What will be different next time? And, there will be a next time. Because, as we all know, “Weakness is provocative.”
On Wednesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez tried to speak at a UChicago Institute of Politics (“IOP”) informal lunch event. The IOP was started three years by its Director, David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama. Axelrod was one of a small group of consultants instrumental in helping Barack Obama get elected to the U. S. Senate in 2004 and the Presidency in 2008.
The IOP program was intended to include about a fifteen minute stomp speech by Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez and about forty-five minutes of questions from the audience and Alvarez answers. Alvarez is running for nomination to a third term in the March 15, 2016 Democratic Primary against Kim Foxx and Donna More, who have previously spoken at the IOP. For more about the IOP, go here or watch it’s Executive Director, Steve Edwards, on Public Affairs.
The audience for the Alvarez session included about forty UChicago students and ten lifelong learners (community members, alumni, etc.), an SRO crowd that had filled the IOP discussion room at 5707 S. Woodlawn, which is adjacent to the UChicago Hyde Park campus.
Wednesday’s program started with about seven minutes of remarks by State’s Attorney Alvarez (touching on her office’s efforts to deal with human trafficking, growing violence, etc.)—at which point a group of about ten young protestors, mostly black, marched in front of where the State’s Attorney was speaking and took over the event for ten minutes, essentially shutting down free speech for the State’s Attorney, the audience and the IOP.
Sadly, the protestors taught the IOP, which is a part of the University of Chicago, how physically coercive and intimidating behavior by some attendees, when unchecked, can trump the rights of the University community to do what the University is intended to do—promote learning and civil, respectful, thoughtful and intellectual debate and discussion about key public policy issues.
The protestors started by shouting, “We will not ignore police terrorism. We will not let Laquan McDonald be covered up [For a discussion of Anita Alvarez’s strange 13 month delay in indicting officer Van Dyke in the Laquan McDonald shooting, click here] … We will not let Betty Jones be covered up.” They then engaged in chants about “Anita Alvarez ignoring black lives,” and said “The issue is deeper than LaQuan McDonald.”
After the protestors had disrupted the event for a few minutes, one or two security personnel showed up at the IOP and seemed to say that the police were on their way. The ten or so protestors seemed non-plussed by those threats. “Servin killed Rekia Boyd,” chanted the protestors, referring to an off duty white cop, Servin, who shot an innocent black bystander over a noise conflict, and was acquitted by a circuit court of Cook County judge of reckless homicide charges. The protestors shouted that Alvarez generally went after the victims of police crime, instead of the “police criminals.”
The protestors then demanded Anita Alvarez come out of hiding and shouted “This institution [UChicago? IOP?] should stop “Protecting Alvarez from the people.” They brought back a 1968 anti-Vietnam War and anti LBJ (Lyndon Banes Johnson) slogan, chanting “Hey Hey, ho ho, Anita Alvarez has got to go.”
When Steve Edwards tried to break in, saying that “We have allowed you to voice your concerns,” he was rebuffed by a protest leader who said, “If you were really paying attention to the community’s concerns, you wouldn’t have Anita Alvarez speak here. I wouldn’t be banned from this institution for fighting for a UChicago Trauma Center. Please don’t tell me ‘You care about our concerns,’ when people are dying here and Anita Alvarez is protecting the mother——- that are killing us.
After about ten minutes of chants, obscenities, tirades about Chicago Police misconduct and abuse of minority communities, the protestors lost interest and left with some gentle prodding by the one or two university security officers on the scene, who didn’t seem to be “Packing.”
Steve Edwards then spoke briefly to the audience. Edwards, previously show host of Chicago Public Radio’s “848,” told the audience of fifty who had watched the spectacle “…State’s Attorney Alvarez has left…We wanted to have Anita Alvarez here because we think it is important for all of you, including [those] who have … have deep, deep concerns about her office and her office’s handling, specifically of the LaQuan McDonald case, but also many, many others, to have the opportunity to pose questions to and dialogue with her…Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that… we are going to have that opportunity today.” For a discussion of some of the questions to be asked of State’s Attorney Alvarez had she not beat a hasty retreat, click here.
Edwards continued, “I regret that very, very much because here at the IOP …we have prided ourselves on creating a space where there can be frank, open dialogue, tough questioning… “
Steve Edwards concluded the program by saying, “…We certainly honor the protestors’ right to express their voices—that’s part of the democratic process, that’s part of free speech on this campus…”
Misha Euceph, a Medill Northwestern University MS candidate joined the writer of this post to speak with Steve Edwards about some of these issues after the program:
Jeff Berkowitz: What was the name of that protest group?
Steve Edwards: … I think some of the individuals are a part of BYP 100, Black Youth Project 100
Berkowitz: So, BYP 100 seemed to effectively shut down your program. Do you think you should have gotten in touch with State’s Attorney Alvarez and invited her to come back?
Edwards: We haven’t had a chance to talk with the State’s Attorney yet.
Berkowitz: No, I meant, to have had the State’s Attorney come back to finish her talk right now. That is, do you think the protestors won because they shut you down today?
Edwards: We …are committed to having thoughtful, tough conversations on tough issues, with candidates, with others who are involved in the political process, so it is our intent to provide that for every candidate in this race…
Berkowitz: I heard somebody say something about calling the police early on in this disruption. Were the police called?
Edwards: I don’t know…
Berkowitz: Do you think maybe they should have been?
Edwards: We do have security here. We had security here.
Berkowitz: So, could you have asked the protestors to leave, after five minutes of protest, so that the program could have proceeded?
Edwards: We did.
Berkowitz: Do you think the University police might have been more effective? Or, the Chicago police? To escalate it, you would have had to call the Chicago police?
Edwards: No, the University of Chicago police–my understanding is—they have jurisdiction.
Berkowitz: Do those guys carry guns?
Edwards: I don’t know. You’re beyond my pay grade and expertise.
Berkowitz: …While we all believe in protests, so long as they are within their constitutional rights—maybe after a certain amount of time, the protestors should have been told, “The police will be called and if you don’t leave, you will be arrested.” That way, we could have all learned what the State’s Attorney had to say.
Edwards: I was trying to get those protestors out for that reason. Ultimately, the State’s Attorney decided it was best for her to leave [twenty minutes into the program]. So, when those protestors did leave, we were left with no opportunity to continue today.
Berkowitz: So, if you are able to get the State’s Attorney back, do you think you will handle security differently next time so she will be assured she can speak.
Edwards: The University and the Institute have a protocol in place for protests and disruptions. That protocol was followed.
Misha Euceph [Medill School of Journalism]: If you plan on having State’s Attorney Alvarez back, how do you envision this kind of disruption not taking place in the future?
Edwards: Our hope is that every time we host a session we do so in the best traditions of the University of Chicago—a place that prides itself on free and open inquiry, rigorous discussions and questions about challenging issues. We have had hundreds of events during our three years here on Campus, across a range of issues; very, very different opinions, and at each one of those events we have been gratified and reassured by the engagement from students, from community members that they can listen, even when they deeply disagree with the person or their views, and do so really substantively. That is something we aim to do with every event, including any future engagement with State’s Attorney Alvarez [To watch perhaps State’s Attorney Alvarez’s most detailed interview (saying, on “Public Affairs,” at 29:00, “I don’t think people should own guns,”), during her 2007 six candidate Democratic Primary race, click here], and her opponents, for that matter, whom we have also had here.
[Editor’s note: Mr. Edwards didn’t quite address Ms. Euceph’s question, to wit, when a group apparently has the intent of shutting down a program, as apparently was the case on Wednesday with the protestors before State’s Attorney Alvarez, how will the IOP stop them? Mr. Edwards said the University of Chicago and IOP has a protocol to deal with protestors, and it was followed at the program with State’s Attorney Alvarez. But, clearly, the protocol did not prevent a shut down of the program. So, what will be different next time? And, there will be a next time. Because, as we all know, “Weakness is provocative.” And, unfortunately, that is how the IOP’s exercise in self-restraint is likely to be perceived by future “Disrupter wannabees.”]
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Tags: Bettie Jones, Betty Jones, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, BYP 100, BYP100, Center, Daily Whale, Institute of Politics, IOP's David Axerlod, IOP's Steve Edwards, James Van Dyke, Jeff Berkowitz, Laquan McDonald, Public Affairs, Rahm Emanuel, State's Attorney Anite Alvarez, State's Attorney candidate Donna More, State's Attorney candidate Kim Foxx, UChicago, UChicago Trauma, UChicagoIOP, University of Chicago