“House of Screams” Revisited – Chicago Reader
In January 1990 Chicago Reader She did something different about herself: she launched a crusade. But even though John Conroy’screaming houseIt was the first of 23 articles he wrote about Commander John Berg and police torture, at the time he and reader He wouldn’t have guessed it would be there until a second. The subject of police torture was so intriguing, Conroy assumed that the dailies would take over and take over.
“House of Screams” was Conroy’s accurate description of the problems of a person who was impossible to care about. Andrew Wilson was arrested in 1982 for the murder of two police officers who had stopped his car. Absurdly, Wilson appeared as victim number three. He insisted that after his arrest he was brutally treated at District 2 Police Headquarters, and electric shocks were among the most sinister tactics used. The scars on Wilson’s body supported him. Furthermore, his lawyers, from the People’s Law Office, discovered other suspects in unrelated investigations who claimed that they had been similarly tortured in the same location.
Like Andrew Wilson, they were convicted of murder. Unlike Wilson, many were not necessarily guilty. “You men under sentence of death!” Conroy says today. “We were sure the dailies would pick up on this.”
Wilson sued the city, the suit went to trial, and six weeks later, the first trial ended, in 1989, with the trial set aside. Conroy was there every day. The retrial took eight weeks, and the jury came to a strange conclusion: Yes, Chicago had a de facto policy of mistreating suspected cop killers; And yes, Wilson’s constitutional rights were violated. But no, it is not necessarily violated because Of this policy – the jury chairman told Conroy that the alarming scars may have been due to the “emotional outrage” of the police. Berg, who was leading the District 2’s violent crimes unit, and the other defendants under him were all acquitted.
Should the mere discovery of systematic police abuse have spurred the mainstream media into action? naturally. But what’s behind reader, whose staff were elated by Conroy’s reports, the response to “House of Screams” was indifferent. Police torture in Chicago was almost no one’s topic, but the victims and their lawyers seemed able to take it seriously. Conroy recalls that in that era, “the level of suspicion in the police was almost non-existent.” In 1993, the police force fired Burge, and that may have been the case.
So Conroy decided to keep writing. From 1996 to 2007 wrote 22 other stories, mostly for readerfirst page. Since obsession is not a common feature in newspapers, where institutional wisdom holds that elaborate topics drive readers to flee, Conroy faced opposition from within. After he wrote the first one, ‘Mike Linehan,’ readerThe editor-in-chief at the time of “House of Screams,” recently told readerMarc Jacob, “He wanted to keep yelling at him—which he did, thank God he did—but I didn’t want to write the story again. He came up with the second, and I said, ‘Oh, come on John, we’ve already done this.'”
Conroy allows that his second piece,”Pityless City, “which came out of the press in January 1996, got over some old stuff. But it needs to go through. ‘Torture at the hands of the police'” was written in the subheading. “The courts know it, the media know about it, and you probably do.” So why don’t we do anything about it? Then, Conroy produced one or two new stories each year, introducing new victims: Daryl Cannon, Aaron Patterson, and Madison Hubley; puzzled over the city’s deadlock (the next state attorney to investigate police torture in Chicago would be the first, one attorney said in 2003); trying to understand the perpetrators.In 2004, Conroy drew on his 2000 book on torture, Unspeakable deeds, ordinary peopleHe explained that the common denominator among executioners everywhere is the belief that they are doing the right thing. A 2005 article stated that Burge became familiar with electroshock techniques as a member of Parliament in Vietnam.
I had a small piece of work. I was one of Conroy’s editors, and as the months passed between his stories, the arrival of each new one was an event. I was driving to Conroy’s home in Oak Park early in the evening, after his wife, Colette Davidson, had brought pancakes and a Bundt cake out of the oven. And I’ll celebrate, as Conroy lays a huge file of documents on the kitchen table, page by page, hour after hour, checking again everything he’s written.
This was not the end of it. Each story has been vetted by our attorney David Anditch, and although Conroy generously claims not to remember his tested good nature those final nights before publication, what I do remember is my shuttle diplomacy between Conroy on the phone and editor-in-chief Alison Trowe in the office in the distance. A few steps of my work while negotiating, past the point of everyone’s exhaustion, changes I wasn’t sure of the importance of. We can’t go on like this, I think, eventually, after midnight, I dragged myself to the State and Grand subway stations.
And we did. Journalism, even at its highest levels, can be a painfully daunting task.
This year, the Invisible Institute in Chicago created a website “Torture Archive“Where Burge and his men allegedly committed violence against more than 100 African Americans during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 2016, the city paid $5.5 million to 57 victims, as new names continued to evade. But there was no video, nor George Floyd Derek Chauvin or Laquan MacDonald and Jason Van Dyck moment to motivate the audience, and there is no criminal prosecution for anyone. An officer for physical assault. Yes, in 2011, Burge was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, but that was for lying under oath in a case Civilian, and not because of anything he did or wanted in his “Scream House.” No one else has been prosecuted.
In 1990, when Conroy wrote his first torture stories, The reader He was fat and thriving. By November 2007, when he wrote his last book, the world of journalism had changed. The collapse of classifieds decimated the newspaper’s finances, and just four months ago it was sold by the founding owners of Creative Loafing, an Atlanta-based alternative weekly chain that will declare bankruptcy a year later.
Creative Loafing cut True’s budget, and Conroy’s slow and methodical investigations became unsustainable. In December, True fired four of her best reporters, Conroy being one of them. He covered the Burge trial four years later as a Vocalo blogger.
By the time True itself was launched in 2010, it was reader It was controlled by an investment firm in New York. “screaming house— an internal acronym currently of nearly 18 years of reporting for Conroy — stands as an icon of reader investigative journalism, but Conroy questions what she’s already achieved, and gives editors who suggested he finds a new topic a point of view. “I was blowing the same trumpet over and over,” he says wistfully, recalling a conversation with True. “Nothing has changed. We’ve said this over and over again and no one listened, and could we have a greater impact when doing something else? “
“He came to me with another case and say something horrible like ‘People will stop caring. We can’t just write about another victim. I was afraid readers would go numb. Once the abuse became known, an accepted fact in other media, we needed to find ways to assert’. on the larger group of people responsible. It went on to make it to the top of the series, culminating in Who’s Who that made it clear what they knew and when they knew it.”
Some of the people in the 2006 story were police supervisors. Others were state attorneys. One of that state’s attorneys now, during the years Conroy wrote about police torture, was the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley.
“Bad cops need to be stopped,” he rightly said, “but once their pattern of extracting confessions from detainees was revealed, uncovering the core network of supporters became the most important thing we could do. There was no fallout — just one man. [Burge] Ever, it was more than perjury. I always wonder if things would have been different if the anger had spread so quickly. Other offenders were able to retire from police jobs in public currency, or even get second jobs, and senior officials who were aware of the practice were never held accountable. And of course the racism that explains the whole scandal is still rampant.”
It was Conroy’s pending book project on torture that led him to The Screaming House. A play he wrote about police torture, My kind of city, So ; The Timeline Theater brought it to high critical acclaim in 2012. But more often than not, the press itself seemed not only its own but its only reward. Conroy, who has been working from home, says he didn’t yet know how proud his report was of readerrank and file. At least his wife, Colette, can be sure of the victory of her Bundtian buns.