The final day of Kwanzaa, January 1, 2006, was celebrated at Afri-Ware (948 Lake St. in Oak Park) with the traditional lighting of candles for each principle (concluding with Imani, or Faith) and Afri-Ware owner Nzingha Nommo taking everyone through the pouring of libations ceremony, whereby water was poured over a living plant and with each drop, the name of an ancestor was cited. The audience responded with names such as; Ossie Davis, Harold Washington, Junius Gaten, Ruth McCain, Richard Pryor, Johnnie Cochran, Oscar Brown and Shirley Chisholm, just to name a few.Speaker for the evening was Stan Willis, who has been an active civil rights attorney for many years, much like our ancestor, Johnnie Cochran. Willis continues to fight for justice in cases like Mumia Abu-Jamal, an award winning Pennsylvania journalist, whose expos on police violence against minorities might have been what put him on death row since 1982. Johnnie Cochran never gave up on Elmer Geronimo Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and was released in June 1997. Cochran was able to prove that Pratt was a target of the FBI’s famous Cointelpro program, which used spying, misinformation and numerous tactics against activists during the 1960s and ’70s.
It is in this same spirit that attorneys like Stan Willis, Andre Grant and former Judge R. Eugene Pincham continue to fight for justice for those who have become targets of the police. Willis began by showing the audience a 30-minute film compilation concerning the Jon Burge case, which included lots of Chicago TV news coverage. The film shows how in 1982 the Wilson brothers were arrested for murder. Andrew Wilson was tortured with electric shock to the genitals, suffocation and burning on a hot radiator by Burge and his men at Area 2. The film showed Dr. John Raba, medical director of Cermak Health Services talking about his examination of Wilson and requesting an investigation into the allegations.
The room was “pin-drop” quiet during the viewing. Afterwards, Willis explained more about his involvement and his colleagues, such as Atty. G. Flint Taylor, Jr. Willis spoke about his optimism regarding Mumia Abu-Jamal getting a new trial, explaining how difficult it is to defend a client who has confessed (even if tortured into it) because this confession is allowed and all the police have to do is say yes he admitted it.
Willis posed a hypothetical situation: “What if you get a call that your dad or your brother is sitting in a jail cell handcuffed. His eyes are red because he has been crying, and he says, “They tortured me.” At some point your dad goes to trial, is found guilty, and he’s sentenced to 30-40 years. At every level he has asserted his innocence, and you’re certainly convinced of his innocence. But yet and still there is a confession that sent him to all those years. This is what happened to 137-and-counting Burge victims. Not only are the lives of the torture victims destroyed, the lives of family members are destroyed?”children of the father who is tortured. And nothing, absolutely nothing, has been done.
“So we stopped talking about ‘Chicago has torture.’ We talk about America has allowed the torture of black men and black women. And not only did the Cook County State’s Attorney do nothing about it, but the U.S. Attorney did absolutely nothing. And so it is left up to us to make sure something is done about it.
“You might say, ‘Stan, what does that have to do with faith?’ It has everything to do with faith because, remember, the principles of Kwanzaa allow us to see like in this film that the work they did was great work. The effect of their work was to get Jon Burge fired. He lost his job, but somehow he managed to keep his pension. He’s in Florida now running a security agency, we understand, and that’s where he has been since 1993.
“Jon Burge was not prosecuted; none of the victims’ cases that were disclosed in this report were reviewed. All of those victims continue to do time in prison. Some of the other officers who worked with him?”of those officers, only Jon Burge was fired. Two other officers were suspended for a short period of time. There were almost 50 officers that we documented that engaged at least one act of torture. All of those officers have remained on the police force; some have transferred to the sheriff’s department, but they are all in law enforcement.
“Of the victims, 12 of them ended up on death row?”of course, you know former Gov. Ryan gave pardons to four of those victims because of torture. So what we have here is a huge amount of evidence. OPS was finally forced to re-investigate allegations of torture, and they found over 50 victims. Amnesty International did an investigation and found torture.
“Since that time we have forced the chief judge of the criminal division to prosecute Burge. That was over three years ago; nothing has happened. So the question becomes why aren’t they prosecuting Burge? It’s clear he has committed crimes, these crimes are of torture, and it’s against the law to torture people.
“So why hasn’t anything been done? One is because they are black men and nothing is ever done to police when they commit crimes against black men. If the prosecutors vigorously prosecuted them for violating black men and women rights, then that would send a message that that’s not tolerated. And they don’t want to send that message because somehow they believe that we are such a threat. Black men have been so criminalized that anything goes. It doesn’t matter which black men they attack.”
Willis took questions from the audience and passed a sheet for those persons interested in joining the fight regarding torture. He is requesting the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Clare K. Roberts, come to Chicago and investigate. He asked that everyone contact Roberts’ organization (e-mail: robertsck 268/462-3077). Willis can be contacted at 312/554-0005.