Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx (D) made the case for her re-election at a University of Chicago Institute of Politics town hall on Thursday, arguing that her implementation of progressive policy has improved the county’s criminal justice system and served as a bellwether for prosecutors across the country.
Foxx is running for a second term and faces four opponents in the March 17 primary election. Her challengers have mostly focused on her office’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case. The actor, accused of fabricating a hate crime against himself, was indicted by a grand jury last Tuesday. A special prosecutor took over the case from Foxx, who initially dropped charges against Smollett last year.
The incumbent did not mention Smollett at the town hall, though. Instead, Foxx focused on the accomplishments of her three years in office, particularly her effort to shift resources from prosecuting minorities for low-level offenses like retail thefts and marijuana possession to focusing more directly on the problem of gun violence.
“This holistic approach to criminal justice reform, or criminal justice, is what I offered,” she said. “Our lawyers worked with law enforcement partners, they worked with community members, with people who ran neighborhood community groups, people who ran (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) meetings, took that intelligence and learned from it. Because what happens is when you target everybody, you’re really not helping anyone.”
In describing her decision to stop prosecuting people for driving with suspended licenses, Foxx articulated the difficult predicament people with too many parking tickets often find themselves in.
“If you can’t afford to pay your tickets, you get a boot that’s $400. But if your rent is $600, you have to make a decision,” she said. “And drivers without a license get pulled over by the police, and now you get arrested or prosecuted.”
In June 2017, Foxx’s office announced that they would stop prosecuting people caught driving on suspended licenses, as long as those licenses had been revoked for financial reasons. Earlier this year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a bill reinstating more than 50,000 suspended licenses.
Foxx acknowledged that her decisions haven’t always been popular at the time they were implemented, even when they served as a model for later policy shifts.
“We knew that the license law hadn’t changed back then, but sometimes you need to put your neck out there,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re a pioneer.’ I’ve only been in office three years — I’m too young to be a pioneer!”
Foxx also mentioned Chesa Boudin, who was elected as San Francisco District Attorney this past November. Boudin has Hyde Park roots: he was raised in the neighborhood by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn while his parents were incarcerated after killing two police officers and a security guard during an armed robbery, part of their activities with the left-wing Weather Underground.
“When I ran for this office, there was not this notion of a progressive prosecutor. There was not,” Foxx said. “Larry doesn’t get to do what he does, if the people in Cook County don’t show up and say this is possible.”
At the IOP town hall, U. of C. student activists also pushed Foxx on why the State’s Attorney is continuing to press charges against Charles Soji Thomas, an undergraduate shot by officers from the University of Chicago Police Department. Thomas has been charged with assault of a police officer and property damage — he is currently being held in Cook County Jail.
“He’s been (missing) access to the necessary medication and mental health treatment. Listening to you talk about the opportunity to have a more restorative view toward justice, I wanted to ask you, since this case is under your jurisdiction, if you’d be willing to consider dropping the charges against Charles,” said Alicia Hurtado, a representative with student activist groups UChicago United and #CareNotCops.
Foxx said that she could not comment on any specific cases, but spoke generally about the need for better options to help people in the criminal justice system with mental health problems. She also said that she would be willing to meet with Thomas’s family and activists. After the town hall, Hurtado told the Herald that Foxx had given them her personal email.
One of Foxx’s opponents, former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), will visit the Institute of Politics for a town hall March 4.