In 2011 I joined Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM)–a collective of educators, artists, attorneys, survivors of police torture and activists who aim to honor and seek justice for the survivors of Chicago police torture, their family members, and the Black and Brown communities affected by the torture. The group came together after Chicago police commander Jon Burge was sentenced to 4 years in prison for lying in court about the torture of more than 100 Black and Brown Chicagoans.
Survivors, artists, activists and attorneys knew that the officer serving time would do nothing to repair harm or create justice. They formed the group and put out a call to cultural producers to imagine a memorial for the City of Chicago that could reckon with the legacy of police torture and repair harm. Since that time our work has fused art, activism, and radical popular education to create exhibitions, actions and events to tell the stories of survivors and make demands on the city. CTJM was instrumental in spearheading a grassroots campaign that passed an unprecedented Reparations Ordinance in Chicago – often using art and exhibitions as a site to imagine what was possible. The Reparations Ordinance included an apology, financial reparations, curriculum for Chicago Public Schools, a community center for survivors, free college education and a permanent memorial in the city.
Today, our mission is to fulfill the final piece of the reparations promise and build the memorial for the Burge torture survivors.
The memorial is the one of the more public and permanent parts of the reparations ordinance; it will be an enduring legacy in the struggle against police brutality. Because of this critical importance, CTJM members decided we would commission selected artists to create a proposal for the memorial. To prepare the artists for the commission, we organized for almost a year to create a Call For Proposals that included ideas from survivors and family members about what the memorial should look like and what kind of story it should tell. In 2017, I worked with Elizabeth, Deligio, Isis Ferguson and the Chicago Torture Justice Center to a) interview survivors both in and outside of prison b) interview family members c) train survivors to interview each other and d) facilitate a dinner with commissioned artists and survivors. The information was culminated in the Call For Proposals.
As commissions were underway, we hired Hanna Jasper to curate an exhibition of proposals for the memorial. The exhibition, like many CTJM exhibitions before this one, served to educate the community about the legacy of police torture in Chicago, to be a platform for survivors to tell their stories and to imagine what repair and justice could look like. Throughout the exhibition survivors were docents for the show and we held screenings, poetry readings and a community discussion to get input on the memorial and its meaning for the Southside community. This exhibition was an important tool to select a final memorial proposal and to honor the activists, organizers and families who have worked for decades to bring the torture to light.
In 2021 I worked with CTJM members Mary Patten, Ivan Arenas, Joey Mogul, Mark Clements, Patricia Nguyen, Daris Jasper and many others to create a project called Pain in the Soil for Envisioning Justice to share the stories of survivors and geography of the torture and the struggle for justice.
As of 2022 CTJM is still working to secure land to build the selected memorial. To learn more about the project see the CTJM website.