Militant Journalism

Facing up to fascists, Alvarez family fights for justice in Chicago

Bells, whistles, and chants faded into the background as Laly Figueroa marched away from the May 29 protest outside of the 16th District Chicago Precinct Headquarters. Figueroa wore a t-shirt with her cousin’s face and four words emblazoned on the front: Justice for Anthony Alvarez. “We want [Chicago mayor] Lori Lightfoot to resign, we want [president of the Fraternal Order of Police] John Catanzara to resign, and most importantly we want Evan Solano arrested and to do jail time,” she said. 

On March 31, Alvarez, father of a two-year-old daughter, soccer lover and worker at a meat factory was shot and killed by Chicago Police Department officer Evan Solano. For more than a month, the Alvarez family was kept in the dark about the case. CPD did everything in their power to try to sweep the killing under the rug by intimidating neighbors who witnessed Anthony’s shooting, showing up in force at his memorial service and destroying physical memorials in Anthony’s memory. 

After a series of delays, stonewalling and silence, on April 28 the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released Solano’s bodycam footage from the March 31 killing. The footage is chilling to watch. Police charge a vehicle directly at Alvarez while he is walking home from the gas station next to his house. A chase ensues that leads through alleyways to the neighboring street. Immediately after rounding a corner, Solano calls on Alvarez to drop a gun and, without waiting for a response, opens fire. Alvarez was shot in the back while running away, presenting no threat to the police or anyone. His last words were, “Why are you shooting me?”

In a display of deadly incompetence characteristic of CPD, Solano first attempts to handcuff Alvarez while he is bleeding out, before his partner stops him, saying they must render aid. His partner, Sammy Encarnacion, then proceeds to put a tourniquet on the wrong leg and calls ambulances to the wrong location. In the bodycam footage, Encarnacion walks up to Solano to check on him. Solano asks, “Did he shoot at me?” indicating the shoot first policy of CPD. Encarnacion says to Solano, “You’re OK. That’s all that matters,” as Alvarez lies just out of frame. This is a perfect example of how police view themselves in relation to the communities they occupy. After taking an innocent life, all that matters to police officers is the protection of their own in-group. 

Anthony Alvarez's mother stands up to police at a May 29 rally. Liberation photo
Anthony Alvarez’s mother stands up to police at a May 29 rally. Liberation photo

First they kill you, then they kill your memory

The police and their accomplices in corporate media have tried to assassinate the character of Alvarez. The Alvarez family has fought back against disgusting, racist smears of Alvarez’s character by speaking out about what kind of man he was. 

When asked what is giving him strength in these difficult times, Alvarez’s cousin Gustavo Fuentes did not hesitate for a moment: “The strength that we have is family. We stick together.” Fuentes knew Alvarez. The family is closely knit and shows up in force to defend their cousin, brother, son, friend and father.  

Much of the narrative in pro-cop corporate media has revolved around the fact that Alvarez had a gun when he was ambushed and attacked by the police. Fuentes strongly rejects the framing of the police: “Just because you have a gun means you’re going to kill somebody? No. They have to learn to hear the people out and stop racial profiling. For us that’s racism. Just because he’s Hispanic, just because he’s dressed up ghetto doesn’t mean he’s a gang banger like everybody is stating. He was a good kid. He was a hard working man. He was focusing on his daughter.”

Despite the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms, this right has rarely if ever been extended to the non-white working class. During the Reconstruction era, the KKK was founded in part to attack Black veterans of the Civil War and civilians with military training. A wave of white supremacist terrorism in 1919 known today as Red Summer was directed against Black working class soldiers returning from World War I. The Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets and other revolutionary groups were attacked by police forces and the FBI because they dared to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry weapons. In the United States, being Brown- or Black-skinned and carrying a weapon is treated as a crime by the forces of the state and their fascist allies. 

Fascist aldermen arrive to “back the blue” and incite hate

Following up on the success of a May 1 demonstration, the Alvarez family and the Party for Socialism and Liberation called a protest on May 29 outside of the precinct where killer cop Evan Solano works. In the days leading up to the protest, the alderman of the 38th Ward Nicholas Sposato got wind of the protest. Sposato used his bully pulpit to call a counter protest at the exact same time and location as the protest of the PSL and Alvarez family. 

The counter protest was boosted by several other aldermen including Jim Gardiner, Anthony Napolitano and Raymond Lopez. The fact that so many city council members would feel comfortable calling for and endorsing a fascist protest demonstrates how the right wing feels emboldened in the current moment. Despite being shared hundreds of times on fascist, pro-cop Facebook pages the fascist crowd that arrived at the counter protest numbered around 40. 

John Catanzara, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police was a prominent presence on the pro-fascist side. He held a giant flagpole flying U.S. and “Thin Blue Line” flags and led the harassment of the Alvarez family. Catanzara has been stripped of his badge and faces firing from CPD for multiple reasons. COPA recommended his firing for social media posts including a post about Muslims saying “Savages they all deserve a bullet.” Catanzara also defended the January 6 fascist attack on the US capitol.

What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in disgusting hate. Parents showed their young children how to flip off the Alvarez family. Fascist provocateurs were allowed close to the barricades with no interference from police. One fascist got in the face of Anthony’s two-year-old daughter as she sat in her stroller behind the protest. A motorcyclist with a confederate flag patch on his jacket slowly drove his motorcycle past the protesters, honking his horn and giving them the middle finger. This proved to be too much to stomach. One young man threw a Gatorade bottle at the fascist who continued to drive back to the counter demonstration unharmed. 

The police waited for an opportune time to grab the kid who threw the Gatorade bottle. A scuffle ensued as the crowd leapt into action to try to protect him but it was too late. He was charged with a misdemeanor. The Alvarez family lawyer, who was attending the protest, spent the afternoon at the jail working to get him released. 

Evan Solano and CPD: a menace to society

After COPA released the video of Alvarez’s murder, the board made the highly irregular recommendation that Solano be stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave. In his six years in the CPD, Solano has four use of force complaints and 11 tactical response reports, normally filed after a serious incident. Chicago police superintendent David Brown has not followed COPA’s recommendation, while the CPD has claimed to local media that Solano is on a 60-day administrative leave. One of Mayor Lightfoot’s few comments on the case was to criticize COPA for releasing its recommendation to the public without prior warning to police leadership.

More evidence of Solano’s unhinged behavior continues to trickle out. On May 21, Solano got into a road-rage incident with a Black motorist in the Logan Square neighborhood of the city. During the incident, Solano pulled a gun on the driver.

Solano was dressed in his police uniform when the incident took place. Officers are normally required to remove their uniform after their shift ends. Many questions remain after the incident. Why was Solano still wearing his uniform when he engaged in this heated argument? Was Solano brandishing his department issued weapon while on administrative leave? Is Solano even on administrative leave? CPD habitually lies and has covered up police murder before, as in the case of the murder of Laquan McDonald. It is impossible to trust that CPD, an unaccountable and criminal organization, will police itself. The only route forward is the overthrow of this capitalist system, specifically designed to oppress the working class for the benefit of the 1%.

The police killings of Anthony Alvarez and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in March have forced pro-cop mayor Lightfoot to address the epidemic of violence in Chicago. On May 26, Lightfoot announced a revised foot chase policy. Notably the new policy does not ban the dangerous practice of foot pursuits but provides unenforceable guidelines for police conduct in determining when to initiate a foot pursuit. 

The new policy provides a lot of latitude for officer discretion and no enforcement mechanisms for officers who violate the policy, which happens on a routine basis. No policy change can alter the fundamental nature of the police. The police in capitalist society enforce the laws of the capitalist class, laws designed to oppress and criminalize the working class. Alvarez was not murdered by a policy, or lack thereof, but by a CPD officer acting as an oppressive occupying force within Alvarez’s community.

Even these token gestures were too harsh for the fascist Fraternal Order of Police, which issued a no-confidence vote in Lightfoot, Superintendent Brown, and Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter last week. 

Where to next?

As COPA continues its slow investigation, the struggle in the streets will continue. “We’re going to keep protesting,” says Figueroa. “Our lawyers will take care of the legal fight but as much as I can I will share Anthony’s story and demand justice for him. Like I said, justice means Evan Solano being arrested.”

Feature photo: Members of Anthony Alvarez’s family and the Party for Socialism and Liberation protest outside the 16th District Police Station in Chicago. Credit: Liberation photo

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