While no elective positions in Evanston will be on the March 15 Illinois presidential primary ballot, a number of important county-wide candidates will be selected by their respective parties that day. Perhaps the election generating the most news and controversy will be the Democratic primary for State’s Attorney, in which incumbent Anita Alvarez is challenged by Donna Moore and Kim Foxx. Interviews with Ms. Moore and Ms. Alvarez will appear in upcoming editions of the RoundTable.
Current State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez finds herself embroiled in controversy after what critics call an unacceptable delay in bringing charges against a Chicago police officer who killed a black teen in October 2014. Ms. Alvarez is seeking re-election, but she faces two challengers in the primary. The RoundTable sat down with one of the challengers, Kim Foxx, this week. A profile of Donna More, the other challenger, will appear in an upcoming issue.
Ms. Foxx, who grew up in Chicago, calls social racial justice issues “a passion of mine, because I grew up here.” She was raised “in a very impoverished community, the Cabrini Green housing projects in the 70s and 80s. So having come from a community that was impacted by poverty and violence, it is very important to me to dedicate my career to addressing the issues and concerns of those disenfranchised communities.”
Her mother and grandmother raised her, she said, moving a few blocks north so she could attend Lincoln Park High School. From there, it was on to Southern Illinois University for both undergraduate and law degrees.
After a stint with the Cook County Public Guardian’s office, representing children before the courts, Ms. Foxx joined the State’s Attorney office. “I was prosecutor for 12 years here in Cook County,” she says. Her focus was on juvenile justice issues, she said. “I was a supervisor for the last five years of my tenure there, in our juvenile delinquency division. So I managed dozens of attorneys in our office who were prosecuting anything from first degree murder to domestic cases and everything in between.”
Ms. Foxx left the State’s Attorney’s office in 2013 to become chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “As Chief of Staff I managed her criminal justice reform agenda – initiative… [Cook County has] the largest single site jail in the country. We have 10,000 people in jail on any given day…who are being held not because they are a danger to the community, but because they could not make their bond. The residual impact on our resources, when we are spending so much time housing people for nonviolent offense,” she said.
The combination of experience – both feet on the ground in the trenches experience as a prosecutor and direct involvement in policy making at the highest level of government – make Ms. Foxx unique in this race, she says. “All three of us have been prosecutors [she, Ms. More and Ms. Alvarez], but I have a breadth of experience that is not just from a prosecutor’s standpoint.” Ms. Foxx worked on policy reform “from a 40,000 foot level,” she said, pursuing “a reform agenda,” working to “get legislation passed, and to get the jail population reduced because we put a targeted effort to do it.”
In Ms. Foxx’s view, currently the State’s Attorney’s office is in serious need of significant reform.
“Having worked with state’s attorney’s office under Anita Alvarez and particularly as a leader and supervisor there, I became very frustrated by what I found to be not the pursuit of justice, but the pursuit of convictions.”
Ms. Foxx offers a new take on the problem of guns in our streets. The County, she says, spends too much time and energy “catching possessors after the fact and we have not put nearly enough focus on trying to figure out who it is that are trafficking guns and drugs in the community.” Statistics say that “for every gun we take off the street, there are seven more that come into the community, and we’ve not done anything in terms of turning off the spigot.”
“I think it’s possible for us to walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said. Authorities can “work on prevention. Going after those who have guns, but also make sure we are targeting those who are providing them … particularly to young people.
“When we arrest young people with guns, we don’t ask, ‘Where did you get the gun from?’ There’s not a process by which we try to figure out who provided the gun to that person. We tend to be self-satisfied that we have taken one off the street. That gets us halfway there. … When we have people who are literally making money off of providing guns to people in these conflicts we need to do more to hold them accountable,” she said. “We are reactionary instead of being proactive,” and should focus more on “trafficking in guns [and] reasonable gun legislation,” Ms. Foxx said.
If she were State’s Attorney, Ms. Foxx says,her office would not be reluctant to bring criminal charges if the evidence supported charges. Cases involving police misconduct, she says, “aren’t perfect cases. … A lot of these cases are dependent upon humans. And we know that identification, human identification is not 100% reliable, but that’s sometimes all you’ve got. And we were trained by what circumstantial evidence means. We were trained that sometimes you’re not going to have the best of direct evidence. But do you have a good faith basis to believe that the evidence is sufficient – you should bring it forward. Sometimes you are going to lose, but that’s the nature of the work.”
Evanston has experienced an unacceptable number of homicides in recent years, most connected to what police have described as “interpersonal conflicts” that have similarities or direct connections to gang activities. Ms. Foxx said the State’s Attorney’s office must adapt to the times, to the new form of gang activity in the Chicago area. “Back in the day, people were fighting over business, over turf. They’re fighting over ‘He said something disrespectful about my girlfriend. On social media.’ I think we need to be adapting to what gangs look like today. I think a task force of 15 years ago is not going to be as effective as what we need today. We need real meaningful intervention around juvenile justice issues…”
Ms. Foxx also talks about public corruption, and the County’s response to misbehavior by elected officials. “When they do these top ten lists – corruption – Illinois is always near the top,” as is Cook County, she said, “and there’s not an accountability for that. The erosion of the public trust when you start seeing people who have taken an oath to serve, and you don’t hold them accountable… It’s awful. You just become so accustomed to, it’s the Chicago way. In light of what’s been happening these past few weeks [the Laquan McDonald protests], people are taking to the streets and there’s frustration it’s not just because of what was on the dash cam but the sense that there are two justice systems: one for those who are protected whether it’s because of wealth or because of place in society, or elected officials – and then everybody else. That angst and frustration is because we don’t see public officials being held accountable for bad acts.”
Of federal involvement, Ms. Foxx says, “The feds will come in because they have the resources, they have the time. Where they can do these cases and the feds are very good at doing that.
“But the fact is the state’s attorney’s office has a public integrity unit. The type of unit charged with going after public corruption within the county. They are kind of doing these small ticky-tack cases like the one elected school board member who took some of the lunch money, and we should do that for certain, but I know that there’s more than that. [Corruption] has a debilitating effect on generations if people are stealing from the public coffers. Or people are taking jobs away. The people who aren’t able to get those jobs. The people who need to be able to depend on those services.. For those families and for the community. What’s the ripple effect for them, and further down the community.”
The Cook County State’s attorney’s office is a sprawling office with about 900 lawyers and 1,500 employees. Ms. Foxx said she stands ready to take in the challenge.
“In addition to my legal career,” Ms. Foxx concluded in her interview with the RoundTable, most important “is the fact that I come from a community that was really ravaged by violence and the concerns that we have right now in some of our communities. It’s deeply personal for me, and I think my ability to have come through those experiences and my ability to relate to people who go through those experiences coupled with my legal background make me uniquely qualified to do the job.”