I Was Tortured By The Chicago PD: This Is What I Saw
Americans love badass cops who throw the rulebook out the window and then shoot it, even though shooting the rulebook is so clearly against the rules. Dirty Harry, Jack Bauer, John F. McClane (look into your heart, you know what the "F" stands for), and more are all emblematic of the deeply held American belief that good cops are constantly being held back by bureaucratic bullshit. If that uptight sergeant just let them cut loose a bit, they could really get the job done. Except here's what happens in the real world when loose cannon cops play by their own rules.
Warning: There are tons of racial slurs to follow. Oh, and torture.
If Cops Don't Like You Being On The Streets, They'll Take You Off
Our source today, Darrell Cannon, has a dark past. In 1971, when he was 20 years old, he was a member of the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago-area gang. During a robbery gone bad, he shot and killed the owner of a toy store, Emanuel Lazar. Darrell was sentenced to 100-200 years in prison. He served 12, and was let out on parole in 1983.
It's the kind of case that makes a cop's blood boil. Some of them decided that Darrell hadn't served his time, and they further decided that, one way or another, they were taking him off the streets again. Darrell had been back at home for a few months when the police raided it and arrested him for murder.
"It was just a regular day. That's about all I remember. There was nothing of significance. Other than the fact that I didn't know November 2, 1983 would be a day that would be with me for the rest of my life."
A drug dealer in the area had been murdered, and police decided Darrell was the likely culprit, and did so without any evidence. Darrell had no idea he was a person of interest in a murder investigation. He was only ever told that the police wanted to talk to him about "something." The next day, they came to his house. "It was very quick. They invaded my apartment, front and back, all white detectives with shotguns, automatics ... at 1:07, they had me in their possession, and that began my hellish nightmare. I was tortured."
Real Vigilante Cops Are Not Virtuous Men Who've Seen Too Much
"Throughout that entire day, my name was never Darrell Cannon. My name was nigger this, nigger that -- throughout the entire day, that's the word they used. Nigger, nigger, nigger nigger." Huh. That little tidbit probably wouldn't make the cut in the inevitable Dirty Harry reboot we're getting.
"These particular detectives had a pattern that when they arrest you, if you didn't do the crime they're arresting you for, you've got some other crime that you're getting away with, so as far as they was concerned, you was always guilty. So there was no preconceived notion that I might not be guilty of this crime, no."
Today the Blackstone Rangers are known as the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation, and have more than 30,000 members in the United States. They have a ... complicated history. Yes, they're a criminal gang, but one that's also been credited with stopping riots and keeping the city of Chicago from burning down after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. In the 1980s, members of one of their offshoot gangs were convicted for trying to buy an antitank weapon from FBI agents, presumably to blow stuff up on Libya's behalf. So Darrell was connected to a gang that Chicago PD officers found terrifying. In their minds, he was a dangerous radical. Anything they did to stop him was justified. After all, it's OK for Jack Bauer to blow out people's kneecaps in the name of public safety, right?
"The actual torture ... occurred at a remote hiding place where they'd sometimes take certain suspects. I found that out later on after my arrest. They had a hidden place on the southeast side of Chicago where they would perform all kinds of despicable acts on people that they had arrested." We should note that this isn't based solely on Darrell's word. Chicago has admitted that this torture program existed. It's part of the school curriculum now.
"They went to several other places after taking me to the police station. And even then, after taking me, I wasn't there very long before they took me to the torture site. They first went to a place and they had breakfast, they ate breakfast while I was locked up ... in the backseat of a detective car." Up to that point, the only abuse was that they "hit me on the knees with their flashlight, called me a nigger, and told me that I was in for the roughest day of my life."
The Chicago PD Routinely Tortured People
Cannon's was not an isolated case. From 1972 until 1991, a group of Chicago cops under Commissioner John Burge illegally tortured between 120 and 200 victims. A hundred of them were African American men. This suggests the torture was racially motivated, in the same sense that railing lines of coke every other day suggests you might be an addict. Here's how Darrell described one aspect of his torture:
"The officer with the pump shotgun played Russian on me, showing me a shotgun shell, then turning his back to me, saying, 'Listen Nigger,' and all I could see was his back, and not the shotgun or the shell, and I heard two clicks of the shotgun being . Then he turned to face me, forcing the barrel into my mouth, saying, 'Nigger! Are you going to tell us where A.D. is?'"
Darrell also alleges that they repeatedly shocked his testicles with a cattle prod. If you've seen The Deer Hunter, all of this may sound dismally familiar. There may be a reason for that: Chief Burge had been an intelligence officer in Vietnam, which is generally thought to have had some bearing on his tactics. If you ignore all the horrifying civil rights violations, the whole situation sounds like the setup for six seasons of HBO gold. You've got a military veteran cop who comes back home to a city in the grip of a terrifying, powerful new gang. Legal methods can't stop them, so he turns to the skills he learned fighting America's enemies. This time, the war is personal.
But alas, we live in the real world. Justice was not done. Instead, Chicago wound up with a secret torture program that would've made the CIA proud. It was clear to Darrell that the whole process was so practiced that it was almost professional. "These people were very good at what they did. These people had -- John Burge had been trained, he worked at POW camps, and he knew how to extract information -- whether it be true or false -- from VCs when he was in the Army. And he took these same torture tactics back to Chicago, and he got on the police department, and he applied that. He got an all-white crew who believed like he believed, that niggers had no rights, and whatever they wanted to do to us was fair game."
Science is pretty clear that torture doesn't work for obtaining actual useful information. But it does a great job of making people say whatever you want them to say. "First of all, you have to understand one thing: The human body is only able to take so much before you'll do anything to stop what is happening to you at the time ... There is no one who can withstand total torture in the matter of which I did without at some point breaking down. Nobody."
Darrell confessed to the murder he hadn't committed. That's what you do when people electrocute your testicles until you say the right words. "You don't keep a diagram or a journal on exactly when it was you couldn't take anymore. I just know that during the process of being tortured, I took all I could, until I couldn't take anymore, and at that point I made a statement, 'I'll tell you anything you want to hear.'"
There Was A Whole Hidden Conspiracy That Took Decades To Dismantle
Darrell signed a confession. He went to trial, and immediately told his lawyer what had happened. His lawyer had him draw out his recollection of the torture. Warning: Graphic frowny faces to follow.
Darrell was convicted in 1984. In 1986, he filed a handwritten complaint. "I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to prove my case, that I had been tortured by some sadistic racist white detectives. I filed a lawsuit on my own, of having been tortured by the city of Chicago. And I did a lot of studying in the law library, and that is what led to me filing that particular suit."
He was offered $3,000 if he'd settle out of court. He refused, because that isn't a whole lot of use when you're still locked up for a murder you didn't commit. We guess you could buy a lot of prison ramen with it, but that's not much comfort. "I sent a letter to the judge, that I would like another attorney appointed, because the one that I had had already been defeated before I even stepped into the court. He was already telling me to accept this settlement, that it was my word against three detectives. I felt that he definitely wasn't going to adequately represent me, so I filed a motion with the judge. The judge refused to grant me a new attorney, and told me I could keep the one I got, or else go pro se, and at the time, I knew nothing about the law in terms of being able to represent myself in court."
Eventually, Darrell was more or less forced to settle out of court, and take a pittance in exchange for being tortured by maniacs.
This Doesn't End With Justice Being Served
Darrell continued his private fight against the Chicago PD for many years. He also used his time inside to study up on the law, because prison is so boring that even law school is an improvement. When we spoke, he pointed out that Illinois -- and many other states nationwide -- have cut funds to prison educational programs in recent years. "They don't do it now, because they understand that would be very bad for them, because too many black men would be educated. They don't want us to be educated. They want us to be stupid and remain in prison."
Darrell spent the better part of decades just "reading, reading, reading. Start reading up on cases of police brutality. Start reading on anything about John Burge and his detectives. I did the work myself. Many a night I stayed awake in my cell until the next day, reading cases ... it was a tedious process ... a continuous process, every year. Once you continuously present your case, once you present evidence that is overwhelming, that's when you're going to get a hearing."
And it does take years. Look at the 1991 conviction of Shawn Whirl.
He spent a quarter of a century behind bars, and like Darrell, the only evidence against him was a confession which he claims he gave after a detective "repeatedly slapped him, drove a key into a wound in on his leg, and muffled his screams." Whirl wasn't released until 2015, after an underfunded government commission finally looked at his case and realized "This shit is super shady and clearly fucked up." That ... may not be the correct legal terminology.
By 1993, the world at large knew Jon Burge and his officers had been torturing confessions out of hundreds of people. Darrell Cannon's conviction was overturned in 2001, but he wasn't released until 2004. "For my previous case, I was out on parole. So once this case was dismissed, I now revert back to my old case, and a parole board would have to give me my freedom, and the parole board refused to do so. The parole board ... felt I had something to do with this case ... and therefore refused to grant me my parole. And it took three years of me fighting this parole board before a judge stood up to this parole board and said, 'Either release Darrell Cannon, or I will.'"
There was obviously a gigantic payout to the victims: $19.8 million. But that wasn't offered to Darrell. Remember how he'd taken that $3,000 out-of-court settlement waaaay back in the '80s? That meant he wasn't entitled to any of the new money. The government instead spent well over a million dollars continuing to fight his case. It didn't work out, but we're sure all that money did more for Chicago than, we don't know, schools or whatever.
Darrell claims he was eventually made an offer: He'd receive over $2 million in compensation, but he'd have to agree to shut up about the torture program, and not embark on advocacy work on behalf of other torture victims in the city's prisons. "I can't go into all of that, because of the fact that it was did under the table, where they was saying, 'Well, if this is disclosed, we will disavow knowledge of every having this conversation.' So there is no way I can concretely prove it, because we did not tape the conversation that we had ..."
As you've probably inferred, once he was out of prison, Darrell got down to advocatin'. "I had a job to do. And my job was: There was men in prison depending on me to keep their cases alive by keeping the John Burge case in the media. And you know, 13 pieces of silver ... I felt like this was the same scenario. My integrity cannot be bought. I have integrity, and my integrity is that I'm going to continue to speak as long as God allows me to wake up ..."
There are currently up to 30 men still serving time for cases connected to the Chicago torture ring. Burge was fired in 1993, when news of the program broke. But he couldn't be charged with "torturing hundreds of people," because it turns out there's a statute of limitation on that.
Huh. Operating a secret torture ring for decades seems like the kind of thing that shouldn't just expire. But hey, what do we know? We're just a website that writes way too many words about Space Jam. Meanwhile, Chicago police have never really stopped abducting and torturing people.
For more from Robert Evans, get his book A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization. For more on the Blackstone Rangers, check out reporter Richard T. Sale's book about his time spent with them on the streets of Chicago.
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