Black Lives Matters wins big at the ballot box: Tuesday's elections prove the movement is more than protests

Prosecutors handling the LaQuan McDonald and Tamir Rice shootings lost bids for re-election in Chicago, Cleveland

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published March 16, 2016 2:21PM (EDT)

  (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

Cook County, Illinois, state's attorney Anita Alvarez waited an entire year before bringing charges in the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times in just 13 seconds by a Chicago police officer. Alvarez resisted widespread criticism and endured months of protests by local Black Lives Matter activists to cover up the incident, only bring charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke on the eve of the release of explosive dashcam video showing an unarmed McDonald gunned down as he posed no immediate threat to officers.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutor Timothy McGinty failed to secure a criminal indictment in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann while he played with a toy gun in the park in 2014. Rice's case quickly gained national attention, serving as a galvanizing moment for a protest movement that would gain steam in the coming months.

On Tuesday, that movement saw two critical victories in a place many early deriders doubted it would ever make it to -- the ballot box. Both Alvarez and McGinty lost their respective bids for re-election to candidates more open to criminal justice reform and police accountability, two key tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Alvarez, who has declined to charge 68 other police officers involved in fatal shootings over the years and rejected efforts to appoint a special prosecutor for officer-involved shootings, lost her bid for a third term to fellow democrat Kim Foxx. The former assistant state’s attorney was prominently backed by Black Lives Matter and was one of the first officials to publicly criticize Alvarez for her handling of the case. Running on a reformer platform, Foxx secured the endorsements of Senator Dick Durbin and former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

And in Cleveland,McGinty lost his bid for re-election Tuesday night by nearly 10 percentage points to challenger Michael O'Malley. Although O'Malley sought to tap into public frustration over police brutality cases, he repeatedly dodged questions about how exactly he would have handled the Rice case differently than McGinty.

Tuesday's electoral wins came just hours after Ferguson's newly diversified city council voted to to accept federal oversight of its criminal justice system. Of course, another pivotal case for the Black Lives Matter movement was the 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Months of protest finally gave way to an historic election last August, when increased turnout by African-American voters boasted their representation on the city council to 50 percent. Ferguson is 70 percent African-American. On Tuesday, that city council voted unanimously to approve the so-called “consent decree” pushed on them by the Justice Department following a scathing report on the city's systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Black Lives Matter Criminal Justice Reform Election 2016 Elections 2016