Kim Foxx has been embroiled in one of this primary season's toughest races, the contest to unseat incumbent Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Foxx, who was, until last August, chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, says she wants the state's attorney's office to restore trust between the public and law enforcementthe first part of which is coming clean publicly about failing the community. She also wants to appoint an independent prosecutor for police shootings and a diversity officer who'd oversee a staff ensuring that the office reflected and understood the demographics of the community.
Foxx was at one point homeless, and she has said that gives her a unique perspective that Alvarez and fellow challenger Donna More, a gaming attorney, do not share. She has won numerous endorsements, perhaps the most significant of which is the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party, who made the rare decision not to back the incumbent.
But Foxx faces steep criticism from her opponents, especially for her close relationship with Preckwinkle; many assume that the board president, long a critic of county incarceration system, would just be using Foxx as a proxy. They also say that Foxx has had limited experience with large-scale prosecutions, having spent much of her time at the state's attorney's office working in juvenile justice issues.
Foxx spoke with Windy City Times about the problems she sees in the State's Attorney's Office and her aspirations for fixing them.
Windy City Times: Why do you think you're the best pick between yourself, Alvarez and Moore?
Kim Foxx: It's the mixture of both my personal experiences around the criminal justice system, and living in communities affected by crime and violence. My legal career, as an advocate for children in the foster-care system, my 12 years in the state's attorney's office, and my executive management and policy-making experience, having been chief of staff in the second-largest county [board president's office], working on issues around criminal justice, from a policy standpoint. I view myself as unique against my opponents because, I have one opponent who's been in the office ever since she got out of law school. That's the only job, not all in an elected capacity, that she's worked at in 30 years. The other opponent worked in the office in the '80s, and in the U.S. attorney's office, but hasn't done work around these issues in a quarter of a century.
This criminal justice system requires that we work with stakeholders and partners to get things done and I have a record of getting things done, working with other elected officials, working with communities in addition to the legal stuff. I think that makes me uniquely situated.
WCT: What do you see as most important for prosecuting crime and fostering trust between Cook County residents and law enforcement?
KF: In order for us to fight crime, we need the public. We need the communities affected by crime and violence, for all of us to have faith in the system to fix it. They are not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined and we have to deal with them at the same time.
The first thing you have to do is acknowledge that the public trust in our system has been broken. … The way you fix it, for the community, is to first say it: "Yes, you are absolutely right. The system has failed in how we've administered justice. People know about Laquan McDonald. We're talking about Rekia Boyd again this week. We're talking about the young woman who was raped at Loyolathat case was never able to get convictions because the state's attorney's office dropped the ball. We're talking about the Dixmoor 5. You have to be able to go to the community and say, "These things have happened and here are the safeguards we're going to put into place."
Around police accountability, I'm the only one who's said we need to have an special independent prosecutor in cases of police shootings. I believe there is an inherent conflict in the intimate relationship between police and the state's attorney, and it's not a nefarious relationship, it's necessary. it's where we get our cases from.
But what we've seen, with this state's attorney, and the unwillingness to charge in these types of cases, is the question: Is it because of that relationship or is it something else? In order to take out that question, you put an independent prosecutor in, and the public views that as more transparent, and more accountable. When you do that, it develops the credibility of the system.
Additionally, we need to be able to make sure that our state's attorney's office is reflective of the communities that we serve. Diversity continues to be an issue in the state's attorney's office, particularly diversity of leadership. The state's attorney does a fair job of bringing in diversity of her new hireskids coming out of law schoolbut where we see it fall off is senior management and leadership positions that affect policy and really how you engage with the community.
Then, lastly, transparency and accountabilitywe don't have mechanisms in place in the state's attorney's Office to report bad actors, whether they're police officers or state's attorneys. The state's attorney doesn't believe that she's subject to inspector general oversight. I absolutely disagree. I think we need someone to be able to report bad actors, too.
WCT: How do you feel your background lends itself to this kind of work?
KF: I've made no secret about growing up in a really impoverished neighborhood. It's done a couple of things, not even just growing up there. We've got family across this city. My mother moved to Englewood before she passed away. The realness of what's happening to our neighborhoods is not something I can escape. It's not academic to me. When I have to go to a family function at 51st and Aberdeen and I'm looking over my shoulders because I'm afraid, that's real to me. When we went to church on the West Side in North Lawndale, on 13th and Independence, and there are needles and syringes in the grass, and I'm trying to navigate my children's feet around the syringes in the grass. It's very real to me.
I've been a victim of crime. The way I look at how we deal with victims, and how we interact with law enforcement, from the perspective of someone who's been there, is very real to me. I talk about it because I think we've become so academic in talking about crime and punishment. We need to be able to make sure that it's driven by what's happening in our community.
WCT: How do you answer the charges that your candidacy is the result of Preckwinkle's attempts at "kingmaking?"
KF: The world is watching our criminal-justice system collapse. The fact of the matter is, what's been happening in Cook County, with the state's attorney's Office is not new. The difference is that it's gone unchallenged. The president has not made any secret about the fact that she's had concerns about the criminal-justice system here. She oversees the largest single-site jail in the country and the largest unified court system in the country.
When using performance management data, we saw that we were failing. The president's acknowledgment of a failing system does not mean that anyone who steps up to run is only doing it because of the president. We have real significant problemsI think that's why there's so much support across the board. So, the answer to the critics is, "Do you really believe we have a criminal justice system we can be proud of? Do you really believe that we have a state's attorney's office that is a model for administering justice? Are you concerned about what's come to light in the last six months alone?"
WCT: What work have you done with the LGBT community?
KF: One of the things I'm really proud of is my work in Girls Link at the Cook County state's attorney's office. So the [Juvenile Temporary Detention Center] had a real issue dealing with gender-responsiveness issues, so they created Girls Link. We expanded the work to include what we were doing around LGBT issues at the detention center. It is really heartbreaking, the kids who we see coming in, for the issues that we see going on in their community. Their sexuality has often been problematic for them at home. So they're already dealing with criminal justice issues where people don't understand them. People don't understand what their needs are. Whether it's young people who are bullying, or even staff, we had a population of kids who were stealing to pay for transitioning and when they would come into the detention center, the question was, "What do we do with them?"
We were mindful that this was not just about gender responsiveness. We had to bring the realm of of sexual identity into it. So we pushed for training in the JTDC. We pushed for our medical department advocating [and asking], "How do we allow for folks to continue to continue their medications, transitioning processes or hormones?"
We had real conversations about how we were creating a culture, not just in the detention center, but in the staff, around these issues. We saw a lot of our kids who came from the South Side, did not have a lot of resources to deal with what was going on in their community. Getting someone over to the Center on Halsted from 79th Streethow could we be mindful of that with youth? They're looking for support.
WCT: What do you believe are the most pertinent issues for LGBT Cook County residents going into the next four years?
KF: We've come a long way in terms of civil rights. Marriage equality was huge. We've come a long way in terms of treating people the same. I don't know how you can even justify benefits to one class over anotherwe've come a long way. But we still have a lot of work to do in terms of attacks within those communities, where young people or others don't want to report hate crimes, because they don't want to report attacks because they don't want to be ostracized when they have to explain why it happened. We haven't been very aggressive in going after it, but it exists.
There's been a hesitation in using the hate crimes statute across the board. When we're pushing these issues, for example, as they related to people of color, there was always this fear: "It's hard to prove the intent. Maybe they used a word, but it could be slang." But if you don't push it, you're never going to prove it, and that's the same way I feel particularly as it relates to the LGBTQ community, that we haven't pushed issues as they relate to hate crimes. I believe there's a fear that we're not going to be able to get success. When we are not pursuing justice to the fullest degree because of a fear of failure, we're failing the communities we're there to serve.
WCT: Hate-crimes laws are criticized by some because they do result in extra jail time. How do you reconcile that with efforts intended to curb excessive incarceration?
KF: We want to make sure we have the right people in jail for the right reasons. The level of penalty depends on the level of the crime. I don't think we should have low-level drug offenders who have drug addiction issues hanging out in our jails for years. However, how we use our criminal justice system is a barometer of how we use our moral compass. People who harm people, who deprive people of their life, liberty and propertythere's a reason we have a criminal court for them. The sentence should be just. When you oppress solely based on gender, sexuality or race, we have a problem with that. It's against the moral compass of who we are. Yes, there are enhancements to it, but part of the reason we have those is because that type of crime occurs. So I think it's easy to reconcile. Our priorities have to shift. ...With hate crimes it's intended to have a crippling effect, not just on the individual, but on a community.
WCT: What would you do to promote issues of awareness in trans issues, both in the state's attorney's office and within the police force?
KF: We have to have trainings for everybody. We tend to give specialized training to one group. ...We have to be really targeted about cultural competency training and spread the definition of cultural competency. As we evolve as a society and see that not everything is just Black, white or Latino, we have to talk about the full spectrum of who lives in our city, and we have to have a unit within the state's attorney's office who deals with those issues. Not just one person. We need specialists who deal with these issues, because they're complicated and ever-evolving, particularly as it relates to trans people. It's different from when I first started.
See KimFoxx.com .