By Aryn Braun and Meggie Morris
At a community forum on gender-based violence in Chicago on Wednesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was hounded on all fronts, on stage by competitor Donna More, and in the audience by protesters confronting her at all three of her campaign appearances this week.
The event started smoothly as Alvarez returned to her alma mater, Chicago-Kent College of Law, to take her seat on stage next to Kim Foxx, whom the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed last month.
Halfway through the forum, protesters stood one by one, counting to 16 to signify the number of times Chicago teenager Laquan Mcdonald was shot by former police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Alvarez’s decision to wait 400 days before charging Van Dyke with first-degree murder has plagued her campaign for reelection.
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The protesters said their aim was not to endorse a particular candidate. “We want white people to be educated about who they are voting for,” said Veronica Morris-Moore. “We want black people to understand that we can’t be silent on political issues.”
Audience members largely responded negatively to the brief protest, yelling at and forcefully shushing demonstrators as they took the stage.
“You are selfish,” one man yelled. “You are being unfair to the group.”
Police were on hand, though event organizers said they weren’t sure what to expect from the crowd. The protestors were eventually asked to leave by campus security.
The demonstration was the third against Alvarez in 24 hours. The coalition of local advocacy groups that organized the repeated disruptions, including Assata’s Daughters, Black Lives Matter Chicago and Black Youth Project 100, said they hope to keep up the pace until election day on March 15.
Despite Alvarez’s attempts to emphasize initiatives she has taken to address gender-based violence and sexual assault since her appointment in 2008, including extensive training for her assistant state’s attorneys and a revamped campus sexual assault program, Donna More continued to attack her tenure as State’s Attorney.
Over the course of the 90-minute forum, More repeatedly targeted Alvarez, citing a lack of public trust in the state’s attorney’s office, “because of cover-ups, because of failed charging, because of wrongful convictions that aren’t brought to the attention of the public.”
Anita Alvarez has not fulfilled her duty of prosecuting crimes, including cases of gender-based violence, no matter who commits them, More said. The state’s attorney’s office has failed to preserve victims’ testimony, forcing prosecutors to dismiss cases when victims are reluctant to appear in court, she added.
“Difficult rape cases, the difficult he said-she said cases aren’t being prosecuted,” More said. “Just today, the office of Anita Alvarez dismissed a case against a member of clergy because they failed to preserve the victim’s testimony.”
In reply, Alvarez said the victim’s wishes are always considered first and foremost, but acknowledged the complexities of prosecuting sexual assault cases. “Victims many times don’t want to follow through on the charges,” Alvarez said. “That’s frustrating.”
The forum was co-sponsored by several Chicago organizations working to combat gender-based violence, including Chicago Foundation for Women, Center on Halsted and Rape Victim Advocates.