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Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago, 1871–1971 Hardcover – May 25, 2016
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—Michael J. Pfeifer, author of Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874–1947
"In this short and accessible book, historian Elizabeth Dale places contemporary discussions of race and police violence into larger historical context."
—Journal of Illinois History
"Elizabeth Dale has performed a service in writing this book. It is a welcome reminder of the bad old days of policing—days that one would hope are behind us now, provided we remain vigilant."
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In addition to this illuminating case study, Dale provides a chapter on police violence 1871 - 1936 and another covering the period 1936-71. Each of these chapters explores the history and changing nature of police violence in Chicago, as well as changing legal doctrine and reformers’ efforts to end these practices.
Dale begins and ends her study with the case of Police Commander Jon Burge. In 2010 Burge was convicted in federal court of having lied about the use of torture on over one hundred, African-American men between 1972 and 1991. Alleged techniques included electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, mock executions, and extreme physical abuse. He was fired in 1993 and it took nearly two decades before justice was served. (My only criticism is that I wish Dale had gone into much greater detail and given much more in-depth background on the decades of organizing, pro bono legal work, and investigative reporting by many lawyers and activists that resulted in exposing these atrocities and led to some eventual redress. However, this slim volume (125 pages of text) focuses on providing a historical background for understanding police torture.
As a result of these efforts to expose and convict Burge, in 2009 the Illinois General Assembly established a new state agency, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (the only one of its kind in the nation). It was empowered to investigate claims of police torture in Cook County (although it was given only a shoestring budget.). In 2015 the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance apologizing to victims, provided damages, and mandated that the case be taught about in Chicago Public School history classes in the 8th and 10th grades. Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago, 1871-1971 offers a timely and invaluable historical perspective on a major contemporary problem that has received little attention from historians.