Police violence, reparations, and trying to make things right. : Planet Money For years, some Chicago police officers tortured suspects. Survivors fought for reparations — and got them. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
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Reparations For Police Brutality

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Reparations For Police Brutality

Reparations For Police Brutality

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MARY CHILDS, HOST:

Hey, everyone. It's Mary Childs. A few years ago, our correspondent Noel King did a show about police brutality and reparations. It originally ran in 2016. We will have a short update at the end. And just before we get started, a quick warning - this story does have graphic language and depictions of police violence. OK. Here it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: This is PLANET MONEY from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NOEL KING: On Nov. 2, 1983, Darrell Cannon was home in bed on the South Side of Chicago, and he woke up to this loud bang, bang, bang at the door.

DARRELL CANNON: Any time you hear some banging like that, you know it's got to be police.

KING: This was not Darrell's first run-in with the police. He'd served time before. The cops rushed in, and Darrell thought, I should hide. So he jumped into a closet.

How did you hide in the closet?

CANNON: Just hid in the closet and put clothes in front of me. And at first, they opened the closet door. And then he left the door, and he thought I wasn't in there. And then another one of them happened to move the clothes to the side, and there I was.

KING: And there was the cop.

CANNON: He had a shotgun, and he jumped back and pulled the shotgun on me. (Unintelligible). Let me see your hand. Let me see your hand.

KING: The cop cuffed him and made him lie down while the other cops tossed his house, looking for guns. So now Darrell's there on the floor, and he's looking around. And he's watching his cat freak out. His cat's name, by the way, is Killer.

CANNON: Killer went up the wall (laughter). The white folks scared the living daylights out of Killer. Killer run everywhere.

KING: When they were done searching, the cops frog-marched Darrell downstairs and put him in the back of an unmarked car. They told him a man had been murdered, and they thought he had something to do with it. Darrell had been through this before, so he knew the routine, or he thought he did. At the police station, they parked him in an interview room. And then after a couple of minutes, a detective walked in. He had a brown paper shopping bag, and he pulled something out of it. It was about two feet long with prongs sticking out.

CANNON: That was my first time seeing the cattle prod.

KING: A cattle prod.

CANNON: He said, you going to tell us what we want to know? And I looked at him, saying, I got nothing to tell you. He said, OK. You going to talk before the day is over with. And he put the cattle prod back in the bag and walked back out.

KING: Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Noel King. Today on the show, the story of Darrell Cannon, a guy who'd be the first to tell you he broke lots of rules back in the day. But then the people who were supposed to be enforcing the rules broke them even harder. The city of Chicago is now trying to make up for it, but it's not easy. There's no road map. And what really is enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Here's how Darrell wound up in a room with a cop and a cattle prod. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He was a pretty typical kid. He was a really big Elvis fan. He went to all of Elvis' movies.

CANNON: I liked them because of the girls. Every movie that Elvis has ever been in, he has some beautiful women around him, whether it was Ann-Margret or somebody else.

KING: He had to be a little careful going to the theater because the South Side streets were carved up by gangs. Darrell was actually in a gang himself. He joined as a teenager. They were called the Blackstone Rangers, and the theater was in a rival gang's territory.

CANNON: I would go there and sit in the theater and wait until the film start, and I would see my Elvis movie. And when my Elvis movie was over with, I would take the long way around going back home because I couldn't take the same route I took because the gangs was out now.

KING: Darrell carried a gun.

CANNON: I had a .22, a five-shot .22 that would carry with me. Just in case my rivals came across me in their neighborhood, I had some kind of firepower to get away.

KING: Darrell was living with his mom back then, and she was not pleased about any of this - the gangs and the guns. So he hid it from her.

CANNON: When I got away from the house, I would put my black scarf on my head. It was to signify I'm a Ranger. But as soon as I got near the house, I'd take it off because if I didn't, my mama would knock it off.

KING: She would beat you?

CANNON: Ooh-hoo (ph).

KING: (Laughter).

CANNON: My mama didn't play. My mama didn't play.

KING: So there were his mom's rules, but Darrell says there were also rules in the gang, like if you saw one of your rivals walking with his parents or his girlfriend, you left him alone. But if he was on his own and you had a score to settle, he's fair game. Darrell even had a title. He was called a shooter.

Why were you considered a shooter?

CANNON: Because I would shoot.

KING: You - because you had good aim or 'cause you had a gun?

CANNON: Oh, yes. I was - you know, any time you seeing me wear a black wristband, you knew I had the gun on me because the gun was so powerful that I needed the wristbands so that I could hold it like this here to shoot. And I was extremely accurate. And some of my rivals, one in particular - I won't mention his name - he was very deadly, too. In fact, he had shot my hat off my head one night in an ambush. He let me know that - OK, I almost got you, you know? I said, OK, now it's my turn.

KING: Darrell spent his teens in the gang, and then in 1971 he was convicted of murdering a man. He spent 12 years in prison, and then he was paroled. When he got out, he went straight back to gang life, which brings us to the morning of the raid in 1983. From the minute the cops found him in the closet, Darrell knew something was different here than in his other run-ins with the police because when they found him, they started calling him names.

CANNON: Grown man - first time in my life being called a [expletive] by a white person, yes.

KING: That was the first time?

CANNON: First time.

KING: 1983?

CANNON: 1983.

KING: So now, Darrell tells me, he's an interview room, and there's a cattle prod. And he has no idea what to think. That's when the three cops take him outside and put him back in the car. And they start driving him southeast, out of the city. They drive to this deserted place, this rural place. And there's a big pipe - it's big enough for the car to fit through. They drive through the pipe, and they come out the other side. And he sees a pond and a road that climbs up a hill.

CANNON: They drove up that hill, turned the car around. They got me out the car, and one of the first things they said was [expletive], look around. Nobody's going to hear or see nothing we do to you. And when I looked around, there was nothing but isolated area. Now I started to get concerned. I said, uh-oh. Now, this ain't right at all.

KING: One of the cops gets a shotgun out of the trunk, tells Darrell open your mouth. When Darrell won't, the cop forces the gun in.

CANNON: Split my lip and he chipped my two teeth. And then when they had the barrell in my mouth, they said OK, [expletive] you going to tell us what we want to hear. And I'm trying to tell them - I don't know nothing. And then one of them said go ahead, shoot that [expletive]. And that's when they pulled the trigger (imitating trigger pull). And then he took the shotgun back out. He say, now [expletive], listen.

KING: The cop turns away from Darrell and makes like he's loading the shotgun, and then he puts it back in Darrell's mouth. He does this two more times.

CANNON: And then the third time, when I heard that trigger click, in my mind, my mind told me that he had just blew the back of my head off 'cause my hair stood straight up. And at that point, I was beyond fear. Fear wasn't even an option anymore. I honestly thought I was going to die.

KING: Darrell's thinking it can't get any worse. He's in the middle of nowhere. They're mock executing him. And then it does get worse.

CANNON: And they open the back door of the detective car and made me turn sideways and sit down sideways in the detective car where my feet was outside the detective car. They pull my pants and my shorts down. And that's when Sergeant Byrne was standing in front of me with that cattle prod and Grunhard came around to the backseat and he pulled my hands up. And when he did, he jerked my hands, my cuffs, and I laid down on the back seat. And Byrne turned the cattle prod on and stuck it to my testicles. And the pain that I felt from that was something that I ain't never felt before in my life. And in doing so...

KING: In doing so, they finally broke him.

CANNON: I say, OK, I'll tell you anything you want to hear. And then they started asking me questions all over again. And I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the way it was. That's the way it was because by the end my mind was so messed up.

KING: Daryl confessed, said he was there when the murder happened, that he didn't pull the trigger, but that he was an accomplice. And before they took him to jail, they stopped at a gas station.

CANNON: At the gas station, they said, you want something to drink? Because my throat was dry and it was supposed to be so cold outside, they thought I wanted coffee. I said, no, no, no; get me a pop. I want something cold. And they took my money that they had took from me and bought me a pop (laughter) with my money. Yeah...

KING: See, I...

CANNON: And then I bought them something, too. They took my money and spent it on themselves as well. I mean, they...

KING: I - you can - you laugh. You can laugh.

CANNON: Yeah, because it is so sickening that it's comical. You know, you don't think that, for one moment, people that swore to serve and protect would act like this.

KING: The cops take Darrell to the county jail. The next morning, he finally sees his lawyer. And he tells his lawyer, these guys tortured me. And his lawyer tells him, all right, draw me a picture.

CANNON: When they took you, who did what, everything. I said, man, I can't draw. He said, give me some stick figures. I said, OK. And that's what I did.

KING: Darrell went to trial in 1984. He tried to get his confession suppressed, but he couldn't. He was found guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison based on a confession that the police had tortured out of him. So Darrell sits in prison - 1984, '85, '86, '87, '88.

And at this point, we're going to leave the story of Darrell Cannon for a little while because outside the prison walls, something really big was happening, something that would eventually force Chicago to take another look at Darrell's case. In 1989, a reporter in Chicago named John Conroy got a tip from a friend. It wasn't about Darrell's case. It was about a different inmate, a guy who said he'd been tortured into a confession by Chicago police officers. The reporter, John Conroy, thought it sounded crazy.

JOHN CONROY: I didn't think it was possible. At the time, you know, a police officer's word was the Bible truth.

KING: But he went to this man's trial anyway. The guy's name was Andrew Wilson. And Wilson had evidence of torture. There were pictures taken after his interrogation where his skin looked burned. Conroy started to believe him, and he wrote a story about Wilson. And not long after the story ran, Conroy started getting letters from Darrell Cannon, who was sitting in jail. In one of those letters, Darrell included the drawings that he'd done right after he was tortured.

CONROY: What was remarkable was that he had drawn pictures of his torture. And so he drew a picture of a cattle prod.

KING: Conroy eventually wrote about Darrell and about other men who came forward. There was a law firm, the People's Law Office, that had been collecting these stories of torture.

CONROY: You know, originally, they had probably eight names of people who had been either shocked or otherwise - or otherwise suffered serious abuse. And then it expanded. It was 16. It was 38. It was 52. And now it's at 118.

KING: Here's what emerged - for 20 years, a group of Chicago police officers known as the midnight crew banged on doors and took men from their homes or snatched them from the street and threw them in cars and tortured them. And the city knew about this for years. But over time, the tide of stories made it impossible to ignore. Some of the men won new trials and were released. And Chicago was left with this huge question - how do you make something like this right?

CONROY: There is no guidebook for this. There's no expert you go to and say, well, what did Cincinnati do, or what happened in Tulsa? There's no answer.

KING: One way to make things right would be for the police officers behind all this to go to trial. That didn't happen. The statute of limitations had run out, so it was too late to charge these guys. The ringleader, John Burge, was eventually charged with perjury. That was for lying about the torture. He was sentenced to four and a half years. He got time off for good behavior. I reached out to him and the officers Darrell accuses of torturing him, but I didn't hear back. So what could make this right for all those men who were tortured?

One way we try to do this is with money. But exactly how much money? It's not like there's a formula here. Every guy's story was different. Some of them spent years in prison, some of them spent decades. Some were innocent. They were exonerated. Some were guilty. What they had in common was the torture. Some did sue the city. But the amount of money each guy got could seem sort of random. Ronald Kitchen was one of the torture victims. A couple years ago, Ronald was exonerated after 21 years in prison. When he got out, he sued Chicago. And as he remembers it, he just kind of picked a number.

RONALD KITCHEN: It had to be - what? - I think it was 68 million, or some [expletive] like that.

KING: Sixty-eight million - why? Why'd you pick that number?

KITCHEN: I was just throwing out a number.

KING: You just threw - you picked...

KITCHEN: Listen. The thing was, you want them to recognize, to take heed.

KING: Did you pick 68 million out of the hat?

KITCHEN: I just told them I want - what? - 7 million for a year. It was some crazy number. I can't remember what I was talking about. They was like, fine. It was - it was - and I meant that. It was - I think I wanted 3 million - 3 million for each year, or something like that.

KING: Three times 21.

KITCHEN: Yeah, it was something like that.

KING: Ronald settled for just over $6 million. But other guys weren't exonerated like Ronald was. They'd served their full sentences, and so much time had passed that the statute of limitations had run out. They couldn't sue the city. They'd need another option. Meanwhile, a group of activists and lawyers and victims were pushing Chicago to make a big gesture to acknowledge that the torture had happened and to apologize for it. They wanted a very specific word used - reparations.

JOEY MOGUL: It felt very important to us, and it felt like the only fitting term.

KING: That is Joey Mogul. She's a lawyer, and she's been working with some of these guys for years. She co-founded Chicago Torture Justice Memorials. That's the activist group that led this effort. And look, Joey knew that reparations is a heavy word. It's usually used when we talk about making amends for slavery. That's why these activists liked the term. The men who were tortured were all Black or Latino. The officers were white. The torture ruined lives, tore apart families. And amazingly, the city of Chicago said, yes, we will make reparations.

CONROY: I think the use of the word - reparations - is stunning.

KING: That's John Conroy, the reporter who spent years covering this.

CONROY: You can't find another case in the United States where a city has paid reparations to people who have been tortured or otherwise abused by a police force. And so as soon as you start talking about paying reparations to a population of people that's largely African American, you open up a pretty interesting chapter in the United States' history.

KING: The torture victims, we're going to get their apology, but they wanted something else, too. They wanted money. And this turned out to be a really big sticking point. It took years of back-and-forth negotiations to figure out what's enough. The activists doing the negotiating first asked for a $20 million package, and the city came back with zero.

MOGUL: The city was refusing to provide any financial compensation whatsoever.

KING: The victims said, OK, we'll go down to 12 million. The city offered two to three. They settled on 5.5 million, split evenly among 57 torture victims. Each man got $100,000, including Darrell Cannon, who was tortured with a cattle prod. Darrell spent more than 20 years in prison. In 2007, after a new hearing, he got out. He went back to the south side. And then, this year, he got the news. There was a check made out to him from the city of Chicago. He was finally going to get reparations. The checks were going to be mailed out, but Darrell was like, uh-uh.

CANNON: I went and got it.

KING: Why?

CANNON: Because I don't trust (laughter) - I don't trust the system. I don't want you talking about, we sent it. Oh, you haven't gotten it yet? You know, well, let's wait a while. No, no, no, no. I don't - I done went through too many changes with you. I don't trust you. I'm coming to get my money.

KING: He went on in to the treasurer's office.

CANNON: I went in and said, my name is Darrell Cannon, and I'm here to pick up my money. And they, in turn, said, may I see your ID? They already knew what money I was talking about. I didn't even have to say torture money. You know, they knew. And I showed them, and the man gave me my check.

KING: It was $97,000. The city had deducted some money because of a small payout many years ago. A few weeks after Darrell got the money, I met him at his house on the South Side of Chicago. He's an old guy now. He's got grandkids and this little, black dog called Tiny Anne that follows him around everywhere. I wanted to know how he felt about getting the money and what it meant to him, so I asked him how he was spending it. And he said on his family, mostly.

He sent some cash to his kids and his grandkids down South. His brother died earlier this year, and Darrell paid for the funeral. He got his brother a nice plot on a hill. He says that's so his brother can look down on people. He bought his wife a diamond ring, and he says that her knees got weak when he gave it to her. And he bought himself a couple things, too - a 2014 Chevy Impala to replace his old junker and a new phone. He was happy to show them off.

It's a beautiful car. What color is that? That's gold?

CANNON: I like to call it champagne.

KING: Champagne.

CANNON: Yes, ma'am.

KING: I like that.

CANNON: Very eloquent and nice, you know? And like I say, you don't see a lot of them around. And that's another reason why I picked it out - because of the color.

KING: Tell me about your phone - your Galaxy.

CANNON: Oh, yeah. This is the Galaxy 6. I had told myself that whenever I got some money, I was going to turn in my Galaxy 3 and get me a Galaxy 6.

KING: That phone is champagne, too, isn't it?

CANNON: Almost.

KING: You like the color.

CANNON: Yeah, well, it suits the car and the phone, you know? And I like to be kind of color-coordinated.

KING: Suits the man, too.

CANNON: You know, what can I say? Only in America (laughter).

KING: Talking to Darrell, it's impossible not to feel happy for him, but you feel something else, too. Twenty years in prison, all he lost, and the city gave him $100,000. When I met him, he had about nine grand left. Darrell is old friends with one of the other torture victims, Ronald Kitchen. That's the guy who sued the city and won $6 million. They grew up on the same streets. And I asked Darrell and Ronald if they'd be willing to talk to each other about the money. They agreed, so we set up a phone call. Ronald was in Philly, and I was with Darrell in Chicago.

CANNON: How you be, brother man?

KITCHEN: I'm good. How you doing?

CANNON: I'm taking it one day at a time, so...

KING: You went through kind of the same experience, but Ronald sued the city and got more than $6 million, and Darrell got $100,000. Does it ever get weird for you?

KITCHEN: I - you know, I think people think that you get 6.7 million, they feel that, you know - you know, that the city done paid for it. But like I always said, it's not about the money. It don't matter because it's not about how much money you get because the things that was taken away from you, you can't buy that with money.

KING: Darrell, you - you don't feel jealous that Ronald got 6.7 million?

CANNON: No. Look. For all the - I have told him they should have got more than 6 million. And I meant just that.

KING: Are the two of you unusual, do you think?

CANNON: I cannot speak for other people. I can speak for me. The money didn't make or break me, in no sight, form or fashion. And it is not something that I dwell on and wish that it was more.

KING: I talked to a handful of men who got the reparations money. Most said they spent it on mundane things and necessities, like a new wristwatch, furniture, mortgage payments. When I asked if it was enough, they all said basically the same thing - your question is crazy. Of course it's not enough. Nothing could ever be enough. Asking about numbers is missing the point.

The guys are going to get a couple of other things - free community college for them and their kids and their grandkids, job training, psychological counseling. But there is one other thing that Darrell would like, and that has to do with the men who tortured him.

CANNON: You know, my lawyers don't like for me to say what I'm getting ready to say, but I still say it anyway. And that is I cannot stand the air that they breathe. I hate them just that much.

KING: And if he got a chance to be in the same room with them...

CANNON: I would love to use a cattle prod on any one of them.

KING: You wouldn't.

CANNON: Yes, I would. You know, I know it's wrong to say.

KING: Would you?

CANNON: Yes, yes, yes, because I would want them to experience what I felt. And I would shock them until one of two things happened - they had a heart attack or the batteries died. I ain't lying. I ain't lying. If it took all day, I'd - (imitating cattle prod).

KING: None of this is simple. None of this is fixed. Some of the men who got reparations checks are still in prison. That means Chicago admits they were tortured into confessions, but they're still locked up. So everyone said no amount of money could ever be enough, but there was one thing that all of these guys agreed on - everyone I spoke to. As part of this reparations package, every 8th and 10th grader in the city of Chicago is going to learn about this torture. It's going to be part of the school curriculum. Every one of the guys said this is what's important to me, that they're going to tell our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHILDS: That was Noel King. After the break, an update.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHILDS: Two years after this show aired, former police commander Jon Burge, who led the unit that tortured people in Chicago, died. In 2010, he'd been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was the only cop to ever actually be tried and convicted for anything related to the torture ring. And in June, Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot, brought up his name at a press conference as an example of how messed up the police accountability system is.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Jon Burge caused immeasurable harm to so many people. He got out of prison, and he lived a number of years thereafter. And every minute, he enjoyed his police pension. There's nothing right about that. That's offensive.

CHILDS: But, at the same time, Lightfoot's administration continues to spend millions of dollars in court fighting victims of the torture ring who are seeking reparations from the city. As we were preparing to rerun this piece, I got back in touch with Darrell Cannon, and I asked him about that.

CANNON: It's ridiculous. And, you know, that money can better go towards the reparation.

CHILDS: Meanwhile, Darrell and other survivors are still waiting on some other reparations promises the city made five years ago, one big one in particular - a monument.

CANNON: So the monument means the world to us because it's a permanent something to show of what we had to endure.

CHILDS: Chicago said it would work to build this public monument to honor the torture survivors. There is a design, a stone building shaped kind of like a snail shell marked with a list of names.

CANNON: The memorial is not something to remind us simply of the horror. It's to remind us that we as a people can make a change if we come about and we stay the course.

CHILDS: But so far, nothing's happened. Lightfoot's administration has yet to fund the building. Other parts of the reparations bill, though, are working.

Oh, I meant to ask you. Your grandson is going to City College. Is that right?

CANNON: (Laughter) That is correct - off the reparations that we won, my grandson is benefiting. He is going to Olive-Harvey College. And he's studying criminal law. His intent is to be a police officer.

CHILDS: Oh, wow.

(LAUGHTER)

CHILDS: Stop.

(LAUGHTER)

CANNON: Yeah. That is his intent...

CHILDS: Wow.

CANNON: ...To be a police officer. I say, yes, sir, we do need a new wave of police officers in the city of Chicago. No doubt about that. We need officers that are aware of what has happened in the Black community in the past. You know, you did one thing wrong to me, but my grandson is going to rectify it. That's poetic justice as far as I'm concerned.

CHILDS: And I asked Darrell if he'd been to any of the recent protests against police brutality and racism.

CANNON: Oh, yes, ma'am. I've been to a couple of protests, but they didn't know I was there, you know, with you having the cap on, glasses and the mask.

CHILDS: Glasses and a mask, so he was basically anonymous. He could have gotten up on whatever stage and taken the mic, but he says he didn't want to.

CANNON: Because I did not want to detract from the youngsters that have now picked up the mantle and started this crusade.

CHILDS: Darrell says he's feeling hopeful that his fight is being led by a new generation.

CANNON: We have done our homework. We have done what people like Dr. King, Gandhi, other influential leaders who have came long before us to say that, hey, look, you can achieve your goals of being treated like a human being. You can achieve a measure of justice. It's not going to be easy, but you can achieve it. And so all of us are thinking about that. And we are continuing this crusade until justice prevails.

CHILDS: When we first ran this episode, Noel did a companion version that focuses more on Darrell's life an emotional journey. That was for our friends at WNYC's podcast Death, Sex And Money. They are publishing that again next week. If you have questions or comments about today's episode, email us at planetmoney@npr.org. or tweet us @planetmoney. We're also on Facebook and Instagram and TikTok. Special thanks to Will Porch, Anthony Holmes, George Powell, Alice Kim and Daniel Coyne.

Today's episode was originally produced by Jess Jiang. And this rerun was produced by Liza Yeager. Alex Goldmark is our managing editor. Bryant Urstadt edits the show. I'm Mary Childs. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.

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