Twenty-first Ward Alderman Howard Brookins recently proposed a $20 million fund be created for victims of Chicago police brutality and questioned if a three-year mandatory sentence for illegal gun offenses is necessary. Brookins' proposed ordinance also would specifically address issues suffered by victims of former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge. The ordinance would provide free tuition at the City Colleges of Chicago; a commission to administer financial compensation to victims with no other financial redress; establish a South Side center that would have medical, psychological and vocational counseling; and require the Chicago Public Schools to teach a history lesson about Burge.
"We have paid out millions in Burge case settlements already," Brookins said. "We need to close this unfortunate chapter in our history and give reparations to those who were victims. This ordinance addresses many of the issues Burge's victims are still facing today." Brookins' ordinance got support from fellow alderman Joe Moreno (1st). Moreno said most of Burge's victims were poor people who did not have a political voice to fight back. One of Burge's victims, Anthony Holmes, spent 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Holmes said the fund would help people like him who have been out of the job market so long, many people consider them unemployable. Holmes added the money would give those released time to build their work skills while still being able to live on their own and get used to society again.
"It's a terrible thing to be released from prison but still live in fear, because you have become institutionalized," Holmes said. "It's why so many guys end up right back inside."
Attorneys representing many of Burge's victims also think the proposed ordinance would give them something they have been asking from the city for years that has nothing to do with money. "This ordinance serves as a formal apology for the Chicago police torture cases," said Jeffrey Mogul, an attorney with the People's Law Office, which represents many Burge victims.
As Emanuel continues to face criticism regarding Chicago's crime rate and murder statistics, he and police Supt. Garry McCarthy have been pushing for a mandatory three-year sentence and a requirement that 85 per- cent of the sentence be served for illegal possession of a weapon conviction. The issue could come up this week in Springfield during the fall veto session. But Emanuel is getting pushback from home as several Black aldermen are questioning if that law would only increase the incarceration rate of African Americans while doing little to reduce crime. The Black aldermen are in line with a group they have been fighting with the National Rifle Association and other groups that have come out and opposed the measure.
"We have had tougher sentences shoved down our throat in the past to no avail. It only seems to increase our residents mistrust of the police and the system itself, which is incarcerating Black men at a high rate," said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who said he believes poor Hispanics will be targeted by a tougher law as well.
Ald. Walter Burnett, whose ward boundary cuts across all racial lines, said he believes locking up people for longer periods of time is not the answer. He said he believes the behavior must be changed and said that starts with making employment available where people can be paid wages to raise a family on. He also said more discretion needs to be used before using the approach Emanuel wants. He said many senior citizens carry weapons because it is the only possible way they can defend themselves. He questioned the ethical value and the "spirit" of a proposed law that would sentence people to three years right from the start.
"They are afraid because they don't feel like they are being protected by the police," said Burnett to a group of reporters last week at City Hall. "It's wrong to feel like you have to have a gun. It's wrong to have an illegal gun. But also, it's wrong for us if we mandatorily give a person who made the wrong decision three years who may not have ever done anything to anyone." Brookins, who is emerging a strong political foe to Emanuel and is being talked about privately in some political circles as a potential challenger to the Mayor in the next election said mandatory sentences in the past have failed miserably in the war on drugs. He is afraid the same would happen on gun crimes. Brookins said engaging with unemployed and uneducated citizens and providing them services to improve their lot in life is perhaps a better solution to gun crimes.