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Black Lives Matter: Darrell Cannon and His Fellow Police Torture Survivors

02/10/2015 10:59 am ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015
Amnesty International/HuffPost Live

In the early morning of November 2, 1983, Darrell Cannon was taken from his home by a battery of now notorious white Chicago police detectives to a remote area on the far southeast side of Chicago where he was interrogated about the murder of a drug dealer. When Cannon denied involvement in the crime, his interrogators informed him that they had a "scientific way of questioning niggers." One of the detectives took a shotgun, and, after appearing to put a shell in the chamber, rammed the barrel into Cannon's mouth and pulled the trigger. The detectives repeated this mock execution twice more, and Cannon experienced the feeling that "the back of my brains were being blown out." When Cannon persisted in denials, the detectives forced him into the back seat of their car, pulled down his pants, and repeatedly shocked him on his genitals with an electric cattle prod. The interrogation continued for several hours, with another round of electric shocks, this time in Cannon's mouth, and the racial abuse was so extreme that Cannon later recounted that he thought his name was "nigger."

Cannon finally succumbed to the torture and gave a false confession that implicated him in the murder. On the sole basis of that confession, Cannon was convicted and sentenced to life. While in prison, he filed a pro se law suit seeking damages, and in 1988, on the advice of an appointed lawyer, he reluctantly accepted a $3000 settlement which netted him a grand total of $1247 after costs and legal fees were deducted.

Soon after the settlement, lawyers for torture victim Andrew Wilson, with the help of an anonymous police source whom they dubbed "Deep Badge," started to unravel a cover-up -- which reached all the way to then Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley -- of a torture ring that was run by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, and implicated as his prime enforcers the very detectives who had tortured Cannon.

For the next two decades, using the ever mounting evidence that the torture by Burge's crew was systemic and profoundly racist, Cannon and his lawyers fought for his freedom; in 2004 Cannon was exonerated, and in 2007 he was released from prison. During the last 10 years of his imprisonment, Cannon was subjected to another form of torture -- confinement in Illinois' Super Max prison, where he suffered extreme sensory deprivation, the death of his parents, brother, and adopted son, and contracted Hepatitis C from shared razors.

After his exoneration, Cannon filed a second lawsuit, claiming that the cover-up deprived him of obtaining a fair settlement for his torture, and that he was also entitled to compensation for his wrongful conviction and 24 years in prison. The City of Chicago vigorously contested his claim, pouring $2 million into defending Burge and his detectives. Finally, after almost a decade of litigation, the Federal Court of Appeals sided with the City, and coldly told Cannon that $1247 was all that he was entitled to.

Since Cannon has been out of prison, Burge has been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and spent 4 years in Federal Prison, but his primary henchmen, who tortured Cannon and a score of other African American men, avoided similar indictments by the skin of their teeth. There are now 120 known and documented cases of Burge related torture of African American men, at least 19 Burge torture victims still remain in prison, Burge continues to collect his police pension, as do all of his confederates, and the City, County and State have expended at least $125 million in settlements, legal fees, and police pensions in the scandal.

Meanwhile, Darrell Cannon, the former gang leader, lives his life as a model citizen. He is an accomplished and moving speaker, who fights back anxiety driven nausea to address audiences across the country about his torture, Super Max prisons, and alternatives to gang membership. He was a highly successful supervisor of a CeaseFire violence interrupter office on the south side of Chicago until Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a vindictive move, cut off its funding. His case was featured by Amnesty International in its 2014 campaign against torture in the United States, and he is a prime example of -- and public advocate for -- the righteousness of the compelling campaign now being fought in Chicago to obtain reparations for Burge torture survivors who have not received proper compensation or psychological treatment for their profound injuries.

As Darrell Cannon has so emotionally stated about the racist torture he suffered:

"I used to try to imagine how black people felt in Mississippi and Alabama back in the days when the Klan used to terrorize them, and I really couldn't get a good feel for what they must have felt, but November 2, 1983 allowed me to get a very good feeling [about it]."

Without a doubt, the life of Darrell Cannon, and those of his fellow torture survivors, truly matter.

This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.