By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The wait is finally over. The verdict is near for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Will it be guilty or not guilty?
Her job is to put criminals behind bars, but many are ready to put Alvarez away and send a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a justice system that’s under siege.
That’s what thousands of angry voters in Chicago aim to do as they head to the polls next week, hoping to seal the fate of a defiant, brash prosecutor who for years angered the Black community with controversial decisions. Those choices have allowed Chicago police officers, who have killed Blacks to remain on the streets and on the city’s payroll.
There are many hot races in this year’s election. Of all of them, the race between Alvarez and challenger Kim Fox is perhaps the most important. No other race will have as much impact and shape the future of the Black community and Chicago than the showdown between Alvarez and Foxx.
During her term, police brutality cases and killings have rocked Alvarez’s administration. Despite the public’s disapproval of her, Alvarez has remained the county’s most powerful prosecutor. Many Black leaders have called for Alvarez’s resignation, but she wouldn’t budge. While protests have shut down the Magnificent Mile, they have failed to oust the prosecutor. Time and again she stood before television cameras and described calls for her removal a politically motivated effort.
In political forums and at speaking engagements, Alvarez has defended her actions of waiting 13 months to charge Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder after he killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shooting him 16 times as it was captured on videotape that was later released.
Then there was the case of Dante Servin, the officer who was cleared of manslaughter charges for killing 22-year-old Rekia Boyd on March 21, 2012. A judge ruled that Servin should have been charged with first-degree murder instead, since his actions were not only reckless, but deliberate.
Hoping to avoid a repeat in the courtroom, Black leaders have called for a special prosecutor in the Laquan case, but Alvarez, despite her missteps, has insisted that she is still the one for the job.
Stubborn and unrepentant, she has proudly said no mistakes were made in her handling of the Laquan case. She has also said she would not do anything differently in a case that has rocked Chicago and shaken the Black community to its core.
After fruitless calls and numerous protests, Black voters are gearing up for a final chance to final to sweep Alvarez out of office once and for all on March 15, 2016. For Alvarez, it’s Election Day, but for many Blacks its Judgment Day.
To people of color, Alvarez’s defeat at the polls would be the ultimate indictment on a justice system that many view as broken. To Alvarez, a win against Foxx would be a powerful vindication of her years as the county’s top prosecutor and a rebuke to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who leads an effort to oust the embattled incumbent.
Preckwinkle is not alone. On Sunday, March 6 at an early voting precinct at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Bronzeville, a school bus with numerous Foxx placards on the windows dropped off dozens of Black voters.
One anonymous Foxx supporter who said he is a longtime employee of the Cook County States Attorney’s office, handed out cards and said Alvarez needs to go.
“I’m opposing her not just because of the Laquan McDonald case, but because for a long time, she has been a very mean person who would look at you in the hallway and not say hello or anything,” he said.
Along Martin Luther King Drive, placards that read “Fire Anita!” dot the street. During a drive through several Black neighborhoods, there were no Alvarez placards posted, but there were plenty of posters supporting Foxx.
While Alvarez has attacked Foxx with television ads, the prosecutor was forced to enter through a back entrance to speak at the City Club, where a group of protestors were yelling 16 shots in reference to the Laquan shooting. It’s a reality that has dogged Alvarez despite her attempts to polish her image as a competent and professional prosecutor.
Since January, Black clergy and community leaders have stepped up registration drives to boost voter turnout.
While Foxx has the solid support of the Black vote, some pundits still believe Alvarez will narrowly survive the elections. In a February 2 poll, Alvarez led Foxx with likely voters that said they would back the incumbent. Foxx has won endorsements from all the newspapers, including the Black Press. And some Hispanic Alderman who disapproved of her handling of the Laquan case are opposed to Alvarez.
Still, Alvarez remains unabashedly defiant and optimistic of her future.
“The citizens of all of Cook County…really need a prosecutor who is experienced and someone who is independent of politics,” she told a reporter from the Associated Press. “That’s what I have been for the past eight years.”