Anjanette Albert was watching TV one night recently when she saw her tear-stained face flash across the screen in a campaign commercial for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The mother of Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old honors student killed in a melee outside Fenger High School on Sept. 24, 2009, says she was in shock.
“I didn’t understand. I couldn’t believe it. Why was I in a commercial without my knowledge? And without my permission?” Albert asks. “How can they do that?”
When contacted, the Alvarez campaign admitted Albert had not been contacted, and said the ad would be pulled immediately.
A campaign spokesman said the campaign had been unaware of who was in the photo — grabbed from the Internet for the 32-second commercial that has been airing on late-night TV during the nightly news.
Had they known it was Albert depicted in the photo, they would have contacted her, the spokesman said.
“The photo is an historical photo of Anita from a press conference that was published in various newspapers and other news outlets. I’m not aware of when the press conference occurred, but the photo has been in the public domain for quite some time,” Alvarez campaign spokesman Ken Snyder said.
“It exists in public on the Web for anyone to access, which is where we found it. We used it in good faith,” Snyder said. “It was an effort simply to depict Anita at a press conference. If Mrs. Albert contacted us we would have been happy to replace the photo in question had she asked us to.”
But Albert maintains the campaign should have known who was in the images they chose to use in that or any campaign material.
“You mean they can just pull photos off the Internet without knowing who is in them? The fact they didn’t even know who I was is even worse,” said Albert.
Albert has been through a lot since the brutal death of her son, who was walking to a bus stop when he got caught in a gang fight. He was kicked, stomped, and beaten with two-by-fours near the school at 342 W. 111th St.
Captured on cellphone video, the horrific incident made international headlines and led President Barack Obama to send then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago to confront such ruthless youth violence.
Five teens were charged and convicted in the murder that became an embedded symbol of the gang chaos that continues to claim lives. On Aug. 29, 2011, at the sentencing of the fifth and final defendant, Albert exited the courtroom to a media mob descending on her and Alvarez — whom she’d met for the first time that day.
Albert has sought to avoid the spotlight that permeated her life back then.
For the past three weeks, she has relived it each time she sees her distressed face on the screen in a photo of she and her grandfather Norman Golliday that day in the courthouse — Alvarez standing beside them.
“The worst part is that it makes it seem as if I support her candidacy, and I don’t,” said Albert.
“First, I’m not a political person, and I definitely would never use my son’s murder to promote anybody or anything. But more than that, this is someone I reached out to for help a few years later, and I couldn’t even get a call back.”
After her son’s death, unbeknownst to her, a family friend representing himself and his daughter as relatives of Derrion fraudulently began collecting money in Derrion’s name, purportedly to help with funeral expenses, Albert and other family members tell the Sun-Times.
CB Taylor Funeral Home, which handled his funeral, and Agape Community Center near Fenger informed Albert and family members that the individuals had visited both places, asking that donations be directed to them, Albert and her family said.
And a collection taken up by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan at Derrion’s funeral Oct. 3, 2009, at Greater Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church was stolen by the same family friend and never given to Derrion’s mother and little sister, family members said.
To this day, the mother has been unable to afford a headstone for Derrion.
“At a town hall held on Nov. 23rd, 2013, I told a member of the media what was happening, and asked what I should do. She told me this was a criminal matter, and to contact Anita Alvarez’ office, so I did,” said Albert.
“It was a little while after that town hall that my cousin helped me email Alvarez’ office. We emailed at least twice, and never got a response or call back. So I just gave up. I figured there was nothing I could do about it by myself,” she said.
Asked about the mother’s request for help, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney said the office was not immediately aware of the inquiry “but will certainly check further and respond accordingly.”
After the Sun-Times called with Albert’s complaint about the campaign commercial, Snyder was apologetic. The commercial shows Alvarez running through a gritty neighborhood with intermittent images of her with families of victims of violence. The very first image is her with Albert.
“I didn’t know when I grabbed the photo. I wasn’t aware that was Mrs. Albert, and had I known, we would have made an effort to contact her,” the campaign spokesman said. “The ad won’t run with her photo anymore. I would pull it tonight, but there’s nothing I can do about this until Monday.”