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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reporter kept the focus on police torture

At this point, most people in Chicago probably accept as true the torture allegations against retired Chicago police commander Jon Burge and mostly wonder what took so long to indict him.

It's easy to forget that was not always the case.

From the time the accusations were raised in 1983 by attorneys for cop killer Andrew Wilson until fairly recently, the collective attitude in this city was of disbelief, of not wanting to believe such a thing possible and perhaps worse -- not caring enough to demand the truth.

Many people were responsible for changing those attitudes, but I'm going to focus on just one.

As a reporter for the Chicago Reader, John Conroy wrote more than 100,000 words about the police torture scandal between the time he started looking into it in 1989 and when he was laid off last December because of budget cuts.

Although he would tell you he's only a "bit player," Conroy was probably as responsible as anyone for keeping the police torture issue in Chicago's consciousness during that time. He wrote about it and wrote about it, to the point that it probably wasn't good for his career, because nobody likes a Johnny-one-note.

His editor suggested he move on to the next subject, and he tried. After all, he told himself, he wasn't having much impact. But he kept coming back.

"It seemed be a matter of life and death," he explained. "There were guys on Death Row that were going to die."

I don't mean to hold Conroy out as a hero. He wouldn't like that, and I promised him I wouldn't. He was just a journalist doing a job. [Mark Godsey]

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