Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez left 20 minutes into an Institute of Politics (IOP) event Wednesday after members from several student and non-student organizations interrupted with protests.
The protests were organized by a number of organizations not affiliated with the University. Approximately 35 people participated in the action, including 15 students who did not organize but participated in solidarity, according to first-year protester Mary Blair.
The protesters alleged that Alvarez had been responsible for “state violence against Black and brown people in the City of Chicago,” and failing to charge police officers, according to a press release from Black Lives Matter (BLM) Chicago.
All three candidates running in the State’s Attorney democratic primary had been invited to speak at the IOP. Alvarez’s event was last in the three-part series.
In the video, available on the Facebook page of the Arab American Action Network, the protesters can be heard chanting, “This kind of dialogue is not about growth. It’s not about healing. It is about covering up conflict and avoiding accountability. U of C claims to support dialogue, yet banned members of this immediate community, of this neighborhood, from being heard on this campus.”
Alvarez has been the object of heated criticism centered on the recently released video of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald being shot 16 times by a police officer. The release of the video caused protests across the city and country and reignited conversations about police brutality against black people.
Alvarez was discussing the problem of violent crimes in Cook County when protesters seated in the audience held up signs and started chanting, “Anita Alvarez does not believe that Black lives matter.” Alvarez left the room through a side door, accompanied by a member of her security detail, after a group of protestors, continuing to chant, approached her at the front of the room.
IOP Executive Director Steve Edwards and security made several unsuccessful attempts to talk protesters into letting the event continue. The protest ended after Edwards announced to the audience that Alvarez had left the premises.
Alvarez stayed at the IOP for about 10 minutes before departing in hopes that the event could continue, according to Matt Jaffe, director of communications at the IOP.
The protesters invited everyone who agrees with their cause to walk out of the building with them and to join them in the police board hearing meeting on Thursday.
In the press release, BLM Chicago accused Alvarez of over a dozen offenses, including intentionally withholding the video from the public, unjustly prosecuting certain cases, and neglecting to prosecute others.
“Alvarez should be investigated for criminal negligence and dereliction of duty for the many infractions she has taken against the people of Chicago,” BLM Chicago said in the press release posted on its Tumblr page.
Mike Carson, spokesman for the Anita Alvarez campaign, sent an email statement to The Maroon expressing disappointment in the outcome of the event.
“Anita Alvarez was speaking about the importance of tougher penalties for those who commit crimes with illegal guns and her record of leading important reforms to the criminal justice system, when opponents of her campaign created a disruptive spectacle that prematurely ended the appearance... Anita Alvarez would never allow our campaign to shut down our opponents in this manner. The justice system requires that all voices are heard and that’s how she has always operated.”
Blair continued on to say that a question and answer session would not have been productive. “She’s either going to evade [the questions] or lie about them. This isn’t the first action where people have called for her resignation. She is well aware of this. She’s had many opportunities to defend her case…. There’s no point in talking to her at this point. We know he’s a terrible person, a liar, a crooked politician.”
“We invite everybody who has a sign in their hands who know that Anita Alvarez has got to go, who know that anti-blackness is real, who knows that this fucking institution and its henchmen don’t give a fuck about black people, to walk out of this bitch with us,” one of the protesters said.
David Axelrod, Director of the IOP, responded to the protest in a statement to the Maroon.
“At the Institute of Politics, we understand and respect that members of our community have passionate views that may conflict with those of our guest speakers, so we seek to create a climate in which all these views can be expressed in a respectful manner. We are deeply disappointed that a group of protesters disrupted our event ...to such an extent that a discussion was unable to take place.”
After the event, Edwards said that although he anticipated the event would bring out people who strongly objected to Alvarez’s office, the IOP received no advanced warning of the protest and had no such disruptions before.
“The University of Chicago prides itself on free and open inquiry, rigorous discussion and questions about challenging issues… they can listen even when they deeply disagree with the issue and do so really substantively. That is something we need to do with every issue including the future of the state attorney’s office,” he said.