Two stories caught my eye this week about police torture and false confessions. In newspapers around the country, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts tells the story of James Cameron, a black man who in 1930 survived a lynching by the KKK, only to be convicted in the killing of a white man based on his tortured false confession. Seventy six years ago in 1930 in Marion, Indiana, Cameron, then only 16, and two other black men were arrested and charged with the murder. Police stomped him until he signed a confession he was not allowed to read. They hoisted the dead man's bloody shirt on a flagpole outside the station as the unruly mob gathered and grew in numbers throughout the day. A false rumor spread that Cameron and the two other men had raped the dead man's girlfriend. Once day turned to night, the mob stormed the jail and pulled the three men out. They beat Thomas Shipp to death and rammed a crowbar through Abram Smith, then strung up both men to a tree, wrapping Shipp's body in the robe of the KKK. They beat Cameron senseless and were about to hang him from a tree when a voice from the crowd -- Cameron says it was the voice of God -- called out and said that Cameron had committed no crime. Miraculously, the mob listened. In 1988, Cameron founded the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, an institution which commemorates the U.S. history of racial violence. In 1993, he returned to Indiana to receive an official pardon for his role in the murder. James Cameron died last week at the age of 92. (A picture of the hanging of Smith and Shipp can be seen here). http://www.theblackmarket.com/lynch.htm Six years after Cameron's wrongful conviction, in the landmark case of Brown v. Mississippi, the United States Supreme Court held that confessions obtained by torture were unconsitutional.
The Supreme Court's decision in Brown was supposed to put an end to the physical abuse of suspects during interrogations. But did it?. By and large, extreme cases of physical abuse -- whippings, hangings, burnings, hog-tieing, hanging suspects outside of windows, etc. -- have abated. Although isolated instances of such abuses do occur, systemic wide torture is a rarity today -- with one notable exception - Chicago, IL. -- home to the hundreds of cases of police torture in the late 70's through the late 1980's, most of which were committed by police officers acting under the command of a Commander named Jon Burge. Under Burge's command, detectives used a crank box to send electrical shocks into the genitals of suspects, suffocated suspects by placing bags over their heads, and burned suspects on radiators -- in order to get confessions. While Burge was dismissed in 1993 -- he now lives in Florida and collects a pension -- neither Burge, nor dozens of others who participated in or knew about the torture have ever been prosecuted. The Police Department and the City of Chicago have never officially admitted that the torture existed, although a report by the Office of Professional Standards acknowledged the torture and was promptly buried. In the next few weeks, an accounting of sorts will occur as a Special Prosecutor's report confirming that torture occurred is expected to be released. For a useful outline of the Chicago torture scandal, check out the article below by John Conroy of the Chicago Reader: