Black Lives Matter Was the Real Winner in Tuesday's Election

March 16th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

While all eyes turned to the presidential primary on Tuesday, local elections proved even more consequential for social justice advocates. Prosecutors in Chicago and Cleveland lost their bids for reelection in large part due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists angered over the handling of police shooting cases.


Anita Alvarez, the State's Attorney for Cook County, Illinois, faced criticism after declining to prosecute a Chicago police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald for over a year. Alvarez lost to challenger Kim Foxx on Tuesday. She's been widely blamed for failing to adequately investigate cases of police brutality and contributing to mass incarceration in Illinois by disproportionately prosecuting people in Black communities.


Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who opposed charges against a Cleveland police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, also lost to challenger Mike O'Malley.

The high-profile cases garnered national attention and forced the prosecutors into the spotlight, but it was the work of local organizers that affected change in Tuesday's primary election. Campaigns to replace McGinty and Alvarez were in the works for over a year, and considering how rare it is for incumbent prosecutors to lose, the efforts evidently paid off.

BREAKING: Here's the video of Laquan McDonald's shooting death that the City of Chicago didn't want you to see. (WARNING: Graphic content).Disturbing details here: http://bit.ly/1NO3Yl0

Posted by ATTN: on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An analysis of more than 1,000 elections across the country, published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, found that approximately 95 percent of incumbent prosecutors won reelection between 1996 and 2006. For two incumbents to lose in one night is therefore remarkable.

"McGinty's loss is a reflection of grassroots organizing," Rian Brown, a lead organizer of Cleveland's Black Lives Matter chapter, told ATTN:. "We did a lot of work across the city — educational work to activate folks to show how McGinty impacted the community."

#BlackLivesMatter Protests

Prosecutors play an influential role in the criminal justice system but are often overlooked by the public, which tends to view judges and juries as the final authorities of law enforcement. Because over 90 percent of criminal convictions result in a plea agreement, the majority of punitive responsibility falls on prosecutors' shoulders, Vox reports. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, however, voters and elected officials rarely hold prosecutors accountable for their records.

That's changed with the Black Lives Matter movement. Local organizing efforts have enabled the organization to influence conversations about police and criminal justice reform from the ground up, and activists have increasingly challenged city and state officials to act on the concerns of their marginalized constituents on a range of issues.

In response to Alvarez's loss in Cook County, the grassroots organization Assata's Daughters released a statement celebrating the success of the #ByeAnita campaign.

“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," the statement read. "Last night, we saw the fruits of our labor manifest as Anita Alvarez conceded the book County State’s Attorney race."

RELATED: The Totally Absurd Way Officials Botched Laquan McDonald's Killing