Local prosecutors have historically paid no price for taking up residence in the pocket of the police department. That changed on Tuesday, when Democratic primary voters in the counties that include Cleveland and Chicago turned veteran prosecutors out of office for mishandling cases against police officers who shot and killed black citizens.
The defeats of Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney of Cook County, Ill., and Tim McGinty, county prosecutor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, show that many voters are no longer willing to tolerate cover-ups and foot-dragging in cases of killings by the police and other abuses. Still, it will take more than changing the name on the prosecutor’s stationery to reform the way such cases are handled.
That prosecutors and police officers work closely together every day creates a conflict of interest. It makes it difficult for many prosecutors to vigorously pursue cases of police wrongdoing. The best solution would be to bring in special prosecutors to handle all cases where civilians died at the hands of the police. Until that happens, voters need to oust prosecutors who fail to do their jobs.
Ms. Alvarez became the object of civic rage when she waited 13 months to charge the police officer who executed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on a busy Chicago street—despite a police dash-cam video that contradicted the Police Department’s statement that the young man had been menacing officers with a knife.
The video might have remained buried forever had lawyers and journalists not been tipped off to its existence. Only after a court ordered that it be made public did Ms. Alvarez charge the officer with murder.
The protesters who ousted Ms. Alvarez are unlikely to stop there. Kim Foxx, a politically connected former prosecutor who won the Democratic primary, could find herself facing similar pressure if she does not reform how police misconduct cases are handled by the office.
A similar backlash materialized in Cleveland after Mr. McGinty asked a grand jury not to indict the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had a toy gun at the time. A 911 caller told an emergency operator that the gun was “probably fake” and that the boy was “probably a juvenile,” but that message failed to reach the officer. The officer shot the child within seconds of arriving on the scene, then stood by for several minutes without providing medical assistance. The episode reminded African-Americans yet again that they lived at the mercy of a Police Department that had an utter disregard for Black lives.
Mr. McGinty behaved more like the police officer’s defense lawyer than a prosecutor. He also angered the public by speaking disparagingly about Tamir Rice’s family during the course of the case. Prosecutors in his office even suggested that the officer’s decision to shoot the child was justified because the boy lived in a violent neighborhood.
Many voters were clearly willing to vote for anyone but Mr. McGinty. But in their eagerness to be rid of him, they turned to Michael O’Malley, a former prosecutor who worked under Mr. McGinty’s predecessor when the office was too cozy with the police and riddled with cronyism. Voters who chose Mr. O’Malley will need to pay close attention to how he does business.
These two elections show the growing influence of the Black Lives Matter movement, as protesters seized on the Rice and McDonald killings and refused to let them go. Two young people were gunned down, and the voters in those grieving communities were not going to let the prosecutors off the hook.