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For Men Tortured By Chicago Police, Payments Only Go So Far In Repairing Lives


Chicago, in the 1970s and '80s, had a notorious group of police officers known as the midnight crew. They tortured more than 100 black and Latino men into confessions. Decades later, Chicago is trying to make amends, in part, with payments the city is calling reparations. Noel King from our Planet Money podcast talked to some of the victims about what the money means to them.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: When Darrell Cannon heard the city of Chicago would mail him a check for almost $100,000, he was like, uh-uh.

DARRELL CANNON: I went and got it.

KING: Why?

CANNON: Because I don't trust them (laughter). I don't trust the system. I don't want you talking about - we sent it. Oh, you haven't gotten it yet? You know.

KING: Darrell doesn't trust the system because he spent 24 years in prison after the police tortured him into a confession. A few weeks after he got his check, I went to visit Darrell at his house on the South Side.

CANNON: Can I get you anything - pop, water...

KING: I asked him how he was spending the money. And he said family mostly. He sent some cash to his kids and grandkids. His brother passed. Darrell paid for the funeral. He bought his wife a diamond ring. His car and his phone were both old junkers, so he traded up.

Beautiful car.

CANNON: You know, it's not too...

KING: What color is that? That's gold?

CANNON: I like to call it champagne.

KING: Champagne.

CANNON: Yes ma'am.

KING: I like that.

CANNON: Very eloquent and nice.

KING: Tell me about your phone - your Galaxy...

CANNON: Oh, yeah, this is the Galaxy 6. I had told myself that whenever I got some money, I was going to turn in my Galaxy 3 and get me a Galaxy 6.

KING: That phone is champagne too, isn't it?

CANNON: Almost.

KING: While I was visiting with Darrell, he got a call from an old friend, Anthony Holmes.

CANNON: Anthony.


CANNON: How you doing?

HOLMES: I'm good. I'm good.

KING: Anthony is another of the torture victims. He also got a $100,000 check. Darrell put him on speakerphone so we could all talk, and the conversation turned to closure.

KING: Can the city of Chicago, Anthony, tell you - you suffered, here's $100,000, and now it's done?

HOLMES: They could never tell us that. What we went through and lost over the years, there could never be - you know, ain't no price on it. We could never bring the people that we lost back, nor can we bring the time that we did or the things that we've been through.

KING: Darrell was nodding in agreement. A couple days later, I had a chance to ask Anthony how he was spending his money. He said, necessities mostly - car insurance, mortgage payments. And he spruced up his house a little. A lot of his furniture was, in his words, antiquated, so he and his wife went shopping.

HOLMES: We got couches. We got a love seat. We got a chair. We got a new TV. We got TVs in every room.

KING: What Anthony really wanted to talk about, though, was what he lost in prison, his family. After he was sentenced, his wife moved away. She took their kids with her.

HOLMES: Leia (ph) was 5 - no, Leia was 6 I had a newborn baby named Tony (ph) (laughter) - after me and two daughters. One of them was 4, and the other one was 3.

KING: I talked to a handful of men who got the reparations checks, and they all said something similar. A hundred thousand dollars is, to them, what it would be to most of us. It's a help with the bills, a chance to spoil the family a little bit. And so they're of two minds about getting money for torture. Yes, something is better than nothing. And no, nothing could ever be enough. Noel King, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.

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