• Books

Chicago’s Reckoning: Racism, Politics, and the Deep History of Policing in an American City

February 2022

Published by Oxford University Press

This book is about the reckoning resulting from the racialized politics of policing and crime in Chicago as well as other American cities. Chicago, like many other cities, has a long history of police abuse of Black and Brown men, women, and communities. Yet it is unique in having ignored the systematic torture of more than one hundred Black men by Police Commander and Detective Jon Burge and a “midnight crew” of officers he supervised. The torture began in the 1970s and lasted for several decades. The full extent of the torture finally came to light through the determined efforts of lawyers, reporters, and activists.  

The Burge torture scandal was one among a number of scandals that occurred during Richard M. Daley’s thirty years as Cook County state’s attorney and then as mayor of Chicago. It was a scandal for which this mayor never accepted meaningful responsibility. Daley likely anticipated that in the racialized world of Chicago politics, he was unlikely to be held legally responsible for failing to stop Burge’s supervision of racist torture. It is sometimes said that “Chicago works a little better crooked.” This is a rationalization of a kind of “Big Lie” used to justify police brutality. The Burge torture scandal powerfully symbolizes the resulting racial reckoning that Chicago is today confronting.