With Chicago Police Investigation, Advocates Ask, What Took So Long? Chicago's department is the latest to be in the spotlight for shooting a black man, which critics say is evidence of a long history of the city's police using excessive force on minorities.
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With Chicago Police Investigation, Advocates Ask, What Took So Long?

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With Chicago Police Investigation, Advocates Ask, What Took So Long?

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With Chicago Police Investigation, Advocates Ask, What Took So Long?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Chicago, another video made public showing the alleged use of excessive force by police. This one shows officers repeatedly using a Taser on a man and dragging him out of a cell in handcuffs. Now, critics say these incidents are part of a long history of the Chicago Police using excessive force on minorities. NPR's David Schaper has this report but first, a warning to our listeners because this story contains graphic descriptions of torture.

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DARREL CANNON: My name is Darrel Cannon, and I am a survivor of having been tortured.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The day he was tortured was one that Darrel Cannon says will live with him until he takes his last breath - November 2, 1983. And the torture came at the hands of three Chicago Police detectives. They suspected Cannon in a murder, so they took him to an isolated area on Chicago's South Side and played Russian roulette.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CANNON: They took a shotgun while my hands was cuffed behind my back. And while I was standing out there, one of the detectives told me, and I quote, "[expletive], look around. Nobody's going to see or hear anything we do to you today."

SCHAPER: Cannon says one detective put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, and he heard three clicks of the trigger. The last, he says, made his hair stand on end. Cannon says the detectives later made him lay in the back of a police car.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CANNON: They pulled my pants and shorts down. They took an electric cattle prod...

SCHAPER: While testifying before a Chicago City Council Committee earlier this year, Cannon needed a minute to collect himself before continuing.

CANNON: He took an electric cattle prod, and he turned it on. And he stuck me on my genitals with that cattle prod (crying). I had never in my life experienced that kind of pain.

SCHAPER: Darrel Cannon was tortured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to life in prison before being exonerated in 2004. Throughout the 1970s and into the early '90s, hundreds of black men were tortured by Chicago Police lieutenant Jon Burge and the detectives under his command. Though he was fired, Burge was never charged criminally until convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the torture in 2010. Earlier this year, the Chicago City Council approved reparations payments to Cannon and other victims of torture.

ANDY SHAW: We've been living with this epidemic of excessive force in Chicago for decades.

SCHAPER: Andy Shaw is a veteran Chicago journalist who now heads up the watchdog group the Better Government Association.

SHAW: The sad reality is that no one has ever confronted it head on.

SCHAPER: What recent BGA investigations have found are, in Shaw's words, shocking and shameful.

SHAW: Chicago taxpayers have spent more than half a billion dollars on excessive force cases over a decade. Chicago police have shot more people dead over a five-year period than any other big city. And we have the smallest rate of police officers accused of misconduct who are actually charged by an independent review board.

SCHAPER: Shaw and others in Chicago are not surprised the Department of Justice is opening a civil rights investigation of the police department. Instead, they ask, what took so long? Flint Taylor of the People's Law Office has represented victims of excessive force since the police killings of Black Panthers' Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969.

FLINT TAYLOR: I think that the culture of police violence and cover-up and code of silence hasn't changed in those 45 or 46 years.

SCHAPER: Still, not everyone believes there's a systemic problem in Chicago's police department. Alderman Ed Burke is a former police officer and powerful chairman of the city council's finance committee, which has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts for police misconduct. Under questioning from reporters, Burke says there's no need for a federal civil rights investigation.

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ED BURKE: In my opinion?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, in your opinion.

BURKE: There's no institutional problem. Will there be individual officers who will make mistakes - absolutely.

SCHAPER: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, welcomes the Department of Justice investigation and acknowledges the city needs it. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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