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Author John Conroy lectures on wrongful convictions

Published: Monday, September 24, 2012

Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 19:09

John Conroy

Photo by Nick Davison

John Conroy.

John Conroy, an acclaimed author and journalist, took students through an often seen dark and twisted tale of the Chicago Police Department’s 1993 torture scandal last Wednesday. It was a part of the Gage Gallery’s Wrongful Convictions lecture series.

More than 40 students filled Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery as Conroy, who first broke the story, informed the audience of the wrongful convictions and coerced confessions associated with CPD at the time.

Conroy described the life of Jon Burge, a Vietnam veteran turned Chicago detective who began his reign of torture in 1972. Burge was assigned to “Area 2” which is located on 91st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. After he started, complaints of police brutality and torture started creeping up.

According to Conroy, Burge was in a police precinct where brutality was common. However he brought his own interrogation methods with him, including electric shock torture.

Conroy also talked about the case of Andrew Wilson, a man convicted of murdering police officers who was caught by Burge and his unit of crooked cops. He was then brought to Area 2.

Electric shock to the ears, suffocation with plastic bags and beatings were all actions committed by Burge and his group of officers in order to coerce confessions out of suspects, according to Conroy.

While things are better now, Conroy said the issue still remains important for Chicagoans.

“Roosevelt serves a broad economic spectrum,” he said. “I assume a good number of the students here lived in those areas where a lot of this abuse happened and where abuse continues to happen...I think in terms of sheer self-interest, it would be good to know.”

Conroy also pointed out that there are now more complaints of excessive force than before.  And organizations such as the Independent Police Review Authority use outreach techniques to highlight police brutality.

Conroy said he feels that wrongful conviction and false confessions are still a problem plaguing the Chicago justice system today.

“There are a lot of people in jail now, who signed something because the police told them they could go home after they signed it,” he said, “and that’s a lie. And police officers are allowed to lie to people and I don’t think most people realize that. That sole purpose, just self protection.”

Christopher Huff, a University of Chicago social service student, said he was drawn to the lecture series due to his interest in the scandal and his passion for community organizing.

“I decided to come out here because this a very interesting piece on corruption in Chicago,” Huff said. “I wanted to gather more information about corruption within the city to begin hypothesizing which ways we can begin to attack the problem.”

Students were given the last half hour of the lecture to talk with Conroy through question and answer dialogue and more personal, one-on-one discussions.

Chicago native and Roosevelt psychology student, Brett Stachler, said he understood a lot of what Conroy was talking about when it came to corruption and abuse. Stachler said it was depressing to hear about such systematic inequality with the prison system involving torture.

“I’m very interested in the prison industrial complex and just with what the Mansfield Institute [for Social Justice and Transformation] has been putting on for the last couple of years involving the prison industrial complex,” he said.

Conroy’s articles were cited in cases argued before the Illinois Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals and ultimately helped to free four men who had been resident on death row in Illinois, according to his website.

The Wrongful Conviction Distinguished Speakers series is sponsored by the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project and Roosevelt’s psychology department.


Did you sit in on the Conroy lecture? How can the justice system be improved? Tweet us your thoughts @RUTORCH

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