponsored by Student Government and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. “The Death Row 10,” which was organized in 1998, consists of 11 men convicted and sentenced to death in Illinois as a result,they claim, of the use of torture to obtain “confessions.”

Approximately 65 cases of torture are alleged to have occurred under Jon Burge, former Lieutenant of Chicago’s Area II Violent Crimes Detective Unit. Eleven of Burge’s arrestees, who are now on death row, claim to have confessed only to escape the repeated torture inflicted by the police during interrogations. One of the original members of “The Death Row 10,” Frank Bounds, died in prison of untreated cancer shortly after being awarded another hearing.

Attorney Joey Mogul from People’s Law Office, one of the panelists, spoke of the experiences of her client, death row inmate Aaron Patterson. Mogul argued that many innocent, poor, black men have been tortured by Chicago police for the purpose of extracting false confessions. Armed with these false confessions, the Chicago police are then able to convict innocent men and maintain the image of succeeding against crime. Mogul pointed to the case of Andrew Wilson, whose torture, including being electrically shocked and burned by a radiator, has now been documented.

Jon Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department on February 10, but allowed to keep his pension and permitted to flee to Florida. Neither he, nor any other Chicago police officer, was criminally investigated or prosecuted. Burge was defended with the help of $800,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Mogul said that in other cities, including New York and Houston, similar cases were immediately brought to the attention of the justice system. Mogul called for the employment of a special prosecutor to investigate the torture cases and Burge. “Why investigate now? Hasn’t the statute of limitations run? It has not run against the criminal conspiracy,” Mogul said.

Mogul rejected the possibility of Dick Devine, Cook Country State’s Attorney, becoming the special investigator. Other panelists claimed that Devine knew about the torture conducted by the Chicago police and ignored the injustice. “When we are asking for a special prosecutor, we are not asking for Devine,” Mogul said.

Panelist Joan Parkin from the National Campaign to End the Death Penalty, author of The Death Row 10, said that politicians often advance their own careers by intentionally ignoring police brutality. “They’ve been using crime to build their careers,” Parkin said.

Parkin rallied the audience to join the campaign against the death penalty, emphasizing that every person’s contribution is necessary. “A certain strategy works, a certain strategy doesn’t work. It works to keep the heat on the politicians’ backs. We have noticed that cases that get the most publicity often get another hearing,” Parkin said.

Parkin pointed to statistics to argue the injustice of the death penalty: 43 percent of death row inmates are black, while African Americans constitute only 6 percent of the population. “It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s just reality. The United States is supposed to be the leader, but in reality we re behind the rest of the world,” Parkin said.

Parkin and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty have worked with Jesse Jackson and Geraldo Rivera. The group has managed to inform the public about its mission through the media, including the news program 60 Minutes.

Panelist Castella Cannon thanked the audience for its concern. Cannon is the mother of Frank Bounds, the former member of the Death Row 10. “They don’t have to be Republican or Democratic, just young people fighting to end racial profiling and police brutality,” Cannon said.

Cannon stressed that police brutality, if unchallenged, can affect everybody. “We are in this together until the injustice stops. The madness must stop,” Cannon said.

Louva Bell, another panelist, agreed with the consequences of a dangerous police force. Bell is the mother of Ronald Kitchen, a member of the Death Row 10. “It can happen to any of you — being accused of something you know in your heart you didn’t do,” Bell said. “It’ll take all of us to change this system.”

The police used the testimony of another prisoner, who claimed to be the recipient of Kitchen’s confession, to convict Kitchen. Although Kitchen denied the accusation and the inmate may have had ulterior motives for providing the police with the information, the testimony was used in court.

Panelist Viva Max Stefanishin, student activist in the University’s chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, emphasized the power that each student possesses. “Power is within individuals, and we often neglect that,” Stefanishin said. “We are getting these educations and ideas and we’re not taking them and making them come to life.”

Stefanishin urged the involvement of U of C students in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. “Here’s the opportunity to come out and support real people. We go out and organize marches, we go out and visit prisoners, we go out and protest,” she said.