longread / justice

Payback

For years, Chicago cops tortured false confessions out of hundreds of black men. Years later, the survivors fought for reparations.
The nightmare starts in 1983. Darrell Cannon is driving a car down an expressway, looking for a place to dump a body. Since his elementary school days, he's been affiliated with a gang known as the Blackstone Rangers. By his mid-teens, he was a high school dropout working for a Blackstone leader named Jeff Fort, which is how he came to kill a man and go to prison the first time. Now he's out and back in the mix, and a few hours ago, another gang member named A.D. killed someone and asked him to help clean up the scene of the crime.

They find a spot, toss out the body and speed away as fast as they can.

A few days later, police arrest Cannon for the murder. He tells them he was just along for the ride, but they aren't in the mood to listen. They drive to a remote spot by a railroad track and stand him up in the road with his hands handcuffed behind him. One of the officers holds out a 10-inch cattle prod and another holds a pump-action shotgun. In an affidavit for one of the appeals he will file years later, he'll remember the warning one of the officers gave him: "You're in for a long, hard day. We have a scientific way of interrogating niggers."

After being tortured by three Chicago police officers in 1983, Darrell Cannon falsely confessed to the murder of Darren Ross.

On a spring morning more than 30 years later, Cannon wakes up and tests the weight of the day, waiting for the flood of emotion. Ever since a team of sadistic Chicago police officers shoved a shotgun into his mouth and tortured him into a series of false confessions, he's been dreaming of this moment. He dreamed about it all through the 21 years he spent in prison and his exoneration and release and the years that followed. Freedom was partial justice but still a very long way from real justice.

He still isn't sure he'll ever see real justice.

But he sure as hell isn't going to miss a chance to see it. He takes a shower, puts on a white-checked shirt, a tie and a black sweater vest that adds another touch of formality. He's too agitated to eat breakfast. He's in a hurry to get downtown to see history made, one way or another.
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