By June Leffler
Favored to handily win the race for Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx is promising reform in a post-Anita Alvarez era. Yet some voters and activists aren’t letting their guard down, saying they will hold whomever is in office accountable.
For the March primary, Chicagoans’ frustration with State’s Attorney Alvarez spurred a robust turnout for Foxx. A few months earlier, the video of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times was released, and Alvarez was criticized for delaying 13 months until the eve of the video’s release to charge the officer. Activists already had it out for Alvarez on other accounts, such as undercharging Dante Servin for killing Rekia Boyd, which resulted in the case being thrown out entirely.
The grassroots campaign ByeAnita spearheaded Alvarez’s primary upset, but it was not an endorsement of Foxx herself.
“[The grassroots movement] was about highlighting the power of the office and how it was used and not used,” said Foxx last week. “The people said that whatever your platform, we want to hold you accountable. We’re going to hold your feet to the fire.”
She wants diversion programs for those who are mentally ill, drug users and juveniles. She wants more support for a wrongful convictions unit. She wants a more diverse office. She wants to assess office data for patterns of disparity. To hold police accountable, she wants to bring in a private investigator for cases of police officers shooting unarmed people.
“I don’t have any expectations,” said Kofi Ademola of Chicago Black Lives Matter who organized around the ByeAnita campaign. “It’s good rhetoric for sure, but it’s about the work and not the lip service.”
Foxx is also advocating for tough-on-crime measures. She has pledged a even-handed system that will ensure that offenders who use guns to commit crimes get serious penalties, and a coordinated approach to better target repeat offenders.
Ademola is a prison and police abolitionist and says racism is rampant throughout the whole punitive system. Backing a politician like Foxx isn’t part of his message.
“I really have no feelings towards her in particular,” Ademola said.
He had much harsher words for Alvarez than for Foxx, but he believes Alvarez’s legacy will still live on in the prosecutors who have worked under her, some who are about to become judges. He also said the State’s Attorney’s office is tied closely to the police and the mayor, whom he doesn’t trust.
Ademola isn’t endorsing Foxx or her opponent, Republican Christopher Pfannkuche. However, Ademola did point out that Pfannkuche is the one using fighting words against Rahm Emanuel, campaigning that he would initiate an investigation against the mayor.
“Where does her interest lie?” Ademola said. “Does your interest lie in justice and accountability to the greater community, or does it service the system protected from its own mechanism of accountability? Like Rahm with the elitist corporate class, police are a protected pillar. No matter what your title, if you commit harm, you must be held accountable.”
“If Foxx prosecutes police criminals, then of course we’ll be supportive, but right now that’s in the realm of speculation,” said Frank Chapman, education director and field organizer for Chicago Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression.
The group is pushing for a Civilian Police Accountability Council. The council of civilian, elected members would investigate police misconduct, appoint the police superintendent and replace the current Independent Police Review Authority. An ordinance for this measure has been introduced, currently with nine sponsors.
The council, CPAC, “is a democratic solution”, while Foxx’s proposed external investigator for officer shootings “is a bureaucratic solution,” according to Chapman.
“An appointed investigator would leave the power structure intact. CPAC empowers the people.”
Chapman said Foxx endorsing CPAC as the new State’s Attorney “would be a recognition on her part that we can do what she can’t do.”
At a karaoke party in Chinatown for Democratic State Rep. Camille Lilly and Kim Foxx last week, Foxx’s supporters said her past is evidence that she will protect those most afflicted by police brutality and a rigid criminal justice system.
Foxx grew up in the Cabrini Green housing development. If elected, She will become part of the one percent of elected prosecutors who are women of color, according to a report by the Center for Technology and Civil Life.
“I was raised in and around struggle,” said Foxx. “I don’t see it as us against them.”
“She is going to level the playing field,” said Foxx supporter Larry Howard. Howard believes Foxx will change some stricter sentencing laws and divert offenders to resources before throwing the book at them.
“People are falling through the cracks,” said Howard, referring to the traditional role of prosecutors counting up guilty verdicts without caring about the consequences to individuals or communities.
Another supporter, Ray Taylor, an officer in the Cook County Sheriff’s office, believes Foxx will not be indebted to the internal politics of the criminal justice system. “I’m a human first, that uniform comes off. I see the injustices and have insight into the system,” said Taylor. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police is endorsing Pfannkuche, Foxx’s opponent who has been a Cook County prosecutor for thirty years.
One voter, Bernard Coachman, was reading an article on Kim Foxx on the train less than a week before the election. “It’s going to take some time. She says she’ll be transparent… give her a few months.”