The University’s Amnesty International club, WesAmnesty, held a letter-writing campaign at Espwesso on March 1 and March 2 to support and demand justice for the victims of police torture in Chicago. The campaign involved reaching out to students to raise awareness of the situation and then signing a letter directed at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel demanding reparations.
According to the Amnesty USA website, between 1972 and 1991, Chicago police tortured more than 100 people of color under the direction of former Commander Jon Burge. This torture consisted of inhumane actions that ultimately led its victims to confess to crimes that they did not commit. The tortured survivors did not receive any reparations that are required by international law. These reparations that Amnesty is demanding would include money for psychological counseling, vocational training, and general financial compensation. At this point in time, the Chicago City Council is trying to pass the Reparations Ordinance for the survivors. The letter-writing campaign aims to put pressure on them to pass this ordinance.
Marie Valdez ’15, co-president of WesAmnesty, discussed her belief that this issue is relevant today as recent events, such as the Black Lives Matter march, have brought the issue of police brutality to the forefront. For this reason, she believes that addressing the issue of reparations for the Chicago torture victims should happen now.
“Recent events in the past year, like those in major cities, have raised awareness and attention to this issue,” Valdez said. “So it seemed like a logical, easy choice, in terms of picking a cause for our letter-writing campaign…. Amnesty International is all about supporting and expressing [University students] support for human rights abuse and issues, domestically and internationally.”
Valdez also believed that the issue of police misconduct and brutality is one that many University students care about.
“It seems to me like this whole issue of prison misconduct and police brutality is an issue that students here care about,” Valdez said. “Why not pick a cause that we already know people are interested in?”
Giselle Reyes ’18 also believed that the issue is important and one that has been going on for a while.
“I think that it’s an issue that needs to be solved in our lifetime,” Reyes said. “It’s unjust that the survivors of the torture never got justice or reparations for the suffering they had to endure.”
The club decided to hold the event on Sunday during the new Espwesso daytime hours as well as on Monday night during the regular nighttime hours. This choice of location for the letter-writing campaign was useful for the club to gather signatures, as they were able to attract many people as they walked into Espwesso.
The letter-writing campaign enabled club members to directly interact with the students walking by. If students signed the letters, they received a 25-cent voucher for Espwesso in exchange.
“I think that letter-writing campaigns are one of the most direct ways to instill change and to communicate with [University students],” Reyes said.
Many of the University students who walked by were unaware of the issue but expressed interest in taking part. Some of the students thanked club members for organizing such an event. Other students, some originating from Chicago, were already aware of the issue and were enthusiastic about contributing to the cause.
Additionally, past letter-writing campaigns done by WesAmnesty have proven to be an effective campaign strategy and assisted in raising awareness.
“Letter-writing campaigns are essentially something that is a traditional activity that WesAmnesty has done,” Valdez said. “It’s fairly simple and it’s easy [to go through with it].”
The club is also trying to increase awareness of other pertinent human rights issues, and they hope to do this through publishing a newsletter for its members and the general public.
In the future, WesAmnesty members hope to follow up on the issue and ensure that reparations for the victims are one day provided.
“We want to follow up and see what the Chicago mayor ends up doing, [as in] whether reparations are actually delivered and provided,” Valdez said.