Documentary Lays Bare Torture By Chicago Police
The blatancy of the torture and beatings by members of the Chicago police department is not the most shocking thing about The End of the Nightstick, Confronting Police Brutality in Chicago. As this one-hour documentary points out, it is the complacency that permitted these actions that truly shocks.
As part of the summer documentary series P.O.V., it sets forth a systematic case of law-breaking over many years by law officials. There is testimony from many male prisoners, all of African-American and Latin heritage. Each tells a chilling story of beating, suffocation and torture by electrodes, conducted by Chicago police commander Jon Burge and others in Area 2
Eric Scholl, Cyndi Moran and Peter Kuttner, who jointly directed, produced and edited this film, show that these acts of violence aren’t confined to police station walls. Young male blacks and Latins explain the circumstances under which they were stopped on city streets, sometimes for no reason, and then attacked by policemen. And the cops got away with it, because no one saw fit to monitor their behavior.
But one black prisoner caught the attention of a doctor in 1982. He noticed that prisoner Andrew Wilson, charged with killing a policeman, had what the doctor called “very unusual injuries [on his face, chest and legs) that we’d never seen before.”The most curious were tiny loop marks on Wilson’s inner ears.
The marks turned out to be where metal clips were attached for the purpose of electrocution. This wouldn’t be the first time or the last that Burge and his men engaged in extra-legal activity.
It would be depressing if this film simply provided a voice of dissent. It is compelling viewing because it shows how various community groups coalesced behind a single goal – to oust Burge from his job and to put an end to his cruel tactics.
The process took years of sign-carrying street protests, disruption of city council meetings, and gradual media involvement. Amnesty International, the human rights organization that monitors problems throughout the world, got involved. One woman, a fighter against abuse in Third World countries, said, “People don’t really believe it happens here.”
It’s empowering to see how much average citizens can do when faced with an implacable bureaucracy. When a number of groups opposing police brutality have a rally outside Mayor Richard M. Daley’s house, the cause moves forward. A few months later, police board hearings are set. Eventually, Burge is fired.
Watching The End of the Nightstick is not easy. There is photographic evidence of bloody wounds and sutured skin. There also is use of obscenity and coarse language. But it is befitting the subject matter.
What we don’t see, and the filmmakers (thankfully) don’t re-create in the manner of Thin Blue Line, are the actual scenes of policemen acting like madmen. It’s enough to hear about it and to see the grim results. The End of the Nightstick is an urban nightmare with an unexpectedly happy ending.