Nearly a decade ago, Chicago made history when it became the first municipality in the U.S. to provide reparations for victims of racially motivated police violence. On May 6, 2015, the Chicago City Council passed the Reparations Ordinance after years of organizing by community members, torture survivors, and advocates. 

The reparations ordinance included $5.5 million in monetary compensation to be paid out to victims, the creation of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, an apology from the mayor and Chicago City Council, free college education at Chicago City Colleges for survivors and their families, a history curriculum for Chicago Public School students in the 8th and 10th grades and the creation of a public memorial for Jon Burge torture survivors. Burge was a Chicago Police Department (CPD) commander. 

After years of delays, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial (CTJM) is one step closer to coming to fruition, thanks to funding made possible by the Mellon Foundation. 

On Juneteenth, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced that the Mellon Foundation would give $6.8 million in grant support to the Chicago Monuments Project (CMP), which was created under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration following the 2020 summer uprisings as a way for the city to reckon with monuments that express outdated values. The CMP is an opportunity for the city to recognize forgotten and unacknowledged histories. The project includes CTJM and seven other new Chicago monuments including the #SayHerName: The Rekia Boyd Monument Project, the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 Commemoration Project and a series of monuments centering the settling of Chicago called DuSable.

CTJM will receive $1.8 million from the Mellon Foundation to complete the project and an additional $1 million in public funds from the City. The city also previously provided $250,000 to the memorial

“I’m at a loss for words. I’m happy, overwhelmed, and most of all, we finally got people to listen,” said Anthony Holmes, a CTJM co-founder and torture survivor. “We got somebody in [the mayor’s] office that’s helping us.”  

Holmes was arrested for murder in the 1970s by ex-Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and two other detectives. After being tortured by Burge and other detectives, he confessed to a murder. Holmes was convicted and served more than 30 years before being released on parole in 2004. 

For a long time, Holmes said, people didn’t believe he’d been forced into a false confession or been tortured. The public memorial is just another form of acknowledgment of the trauma he and dozens of Black men and women experienced at the hands of Burge and his subordinates. 

The public memorial is also another painful reminder of what systemic harm the city has caused its Black residents. 

“It represents our truth and what happened to us. This [memorial] is to make sure it never happens again like it happened to us because people didn’t believe us,” Holmes said.

For Mark Clements, a Chicago Torture Justice Center organizer and torture survivor, the memorial will also pay tribute to countless family members, like his late mother, who organized and sought justice on their behalf. 

“I can see my little mama face as she’s jumping up right now, and she’s so happy because this [the memorial] was also one of her wishes that she made before she died,” Clements said. 

City officials estimate that Burge beat and tortured more than 100 Black men between 1972 and 1991, according to WTTW. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) fired Burge in 1993. He was later convicted of perjury in 2010, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison for perjury in 2011. He was released in 2014 and died in 2018. 

After Burge’s conviction, CTJM organizers began their campaign seeking reparations for his torture survivors, family members and communities. The city has paid out more than $100 million in settlements related to Burge’s misconduct from the mid-2000s to 2022. 

In January 2022, the Chicago City Council approved a $14 million settlement to two men that were coerced into making confessions by CPD detectives who worked under Burge. Both men were exonerated in 2018. The Reparations Ordinance was passed during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in 2015. Still, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, the final piece of the legislation, hadn’t been fulfilled by Emanuel or his successor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

“We worked closely with Emanuel’s administration to implement other parts of the reparations legislation. That took a lot of work, which we’re very proud of. But [Emanuel] definitely did not want to build this memorial,” said Joey Mogul, a co-founder of the CTJM.

Mogul said officials working under Lightfoot’s administration supported the memorial.

“We had members of the City Council who were working with us, and under Lightfoot’s administration, who were very supportive of this memorial and wanted to see it built, but I think it’s really clear given that we are four years later with now, just securing the funding, that Mayor Lightfoot herself was not going to build this memorial,” she continued.

Mogul said she believes the Mellon Foundation grant funding and contributions from the city will be sufficient to complete the project.

“Our position right now is that this is fully funded,” Mogul said. 


The CTJM selected a design for the memorial in 2019, created by Chicago artists Patricia Nguyen and architectural designer John Lee. Their design, titled “Breath, Form & Freedom,” is a 1,600-square-feet winding hallway that is 12 feet high and features the names and dates of victims tortured by Burge and his “Midnight Crew.” 

The goal for its location is the 20th Ward, which covers parts of Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood, Back of the Yards and New City. The city will donate the land to build the memorial. 

There is a specific site in the 20th Ward that CTJM is considering, but they’d like to get feedback from the community before announcing a choice. Their intention is not only to select land for the memorial but for an adjacent center that would serve as an accompanying museum, Mogul said. 

“It’s a privilege. It’s an opportunity. It’s an honor. And it’s a fight that the little people now can say we achieved towards reparations,” Clements said. 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.