We are facing a test and we are failing. Police and prosecutorial reformers across the country are watching us and Kim Foxx. They are watching the media attack her for the Jussie Smollett investigation and prosecution, watching the success of forces invested in taking down her mission and vision of reform. Across the country reformers like Kim Foxx are learning to be afraid.
We are teaching these reformers this lesson of fear by allowing the controversy surrounding one nonviolent incident to take all the oxygen, teaching them that it can obliterate the history-making reforms happening in our county. But these are the kinds of reforms we desperately need.
Kim Foxx had our support when she ran for Cook County state’s attorney because we understood that the race was a chance to begin a national movement for policing and prosecutorial reform across the country with a fierce, smart, and visionary leader at the helm. We stood with our two-week-old daughter in our arms at Kim’s victory party, full of the faint, but burning, hope of a new future. Against all odds, it worked. Kim’s election helped inspire Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Kim Ogg in Houston and Rachael Rollins in Boston and continues to inspire campaigns and leadership in places where the most vulnerable are harassed, beaten, imprisoned, and murdered by police and prosecutors perpetuating a racist cycle of abuse.
Since that night, Kim Foxx, her office, and allies have achieved things we didn’t think possible—they are the first in the nation to provide full transparency on felony cases, they are leading the nation in number of exonerations, and they are launching a push to start expunging minor marijuana convictions so that people can move on with their lives after “crimes” that are so inconsequential they will soon be legal. And, while doing all of this, Kim’s office has increased successful gun prosecutions by almost 69 percent.
Kim’s changing the conversation, bringing prosecutors into neighborhoods disinvested for generations and struggling with violent crime. These are communities, like Englewood, where residents almost never had an opportunity to meet anyone in the prosecutor’s office before, until they were introduced in court. They are meeting in person, before tragedies, so that police and prosecutors can more closely serve the residents of communities and the victims of the cycle of violence. Foxx is calling out racism in our police force directly when it shows its face, as well as when it is less transparent. And she is a role model for a kind of law enforcement professional who brings strength, humility, humanity, and intelligence to a field marred by inequality, anger, hatred, and pain.
Democracy is not about one person. It is what we can do together, what we are willing to do together. This campaign to bring justice back to Cook County was never about Kim Foxx. It still isn’t. It is about a national agenda to save lives, a national agenda of systemic change and justice. It is a campaign of humanity and equity, of who we aspire to be and not just merely living with how things exist. It is about changing our city and our county into a place where we can proudly and safely raise any child, live as any adult, anywhere and within a social contract that supports and values lives and futures. Any lingering concerns about Kim Foxx, her actions, and any alleged improprieties will be resolved by an independent inspector general report that promises to get to the truth and enforce any consequences demanded by the facts of the case.
So shame on us if we let minor controversy derail the most important, exciting, and impactful prosecutorial reform effort this country has seen in recent history. Shame on us if we abandon the history-making election of Kim Foxx over one incident of intrigue and fame and risk, sending the message to reformers everywhere that the massive movement behind you when you won will abandon you when things get a little tough. Shame on us if we stop the national march, struggle, and demand toward a fair and effective justice system—for all, not just for some. v
Jane M. Saks is the president and artistic director of Project&, an arts organization that creates new models of cultural participation with social impact. Emma Ruby-Sachs is a writer, lawyer, and global campaigner for human rights. They live in Chicago with their daughter, Esmé.