There are a series of disturbingly persistent themes in the many, many stories of unarmed and/or mentally ill Americans shot and killed by police.
Among them are the types of weapons, equipment and training with which police do their work, the composition of police forces compared to the communities they patrol, and the repeat presence of a prosecutor unwilling to closely examine police action -- and sometimes, even more remarkably, willing to put aside their prosecutor responsibilities and serve effectively as a key player in the police officer's defense. We saw some version of the latter in Cleveland in the Tamir Rice case, and something that moves into the realm of a potential cover-up in Chicago in the Laquan McDonald case.
Yet on Tuesday, while much of the world no doubt watched in wonder as a man who has never held public office and has publicly questioned the wisdom of parts of the 1st, 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution moved closer to the Republican presidential nomination, something remarkable and utterly democratic happened in both cities.
Both Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty and Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez were turned out of office. The incumbents lost their jobs to challengers in Democratic Party primaries in their respective states. We think BuzzFeed's Adam Serwer may have best described just how McGinty and Alvarez opted to do their jobs and why an organized collection of voters thought it necessary to take them. So, in the interest of time and clarity, here's a link to Serwer's entire piece and the critical passage you really should read if nothing else:
Last July, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez explained why she chose to charge police officer Dante Servin with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder for firing his gun into a crowd of people and killing 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. Servin was inside a car and fired the gun over his shoulder, claiming that he fired because he saw a man approaching him with a gun.
“He intentionally fired his weapon, yes. But is there intent to kill? I don’t think he went out intending to kill anyone,” Alvarez told the Chicago Tribune. “He was reckless, shooting off his shoulder into a crowd of people.” Servin was set free after the judge angrily said that the entire case had been wrongfully charged.
How someone could fire a gun into a crowd of people and not intend to kill anyone is as much of a mystery as why it took Alvarez nearly two years to charge Servin. Similarly, Alvarez took more than a year to charge officer Jason Van Dyke for the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, and only then after the government was forced to release video of the shooting that showed Van Dyke firing his weapon into McDonald’s body while he was lying on the ground. According to the Daily Beast, Alvarez declined to file charges against police involved in fatal shootings more than 68 times in the last seven years.
Alvarez lost her job Tuesday night. So did Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutor who told the grand jury looking into the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old holding a toy gun, that they shouldn’t press charges against the officers who killed him because Rice’s death was merely tragic and not criminal. Though a video showed that Rice had been shot by police moments after they arrived, with no opportunity to even follow their commands, McGinty, by his own admission, encouraged the grand jury not to indict. ...
Both were unseated in Democratic primary contests, perhaps the first time we’ve seen prosecutors who shield police from accountability defeated at the ballot box.
With Serwer's argument in mind, contemplate the fact that, in 2015, The Washington Post's investigative team found that, over the previous decade, thousands of people had been killed by police, but very, very few of those cases resulted in a full criminal investigation -- much less charges or a conviction.
Certainly, some of those shootings were justified and perhaps even necessary. It would be just as unwise to pretend otherwise as it is to assume that in each case, there was no need for careful inquiry, questions or a trial.
What also should be noted about the defeats of Alvarez and McGinty -- in one night -- is the role of young, mostly black voters and activists, including the sometimes irritatingly loose collective of groups and individuals involved to varying degrees in the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite what the likes of Donald Trump or "Fox and Friends" might have Americans believe, comparisons between Black Lives Matter and the likes of the KKK are utterly preposterous. They ultimately reveal far more about the people who repeat this sort of obtuse and nonparallel thinking than anything or anyone else. One organization actively murdered human beings and operated a campaign of domestic terror sufficient to rob an entire population of their most basic rights; the other has protested, complained, disrupted and voted. If the distinction continues to elude you, we wish you luck with your daily decisions.
To put a finer point on it, consider this statement released by a collection of Chicago groups. #ByeAnita was a hashtag and a message put on signs all over Chicago by the groups -- Assata's Daughters, Black Lives Matter-Chicago, BYP 100, and the fierce femmes of FLY -- who were largely responsible for Alvarez's loss. Depending on where you sit along the reason spectrum, it may offer you a bit of a bright light in these dark political times -- or potentially blow your mind:
The #ByeAnita campaign celebrated last night. Not because Kim Foxx won, but because Anita Alvarez lost. Due to her essential role in the cover-up of Laquan McDonald's murder, young black organizers relentlessly targeted Alvarez’s campaign for reelection in the final weeks. Not because we support Kim Foxx, but because Anita Alvarez is a prosecutor who has demonstrated that she does not believe Black Lives Matter. When we began to target Alvarez's campaign she was ahead of her opponents in the polls. Last night, we saw the fruits of our labor manifest as Anita Alvarez conceded the Cook County state's attorney race.
As longterm organizers, we are fighting for a world where prosecutors do not exist. We intentionally did not endorse Kim Foxx because we intend to hold her administration accountable for how it will explicitly impact the black community. Kim Foxx, and all members of government, should take notice of how young black organizers are impacting electoral politics. Our rage against the system and love for black people have dominated this year's presidential election and removed two prosecutors, Anita Alvarez (Chicago) and Tim McGinty (Cleveland) so far. We are demonstrating that organized radical black love and rage can impact elections, and ultimately institutions that disproportionately negatively impact black lives.
As history and reality have shown us, young black organizers are committed to materializing tangible justice for all black people. One of the ways we intend to fight for black lives is through direct action, specifically civil disobedience, that targets those directly responsible for injustice. The indictment of Jason Van Dyke and firing of Gary McCarthy do not equate to justice for Laquan McDonald or Rekia Boyd, Ronald Johnson, Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. Terrorist police are a product of a system that devalues black life and promotes genocide in the black community. The system as it is will never justly favor black people. Mostly because elected officials are complicit with the anti-black institutions that have shaped this society since the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Young black organizers, particularly queer, gender nonconforming, women and femmes, are committed to abolishing the inherently fascist system that is the United States of America. We do this until we free us.