WASHINGTON- Community activists argued before a human-rights panel from the Organization of American States that Chicago, Illinois, has a long history of police brutality against black people that has been covered up by authorities.
It is a record of systematic abuse that should be investigated and put before the world's spotlight, they told a three-member panel of the OAS' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Attorneys for the victims pleaded for an onsite investigation, including interviews of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, to get to the bottom of it.
No officials from the Illinois city spoke before the panel. Daley, the mayor, was on a trip to Poland and unavailable for comment, said his spokeswoman, Jennifer Martinez.
Two attorneys for the U.S. State Department sat in as observers but had no comment.
Bernardine Dohrn, a law professor at Northwestern University and spokeswoman for the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, said that during a 19-year period that ended in 1991, Chicago police displayed "extreme discrimination and racism" in torturing 135 blacks, and no officers were ever charged or tried.
"We have officials in Chicago who could deal with it, but they don't want to deal with it," said David Bates, who said he was tortured by police more than two decades ago, at age 18. "It's a shame we have to come to Washington, D.C., to get people from different countries deal with it."
One tactic used was known as "the Vietnam treatment" and was started by Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge, a Vietnam War veteran who was fired in the early 1990s for mistreating a suspect, according to victims' attorneys.
Burge's attorney, James Sotos, speculated Friday that the activists testified before the human rights panel to bolster a civil lawsuit.
The torture included an electric shock box, they said as they showed a picture of one on a large screen.
The victims' attorneys also complained that special prosecutor Edward J. Egan, a former state appeals court judge, has spent 3 1/2 years looking into the allegations but has produced no results.
Sotos said he, too, is frustrated by the time Egan has spent on the matter, but he sees no reason for a new investigation.
"I can't see the sense of superimposing investigations on top of investigations," Sotos said.
Chicago police spokesman Dave Bayless said the department has dealt with the matter by firing Burge and by cooperating with Egan's investigation.
"We have taken the proper steps in dealing with those cases and firing Jon Burge and continue to cooperate with the special prosecutor dealing with these cases," Bayless said.
Flint Taylor, an attorney for The People's Law Office, said Daley was Cook County state's attorney for eight years when 55 of the torture cases occurred.
"He was aware of torture from the beginning, and he did nothing about it," Taylor told reporters before the hearing began.
Taylor told the commission that while the extreme forms of brutality "more or less" ended with the firing of Burge in the early 1990s, the cover-up of the abuses has extended to 30 years.
Jose Zalaquett, a Chilean lawyer on the OAS commission, said the panel has limited financial resources and rarely makes onsite visits for investigations.
Commission Chairman Clare K. Roberts, an attorney from Antigua and Barbuda, suggested the Chicago activists consider bringing a formal case before the panel.
A formal case could produce public findings by the commission that could prove embarrassing to Chicago officials, but it would not require the city to become involved in an international court proceeding. The United States is not a signatory to the international agreement that provides for court solutions in such cases.
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