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Anita Alvarez, Cook County State's Attorney
Anita Alvarez, Cook County State's Attorney

#ByeAnita: Why The Cook County State’s Attorney Race Matters

On Monday grassroots activists in Chicago bandaged the ailing city in paper banners to remind voters in Tuesday’s primary election to dump their top prosecutor, Anita Alvarez.  The incumbent Cook County State’s Attorney is up for reelection in the wake of national scrutiny for her failure to prosecute police brutality her role in the perpetration and coverup of violence against the black community.

The group Assata’s Daughters, an organization of black female activists and their allies came together to create 16 banners against the injustices committed by Alvarez’s office.  The 16 banners represent the 16 fatal shots fired at LaQuan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke.

Protesters and politicians alike have called on Alvarez to resign since video showing Van Dyke firing upon the black 17-year-old emerged in November 2014, evidence that Alvarez, who had received the video two weeks after the shooting and not brought any charges upon the officer, had assisted in covering up the crime for 13 months.

In a public message, organizers at Assata’s Daughters asked the world to follow the banner campaign under the hashtags, “#ByeAnita”, “#ByeHilary”, “ResignRahm”, and “16banners,” for “#16 shots.”

Working tirelessly, banners were erected throughout the city, such as “#AdiosAnita 16 shots and a cover up,” which hangs on Western Avenue at 18th Street.  With messages like, “Blood on the ballot,” and “Justice for Rekia, no votes for Anita,” the group has encouraged voter engagement in their efforts to free the city from a state’s attorney’s grasp.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy are believed to have worked with Alvarez to keep the video of McDonald’s death in their own hands for over a year, failing to file charges until a judge made the video public.  Van Dyke was indicted on December 16, 2015 on six counts of murder.  If convicted, he will face a 20 year to life sentence and be the first CPD officer to be punished for an on-duty fatality.

With McCarthy fired and Emanuel on the chopping block of public opinion but refusing to resign, the public has paid special attention to Alvarez, who was the only official with the power to prosecute Van Dyke and countless others.

Since entering office in 2008 as the first Hispanic woman in her position, Alvarez failed to prosecute police for killing civilians 68 times. Until the release of the LaQuan McDonald dash cam video, none of these killings had documentation from her office detailing why she had decided not to bring charges.

Last week a civil suit was filed against Alvarez, the CPD, and the Independent Police Review Authority by the journalists responsible for forcing the controversial dash cam video’s release.

“The public has a right to know why Chicago Police, IPRA, and State’s Attorney Alvarez responded so slowly to the police misconduct and lawbreaking evident in the video,” said independent journalist Brandon Smith. “What was their thought process in doing so? Would they have ever instituted any oversight, let alone criminal proceedings, but for the forced release of the video?”

Before facing civil suit, Alvarez lost the support of the Cook County Democratic Party, which in January came out to endorse leading opponent Kim Foxx in the race for state’s attorney. The Chicago Tribune has also endorsed Foxx, along with her former boss Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state of Illinois.

The scandals that embroil Alvarez’s campaign are often complex; however, the messages activists are sending are straightforward: Alvarez failed LaQuan McDonald.  She failed to charge CPD officer Dante Servin who murdered Rekia Boyd.  She rules over a police force where false confessions are the norm and supports the black site Homan Square where minorities are illegally detained and tortured. She defends mass incarceration in the era of police reform. She has incarcerated victims of sexual assault and survivors of domestic violence.

According to the Chicago Reader, Cook County’s criminal justice system is in shambles:

 Its jail remains crowded, and the state prison population—more than half of which is from Cook County—has grown over the last seven years, records show. Most inmates are there for nonviolent offenses. The vast majority are minorities, and a third or more are thought to be dealing with mental illness. When they’re released, almost all of them return to the same poor, segregated neighborhoods they came from.

To many Chicago activists and community organizers her failure to indict Chicago police officers for rampant misconduct and brutality is particularly abhorrent considering her reputation as one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the country by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice. In 2015, a grassroots organization called Project Nia reported that 7,703 arrests were made on Chicago Public School grounds during the 2013-2014 school year, accounting for 20% of all juvenile arrests in Chicago.

More than half of these arrests were Black and Latino students and under 16 years old and, given Alvarez’s overwhelming record of seeking the maximum penalties for juveniles in her office, clearly typifies what is commonly referred to as the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Kim Foxx and Donna More, the two candidates running against Alvarez in today’s primary have both denounced Alvarez’s disinterest in fighting injustice and equally condemned her refusal to act responsibly when faced with evidence of police conduct, particularly in the case of LaQuan McDonald. They have taken similar positions with regards to youth justice.

While Black Lives Matter, Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project 100 and other leading activists groups have been active in condemning episodes of police brutality, sought indictments against officers, rallied around reform legislation, and in supported victims and their families, this election marks one of their most prominent efforts to change the course of politics and the cycles of injustice that are perpetuated by a broken criminal justice system.

Emanuel will not be up for election again for another three years, so as demand for political officials to face retribution for their crimes increases, Chicago youth leaders, some too young to vote themselves, have turned their attention to the state’s attorney’s office.  The decision to engage in politics directly has been a controversial one in activist communities, but destroying the chance for Alvarez to gain another term has become a critical objective

Assata’s Daughters, along with Black Lives Matter activists and black youth leaders have been involved in the campaign against her since repeated calls for her resignation were ignored.  Social and mainstream media alike have covered their protests disrupting campaign events.

To rally for higher voter turnout by connecting political campaigns across disparate levels of government, some Chicago activists have taken #ByeAnita a step further.  Assata’s Daughters joined others at a political protest of a Donald Trump rally Friday as its members blocked traffic on I-290 chanting “if you are saying dump Trump, then say bye Anita too.”

According to the group, both Donald Trump and Anita Alvarez have a record for anti-black violence, inviting the comparison between Alvarez and Trump’s prominent white supremacist endorsements and record for inciting violence against black audience members and protesters at his rallies.  “We see a direct link between Trump’s overtly racist white nationalist campaign and Anita Alvarez’s record of filling jails and prisons with black bodies using dogwhistle tough-on-crime rhetoric,” Assata’s Daughters said in a group statement. “We do not want a future where Anita Alvarez or Donald Trump hold decision-making power over our lives.”

"Bye Anita" organizers rally with community members at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago on March 10. (Photo: Sarah-Ji, Via TruthOut)
“Bye Anita” organizers rally with community members at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago on March 10. (Photo: Sarah-Ji, Via TruthOut)

“To this day, Hillary Clinton has yet to condemn Chicago’s anti-black mayor,” said Assata’s Daughters organizer Tess Raser in a public message. “Mayor Emmanuel has conspired with State’s Attorney Alvarez during his own re-election campaign to cover up the police murder of Laquan McDonald —a life that to Emmanuel, Alvarez, and Clinton did not matter. Any politician who supports Emanuel should consider themselves implicated in his misconduct. Anti-black politicians are not welcome in Chicago whether they are running for State’s Attorney or President of The United States.”

Despite the group’s growing political activism, the movement remains rooted in the victims of police brutality, sending a clear message of love and solidarity for LaQuan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and so many other young victims of violence.

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According to Raser, it was touching to find out that Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronnieman Johnson, whose murder was also covered up by Anita’s office, “really felt loved by seeing the banner honoring her son. And calling for justice for her son.”

“Not only did Alvarez fail to prosecute the officer who killed Ronnieman,” Raser told Injustice.in, “her office has also attacked Dorothy for advocating for justice on her son’s behalf.”

Mothers like Dorothy Holmes, Raser explained, “were failed the moment this city decided that their neighborhoods needed to have a militant police presence. They are failed on a daily basis by the erasure of their children’s legacy because of the ways in which the media uses their stories of Black Death to sell papers and because this country loves a good lynching.”

Under the care of Chicago’s business and political elite, Alvarez has allowed black males to be hyper criminalized and supported one of the nation’s most violent police forces.

Alvarez has pandered to the police unions and corrupt politicians long enough.

It’s time to say #ByeAnita.

 

 

 

About Rebecca Lawrence

Rebecca Lawrence is a freelancer in Brooklyn, NY. She is owned by two blind cats. Tweet at her @rebeccalawrence

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