US QUESTIONED ON RECORD OF POLICE BRUTALITY BY
UN COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE
Committee Members Call for Action on TASERs, Burge Torture Cases
Monday, May 8, 2006 (GENEVA) – In testimony before the UN Committee Against Torture today, the US government defended its record on police brutality in response to questions raised about the excessive and deadly use of TASERs, the illegal use of coerced confessions, particularly those in the Burge torture cases in Chicago, and rape and sexual abuse by law enforcement agents.
“According to the US government, all allegations of police brutality are investigated, and if the facts warrant, they are prosecuted. The reality is that prosecutions for police brutality are the exception, not the rule,” said Andrea Ritchie, a civil rights attorney from New York City.
A case in point, raised by several Committee members today, involves the torture of over 135 African Americans to secure false confessions by former Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command at the Chicago Police Department over a twenty year period. Torture techniques used by the police officers included electrically shocking genitals with cattle prods and electric shock boxes, suffocations with plastic bags, and beatings about the body with telephone books and rubber hoses. Despite mountains of evidence and numerous judicial findings that Burge and his officers “systematically” and “methodically” tortured African Americans at police headquarters, not a single officer or official has been prosecuted.
Joey Mogul, an attorney with People's Law Office in Chicago, who represents Leroy Orange, one of the torture victims pardoned on Illinois’ death row on the basis of his innocence in 2003, said “We are pleased that the UN Committee Against Torture asked the Government to keep it apprised of developments in these cases, and expressed concern that torture victims remain in prison as a result of convictions based on confessions coerced by torture. We look forward to swift action in these cases by the federal government in light of the Department of Justice’s claim to the Committee that no one is above the law, and that it is committed to prosecuting cases of torture by law enforcement agents.”
While the Burge cases are among the most egregious and infamous cases of torture in recent history, they are by no means isolated or historic. A report submitted to the Committee on police brutality issues on behalf of 40 groups, including the NAACP, the Center for Constitutional Rights, NOW, the United Church of Christ, and the American Friends Service Committee, as well as grassroots police accountability organizations, outlined numerous cases of severe police brutality which have gone unpunished, including cases of TASER abuse and rape and sexual assault by law enforcement agents.
A member of the Committee called for federal action regulating the use of TASERs in light of the over 150 deaths with have resulted from TASER use in the last five years and their widespread unregulated use, including on children, pregnant women, elderly people, or people under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The US government claimed that TASERs ultimately save lives despite evidence that in the vast majority of cases TASERs are used against unarmed non-aggressive individuals.
The report also highlighted trends in the use of excessive force against people of color in the US and law enforcement and military violence in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the considerable barriers to police accountability and redress for victims of torture and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment in the US.
Committee members also raised the need to collect nationwide statistics on incidents of police brutality in order to facilitate prevention and to accurately assess the United State’s record of prosecution and deterrence.
The Committee’s Concluding Observations and Recommendations to the US government on issues raised during its review of the US government report submitted to the Committee regarding its compliance with the CAT last spring are expected to be released next week.
For more information, please contact:
Andrea Ritchie (646) 831-1243 or firstname.lastname@example.org