Police Torture in Chicago: Theorizing Social Justice in a Racialized City

Authors: Aretina Hamilton, University of Kentucky, Ken Foote*, University of Connecticut
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: race, violence, Chicago, torture, police violence, Black geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Harvey’s Social Justice in the City was published just as a major case of social injustice was unfolding on Chicago’s Southside. Starting in the early 1970s and continuing for almost twenty years, police officers under Detective Jon Burge tortured confessions from as many as two hundred Black men. We use the contrast between Social Justice in the City and the Chicago police torture cases to emphasize the work geographers have accomplished since the 1970s in theorizing race, space and place. The torture cases have led to a decades-long struggle for justice and reparations waged by survivors, families, and activists. Here we examine the spatiality of the torture and how racialized practices of policing, housing, and employment operate across scales, sometimes amplifying the effects of each practice. Looking backward from the 1970s it is possible to see the torture cases as an extension of a long history of racial violence rooted deeply in American history. Looking forward, these cases have clear parallels with contemporary events--including recent "blue-on-black" police killings and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Our aim, more broadly, is to begin theorizing violence within the larger debate over social justice in the contemporary American city and to examine more closely how violence has been used repeatedly in Chicago and other American cities to enforce social and spatial definitions of "race" and racial boundaries.

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