PORTAGE PARK — Family, friends and community members gathered Friday to unveil a free little library in honor of Anthony Alvarez, marking six months since he was fatally shot by a cop blocks from his home.
The library was installed next to a memorial for Alvarez at West Eddy Street and North Laramie Avenue, near where Officer Evan Solano shot the 22-year-old after a foot chase March 31. Children helped paint the wooden walls which included a sign reading, “Long Live Anthony,” a portrait of Alvarez, and the logo of Pumas, his favorite Mexican soccer team.
Alvarez’s cousin, Roxana Figueroa, came up with the idea for the library to honor the young father, brother and son who liked to read. Naomi Powers, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s Chicago chapter, designed the structure.
Figueroa said she hoped the tribute to her cousin also could highlight the importance of education and inspire children in the community to read.
“The last time we were out here, I made a promise to Anthony to keep an eye on his siblings, his mom, his dad, his daughter,” Figueroa said. “I’m working hard to be that example for them. Something like this gives me that strength — not only for them but for every kid in the community.”
Alvarez’s 12-year-old sister, Jade Martinez, was one of the painters who colored in his life-like portrait on the library. She said the colorful combination of greens, blues and purples are all of the colors he loved — but one sticks out the most.
“I love the red because his favorite color was red,” Martinez said.
She smiled when thinking about her brother, who was like a mentor and friend to her.
“We used to listen to Spanish music and dance a little,” she said. “Sometimes he would help me with my homework.”
Figueroa wants the library to be a visual reminder of her cousin, whom she called caring, smart and at times, quiet. She also hopes it’s a symbol of peace for the neighborhood, which has reacted harshly to Alvarez’s memorials and family members in the past.
His memorial was partially removed or destroyed at least three times since it was installed in March, and Figueroa said police officers have routinely harassed the family for gathering at the street corner.
“With this, I want to show the neighbors and everyone in Portage Park that every time we gather here, we come in good terms,” she said. “We come to remember Anthony. We are not here to invade anyone’s personal space and personal property.”
In the six months since Alvarez was killed, activists and family members have hosted vigils and marches, and asked people to sign a petition demanding Solano be fired and face charges.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability officials made the unusual recommendation that Chicago Police should strip Solano of his police powers after he shot Alvarez, but department officials did not act on that recommendation, allowing him to continue carrying his gun and badge. Then in May, video surfaced of a uniformed Solano arguing with another driver in Logan Square and taking out his gun as the confrontation escalated.
Solano was stripped of his police powers in June, months after the initial COPA recommendation to do so. City and police officials have remained tight-lipped about Solano’s fate as a cop.
Figueroa said the little library, which was full of books donated by volunteers and the family by the end of the night, is just one step toward making sure Alvarez’s name isn’t forgotten.
Along with the family’s attorney, she is hoping to put together a youth soccer team in her cousin’s honor. The family also plans to continue speaking at local parades, protests and rallies to amplify his story and push for justice.
“It’s not OK to stay quiet. We need to stand our ground,” Figueroa said.
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