Kim Foxx has been strangely quiet of late. The Democratic candidate for Cook County state’s attorney ran a high-profile campaign on a reformist platform earlier this year, which featured many media appearances, including a 5,000-word profile in the Reader in March. She was borne to victory amid near-daily street protests against incumbent Anita Alvarez, but has since remained conspicuously silent on a range of hot-button issues pertaining to prosecutors and police.
The candidate’s staff didn’t respond to the Reader‘s requests for comment on our recent investigations into felony murder charges and civil asset forfeiture, for example. Nor was Foxx quoted in any media outlet after the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Paul O’Neal by CPD officers in August. Although we didn’t reach out to her for that story, Foxx didn’t wait for an invitation to speak on police shootings before the primary, releasing a passionate statement in an anticipation of the release of the Laquan McDonald video.
But Foxx, who spoke to the Reader by phone last week, denies having been missing in action.
“The ferocity of the campaign has continued even if the media hasn’t been paying attention,” she said. “Since the primary I’ve been talking quite frequently about these issues in gatherings that I’ve had with community groups and officials along the stump.” She lists a meeting with young African-American professionals at the Chicago Urban League and speeches at local universities as examples.
Nevertheless, we took advantage of her talking to us now to check in with her on issues that have come up—or persisted—since she won the primary, starting with police shootings.
Reformers have called on prosecutors to examine their cooperative—and some would say conciliatory—relationship with police. Prosecutors rely on cops to bring and build their cases, and post-Laquan McDonald, Alvarez came under fire for not charging then CPD officer Jason Van Dyke for more than a year after the shooting, and more broadly for what many perceived as her office’s unwillingness to go after police officers accused of misconduct.
Throughout the primary Foxx reiterated that, if elected, she’d want a special prosecutor on all police shooting cases. But last week, during a WTTW debate with her Republican opponent, attorney Christopher Pfannkuche, she appeared to backpedal on the idea. When pressed by the moderator as to how the county could afford to pay for all these special prosecutors, she said, “To be clear, we’re talking about police-involved shootings, and we’re talking about those cases in which the person who was shot has been unarmed.”
Limiting special prosecutors to cases where the victim was unarmed would have excluded McDonald, who was holding a knife when Van Dyke shot him 16 times. A special prosecutor, Kane County state’s attorney Joseph McMahon, was appointed to that case by the trial judge in August.
—Kim Foxx, Democratic candidate for Cook County state’s attorney
But when pressed by the Reader to explain her pivot, Foxx denied it was one, insisting that she would want special prosecutors on “all police-involved shootings.” Then she went a step further, calling on the state legislature to create a new division of special investigators to be located outside the state’s attorney’s office, so that even the question of whether to charge an officer in the first place would be taken out of the office’s hands.
Chicago’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, has resisted these kinds of sweeping changes, and has denied that misconduct and a code of silence are widespread problems. During the primary, FOP president Dean Angelo Sr. was vocal about feeling betrayed by the city’s establishment Democrats, and the union didn’t endorse any candidate for state’s attorney. It’s now supporting Pfannkuche, who’s virtually unknown to the public despite three decades as a prosecutor in the state’s attorney’s office. Pfannkuche has said he wouldn’t call for special prosecutors in cases of police misconduct.
Still, as she prepares for the general election—and the possibility of having to work with the FOP—Foxx’s rhetoric regarding the police seems to have softened somewhat. When pressed to explain how she’d work toward reform in the face of resistance from the FOP, she said, “I think the resistance to change is not exclusive to the FOP,” and said later that “it’s absolutely necessary for me to have a good working relationship with all the actors who we need to work with” in order to enact change.
Foxx also noted that reform efforts initiated from within the county could be moot if the U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation reveals patterns and practices of civil rights abuses within the police department. If it does, the DOJ has the option of issuing a consent decree, which would give it oversight of the department.
“One would hope that reforms shouldn’t have to be done by mandate,” Foxx said, “but if that’s the point where we are in this county, then that’s where we are.”
During our conversation, we also pressed Foxx for comment on the Reader’s two most recent police investigations, into civil forfeiture and felony murder.
“It is of grave concern that people are being stripped of their property rights in a process that’s not fair and without due process,” Foxx said of the CPD’s use of civil forfeiture, especially “how police officers are able to use the funding to continue to do [more] forfeitures.” She declined to be specific on how she might go about addressing the problem if elected, citing a lack of insider knowledge on how the process works.
And when asked about the state’s attorney’s office’s use of felony murder rules to charge arrestees with murders committed by cops in pursuit of suspects, Foxx was cautious, saying that the Reader’s investigation “highlighted what could appear to be a perversion of the intent of that law that requires further scrutiny.”
The intent of the felony murder law, as Foxx pointed out, is to allow prosecutors to charge someone with murder if, for example, a bystander dies as a result of a burglary that person was committing.
“If what we’re seeing, however, is that law is being used to aid other actors to defend other acts,” in particular, to protect cops from murder charges when they kill in the line of duty, as some experts suggested to the Reader, “that is a perversion of that intent,” Foxx said. She said she could only speak theoretically, though, since the state’s attorney’s office hasn’t publicly explained how it uses the felony murder statute.
“This is why transparency in data matters,” Foxx said.
Indeed, transparency has been central to Foxx’s platform, so we asked how she’d go about improving it in the state’s attorney’s office, where questions from reporters frequently get no response. She promised “a regular forum where I’m able to present to the public what we’re doing,” and a focus on collecting data within the office that would then be made widely available.
Foxx’s previous reticence to speak over the past eight or so months may be a symptom of the political norms in heavily Democratic Cook County, where the primaries are basically the general election. Media interest and polling all but disappear in the months leading up to a general election; we couldn’t find any polls comparing Foxx’s and Pfannkuche’s popularity with voters. Many Democratic candidates opt to play it safe, while their counterparts on the opposite side of the aisle in effect give up the ghost before Election Day.
Though the Reader made multiple attempts to reach Pfannkuche for comment, the Republican candidate didn’t respond. v