Hagan, J., McCarthy, B., & Herda, D. (2021). Racist torture and the code of silence: A situational analysis of sidebar secrecy and legal cynicism in the trial of Jon Burge. Du Bois Review 1-30.
We join Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s structural theory of the racialized U.S. social system with a situational methodology developed by Arthur L. Stinchcombe and Irving Goffman to analyze how law works as a mechanism that connects formal legal equality with legal cynicism. The data for this analysis come from the trial of a Chicago police detective, Jon Burge, who as leader of an infamous torture squad escaped criminal charges for more than thirty years. Burge was finally charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, charges that obscured and perpetuated the larger structural reality of a code of silence that enabled racist torture of more than a hundred Black men. This case study demonstrates how the non-transparency of courtroom sidebars plays an important role in perpetuating systemic features of American criminal injustice: a code of silence, racist discrimination, and legal cynicism.