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Chicago state’s attorney under fire and McDonald video scandal may end career

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Dec 9, 2015 - 9:16:54 AM

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Angry protestors shut down Black Friday shopping increasing political pressures over police shootings in Chicago. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

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CHICAGO - With the city’s top cop Garry McCarthy forced out after community protests and political pressure, attention has turned to another public official’s delayed action concerning the Laquan McDonald case.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talks to reporters after the bond hearing for Chicago police offi cer Jason Van Dyke, on murder charges in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Nov. 24, in Chicago. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
Clergy, labor, and community activists gathered Dec. 3 at the office of embattled Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez demanding that she step down. Many are outraged that it took her office more than a year to bring first-degree murder charges against Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in the McDonald shooting. In their view, that failure is simply the “tip of the iceberg” in a tenure they say has been marked by obstruction of justice and little effort to address mass incarceration affecting Black and Latino communities.

Willie “J.R.” Fleming is co-founder of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. As a seasoned and committed community activist, he said he stands with the will of the people—which is that Ms. Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel step down. Numerous protests in recent days are to ensure a future for his children and others, he said, not for chasing glory or TV cameras.

“We’re not here because of press releases,” Mr. Fleming said. “We are here because we are finally beginning the process of organizing from the streets to the suites. From the block to the boardroom. We are organizing across our religious and class differences. It’s about putting work in so our children have a future.”

Demonstrators call for ouster of Chicago mayor, police chief and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Photo: Haroon Rajaee
Chanting “Anita resign! Anita resign!” a 16-hour sit-in Dec. 3 was held at her office to highlight the number bullets pumped into Mr. McDonald’s body by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. Activists also delivered more than 32,000 petition signatures calling for the state’s attorney’s resignation. In a separate protest, activists marched around City Hall 16 times. 

Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board, and County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, a former mayoral candidate, have publicly asked Ms. Alvarez to resign. A joint op-ed in the Chicago Tribune Dec. 3 left no doubt about their desire.

“Garry McCarthy has resigned as police superintendent. Based on State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s tactics and record, the time has come for her to do the same. We have heard every argument from the state’s attorney to justify shortcuts, strong-arm tactics, and a blatant disregard for fairness. We deserve better,” they wrote.

Several members of the City Council’s Latino Caucus joined the chorus calling for the Alvarez resignation. Although Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), stopped short of calling for her resignation, he declared he was withdrawing his support. “I will not be voting for you next March,” he wrote in a letter that was made public.

Ms. Alvarez, the first Latina and woman to hold the office, has repeatedly and defiantly stated she has no intention of resigning. She called critics portraying her in an unflattering light “seasoned politicians with political agendas.” She would rather lose an election than compromise the integrity of an investigation, she said.

Ms. Preckwinkles’s former chief of staff, Kimberly Foxx, looks to defeat Ms. Alvarez in the Democratic primary election scheduled for March 15, 2016. Ms. Foxx has gained more support and received more endorsements, as Ms. Alvarez has received mostly heavy criticism and a backlash as details related to the McDonald case have come out.

“We now have to unearth the web of deception that occurred starting on the night of Laquan McDonald’s murder in 2014,” said Ms. Foxx standing before supporters at a recent press conference. “Let me be clear, the city’s refusal to comply with the Freedom of Information Act was a major reason this case was obscured from the public,” she added.

Resistance to FOIA compliance has been a “consistent problem” in the current state’s attorney’s administration, she charged.

“State’s attorney Alvarez has shown an unwillingness to be open and transparent. Operating in the dark is never in the best interest of justice,” Ms. Foxx said.

The National Bar Association has joined voices calling for Ms. Alvarez to resign.

“It is unacceptable that it took over a year to file these charges against Officer Van Dyke. I believe that had there not been a court order to release the video, Officer Van Dyke would not have been charged,” said NBA President Benjamin L. Crump.

Student Minister Jeffrey Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque Maryam said the cry of the people for justice, and for those who are in positions of power to represent the people or sit down is consistent with the message “Justice or Else!” He like others felt outrage watching the video of young Laquan McDonald being shot down, but now, the young people are rising because of his death.

“Our young people are saying ‘to hell with it!’ The old methods don’t work and they are tired because they are watching their young brothers get killed in the streets,” said Mr. Muhammad. “This is their human rights movement. We saw not just a murder—we saw a terrorist act—to watch a man shoot 16 times into a young man. That young man was my son. That young man was our brother. That young man was our nephew.”