CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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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thank you for this post. it's an example of how things change: they can but it takes a lot of words, and work.

I went to a seminar yesterday and the expert described how kids almost always don't believe cops will lie. I remember when I was a public defender and my client brought his nieces to our interview and, when he said "police" they winced and got scared. It was a wake up call for me. My kids would think of police as safe but these were afraid of the word.

Different neighborhoods = different political power and wealth = different perspectives.


Posted by: david | Oct 23, 2008 10:05:43 AM

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