It's a moment that seemed like it would never come. But yesterday former Chicago police commander Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his years-long practice of torturing suspects until they “confessed.” The victims of Burge and his rogue violent crimes unit number more than a hundred.
The verdict means Burge will face up to 45 years in prison — not such a tough sentence when you realize it adds up to less than six months for each one of his victims. Burge couldn't be charged with the torture itself because the statute of limitations had expired; he was fired in 1993.
For me, the unsung hero in this story is a former Chicago Reader reporter named John Conroy, whose lengthy series of articles uncovering Burge's crimes, articles that appeared between 1990 and 2007, were decisive in bringing these horrific misdeeds to light. Some of Conroy's reporting was collected in a book on torture; some of it made it into a play he wrote, supported by the Steppenwolf Theater, which was presented in a staged reading last October.
Conroy himself, along with three other valuable staff reporters, was laid off from the Readerin late 2007, a move mourned by his loyal readers. But his work there, and Burge's conviction this week, serves as a critical reminder of the significant role alternative weeklies have played in uncovering official corruption and criminality — and how sorely we all feel their staff reductions in recent years, which have included the downsizing of excellent, talented, tough reporters like Conroy.