How Chicago Became the First City to Make Reparations to Victims of Police Violence

Somewhere between his 12th and 13th hour inside a Chicago Police Department interrogation room, Lindsey Smith decided to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. Multiple officers had pistol-whipped, stomped on, and beaten him, again and again. Convinced he would not otherwise live through the ordeal, Smith signed a false confession for the attempted murder of a 12-year-old White boy. At 17, Smith too was a boy. But with one major difference: He was Black.

Tried as an adult and convicted, Smith took a plea deal and served nearly five years in prison.

He was among the first of at least 120 young, primarily Black men whom Chicago police officers would torture into false confessions. Yet while many who suffer at the hands of the police never get justice, Smith’s story ended differently. More than 40 years later, following the passage of historic reparations legislation, he became one of the first Black people in America to be granted reparations for racial violence.

After receiving parole, Smith moved out of the city and attempted to rebuild his life. But his struggles were far from over. Given the conviction on his record, Smith faced difficulty in everything from finding work to accessing his car insurance benefits. He remained haunted by his experiences as a teen inside the interrogation room and never felt at ease in Chicago again—until May 6, 2015.