Feature — July / August 2010
Justice for John Conroy
John Conroy spent years exposing police torture in Chicago. Now the alleged leader is on trial, (and Conroy is laid off. Some of the best and honest reporters for the Times are on contract and many of them have been fired! Jim}
By Don Terry
This very long article in the CJR B-Monthly Magazine which is a very affordable subscription tells the amazing story of a superb Reporter contracted out at very food-stamp rates as are most book reviewers with a few exceptions such as the New York Times and Washington Post. The use to on the staff of major newspapers.
I subscribe to magazines which are free online because of old fashion morality that I should not get welfare from companies who need income to pay their reporters, something largely missing from the “new American way” as evidenced by almost all students cheating on examples or making book reports from something on the Internet and generally lack of empathy for others.
Of course all of us have jumped on the free bandwagon. I try to promote websites that have superb reporters who try to tell the truth in spite of their relative rarity. Since I stopped subscribing to the New York Times, I avoid their website almost completely unless the article appears in my local newspaper which is amazingly good and allows diverse opinions much more than the New York Times.
Although The Register Guard in Eugene, Oregon is corporate, it has an Oregon mentality of treating everyone fairly, including those who have terminal illnesses. So many Oregonians are poorer than many other states because the residents have chosen beauty and open spaces over development. I suggested to their management through Tammy who cuts my hair because her father heads the classified section. I told Tammy they have to fix their website because that is where newspapers are going because of diminished advertisement and classified revenue. Just yesterday, The Register Guard got the award in Oregon for the best website! www.registerguard.com
Jim Kawakami, July 16, 2010, http://jimboguy.blogspot.com
Torture Chicago Police How Elites Looked the Other Way … Conroy spent a few weeks there and quickly realized how “bad the press coverage of Northern Ireland was,’’ he says. “Reporters would fly over when there was a major incident. It was covered like you’d cover a fire. There wasn’t any context to it. People back here couldn’t understand why these two people who had the same color skin and worshiped the same God were fighting each other.’’
He started writing for the Reader in 1978. But he couldn’t get the troubles out of his mind. Both his parents traced their roots to Ireland. His family had visited when he was a teenager. He still had relatives there. In 1980 he returned to Northern Ireland for ten months on an Alicia Patterson Fellowship to work on what became his first book, Belfast Diary. He got more than a book out of it. He also met his wife, Colette Davison, a psychologist.
Belfast Diary was published in 1987. By then, Conroy was back at the Reader. In 1988 Ann Close, an editor at Knopf, contacted him and told him she had read and admired the book. She proposed he write another, this time specifically on torture, which was a way of life and war in Northern Ireland. Conroy had started researching torture around the world when a friend at the Chicago Lawyer newspaper told him about Andrew Wilson, a convicted cop killer, who claimed he had been tortured by police and was now suing in federal court.
Wilson’s suit sounded interesting but preposterous. Wilson and his brother, Jackie, had been convicted of killing not one officer, but two—William Fahey and Richard O’Brien—during a traffic stop in the winter of 1982. Now Wilson was saying he had been tortured by some of Chicago’s finest. Conroy walked into the courtroom, thinking Wilson did not have a chance. “He killed two cops—a career criminal, going up against decorated detectives—no way,’’ Conroy says.
As the six-week trial dragged on, Conroy slowly began changing his mind after listening to the medical testimony and hearing both Wilson and Jon Burge, who at the time was the head of Area 2’s detectives, testify. Maybe Wilson’s charges of being burned by police and receiving electric shocks to his genitals, nose, ears, and fingers were not that preposterous. Maybe they were true. “I can’t say there was a moment when I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is true,’’ he says. “It was a gradual dawning.’’… Lyon says everyone involved in Chicago’s criminal justice system knew something was amiss at the Area 2 police headquarters on the city’s Far South Side, where most of the alleged torture took place. Prosecutors knew it. Judges knew. Reporters knew, too. But no one, she says, said or wrote anything about it until Conroy and maybe one or two others came along. “The groundwork came from John Conroy rolling that big stone up that steep hill,’’ she says. “He’s utterly trustworthy and honest. You don’t hand over your files to him if you think your guy is guilty. He’ll find a witness that maybe the prosecution couldn’t find. He’s patient, easy to talk to. He’s smart but not arrogant. He’s part of a dying breed, a real-life investigative reporter who cares. He’s an unsung hero.’’
Where has Conroy gone? Wherever he can find work. Conroy—the author of two well-received nonfiction books, Belfast Diary: War As A Way of Life, on the troubles in Northern Ireland, and Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, an examination of the practice of torture in three democracies: Belfast, Israel, and Chicago—has transformed from journalist to juggler, trying to keep several freelance jobs in the air at once. One of his gigs is writing scripts for online health videos about domestic violence, STDs, and childhood obesity. He’s written a few magazine pieces, including a first-person account of getting mugged in 2008. He has done some radio reporting. He has also worked as an investigator for a lawyer pal with whom he plays hockey in a no-slap-shot, no-check league. He started playing at age fifty-four. So far, he’s worked on two narcotics cases for his friend and now is investigating a murder case—the stabbing of a barber on Thanksgiving eve, 2008. “I have to do other things to support the journalism,’’ he says. “It’s very stressful. The pay is low and getting lower. It’s become demeaning. I have two kids. I’m not a spring chicken. Sometimes I am given to despair.’’
Tall and lanky, with the lived-in face of a character actor, Conroy is the kind of reporter your mother dreamed you would grow up to be: dogged, driven, caring, righteous, cranky, smoldering, and moral. Don’t take your mother’s word for it, though. Check it out. Conroy would.
Stretching back nearly two decades, Conroy’s nuanced, morally complicated stories about what was allegedly happening inside “the house of screams’’ set the agenda for much of the coverage by Chicago’s two daily newspapers and its television newsrooms. Conroy’s articles, such as a piece he wrote in 2006 called, “The Police Torture Scandals: A Who’s Who,’’ were a vital road map for any reporter—or prosecutor, defense lawyer, or civilian police department investigator—coming fresh to the story. “The scale of criminality,’’ he wrote,
This immense: hundreds of assaults (most victims were subjected to more than one attack), hundreds of acts of misconduct qualifying as felonies. Some detectives, called to testify in various proceedings, may have committed perjury on five or more occasions in a single case.
And knowledge of the abuse traveled up the ranks: Police superintendents were informed of the torture and knew the identities of some of the torturers. State’s attorneys were informed of the torture, and no one was ever prosecuted. Now that the statute of limitations has run on many if not all of these crimes, state prosecution is unlikely, though victims’ attorneys hold out hope that federal charges are possible.
All of the known victims are black. Some were sent to death row on the basis of tortured confessions and perjured testimony by police, and many are still serving long sentences. All of their confessions are suspect.
Most of the accused police officers are white. Many have been promoted or have retired with pensions. Some of the prosecutors informed of the torture are now judges. One serves on the Illinois Appellate Court. And one is the mayor.
The tools of torture included burning suspects on radiators, beatings, mock executions, games of Russian roulette, near suffocation with typewriter covers, and electric shock to the genitals. No one has been tried for the alleged torture that went on inside the house of screams. Until now. … http://www.cjr.org/feature/justice_for_john_conroy_1.php?page=all