While much of the political world remained obsessed with whether Donald Trump is the worst presidential candidate ever or will bring about the end of times, two smaller primary battles were waged in Chicago and Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The outcomes matter.
First, Anita Alvarez, the reigning Cook County State’s Attorney, lost. Her claim to the seat was lost due to her complicity in the concealment of the video of Laquan McDonald’s murder by Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, together with her failure to indict her cop until it became certain that the video would be released.
Both need new jobs, because the voters turned them out of office. It happened because of the confluence of two things, the efforts to make it known far and wide that these two prosecutors failed to perform the duties of their office with integrity when it came to police, and people voting. The former is largely due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter advocates. The latter is due to all people of conscience getting off their butts and performing their duty as citizens.
There are many more subtle, more nuanced, considerations here. People regularly ask what they can do to end police violence, and the response is spread the word and vote. This usually fails to satisfy. It’s neither immediate nor sufficiently pro-active. Vote? That never works. Well, you can’t say that anymore.
The existence of a system where regime change happens without guns and revolution is one of the fundamental aspects of our system of governance. That the most powerful person on earth voluntarily packs up his belongings and leaves the seat of power every four (or eight, as the case may be) years so that someone with whom he has a fundamental disagreement can take his place is extraordinary.
But we don’t often see the same level of interest, concern or participation when it comes to local elections, despite the fact that a vote locally is far more effective than a vote nationally.
Were Alvarez and McGinty evil prosecutors? Yes and no. No one is so one-dimensional as to do only bad, and they may well be perfectly good prosecutors otherwise. But they failed to do good in these instances, and these instance are big, significant, and sufficiently wrong to justify their being turned out of office. Other prosecutors will take their place, and will prosecute as they did. Hopefully, other prosecutors will do so with greater integrity when it comes to the killing of young black men by cops.
What distinguishes the effectiveness of the votes that put Alvarez and McGinty into the unemployed statistics is that voters made an actual decision to vote against them. Positions like State’s Attorney (and judges, as long as you’re asking) are throwaways to populist ideals.
Under ordinary circumstances, voters neither know nor care who is elected for such positions. They’re party line votes. Voters don’t care whom they elect as prosecutor, as they’re just warm bodies filling functionary positions. There is little to commend them, one way or another. Prosecutors prosecute. Yawn.
That two prosecutors, who were responsible for monumental failings in office, became sufficiently recognized for their failures is quite an accomplishment. Bear in mind, while many advocates found it incomprehensible that these prosecutors engaged in such improper conduct, there remains a significant coterie of voters who are enormously deferential to police.
There are plenty of people who think that Alvarez and McGinty did just fine. There are plenty of people who believe that if people don’t want to be killed by police, they shouldn’t have done whatever it is they perceive them as having been wrong to do. Like being black kids. Or having a toy gun. Or not obeying a command that was never given. Or doing drugs. Or being black.
To vote these prosecutors out of office, it was necessary to overcome those who refuse to find fault with police. to refuse to find fault with a prosecutor who backs up police, right or wrong. No matter how clearly you see the fault here, never forget that there are others who are equally certain that you’re wrong. Or at least are certain that they would rather side with the cops because that’s where their interest lies.
Yet, there are many who want so badly to be more pro-active that they put the telephone numbers, email and snail mail addresses, of those they despise on the internet, call to let them know how angry they are, how much they hate what they did, and demand redress. This doesn’t work. To the recipient of the phone calls, the letters, the emails, it’s just a bunch of crazies. If anything, it firms up their resolve to continue to do whatever it is the crazies are demanding they stop doing. This course of action is not only ineffective, but counterproductive.
And the credibility of the advocates for change is crucial to the effectiveness of persuading voters to force a regime change. While much of the vote that ousted Alvarez and McGinty came from the efforts of Black Lives Matter advocates, it required more than just black votes. It required voters of all colors to understand and appreciate why these prosecutors should be voted out of office. It required voters of all colors to care enough to go out to vote.
To achieve this level of credibility, advocates for change need to recognize that they cannot squander their integrity on battles only consequential to themselves and those who share their peculiar sensitivities. When campus outrage is based on microaggressions deemed silly, if not outright frivolous and absurdly over-sensitive, you sacrifice your credibility in the minds of needed voters of all colors. You can’t achieve regime change on your own. You can’t persuade others to take you seriously if you scream just as loudly about replacing vowels with “x” as police murdering black kids in the street.
There is a life and death war being fought, and you won two battles by ousting Alvarez and McGinty. There are many more battles to fight. I applaud these wins, and look forward to more. We have the power to cause change. It needs to be used effectively and wisely. It can happen.