As the details surrounding Laquan McDonald’s murder trickled out over the last several days, calls for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s resignation grew louder — particularly among the city’s black leadership.
On more than one occasion, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has voiced his support for what he and other leaders believe could be the alternative to what they perceive as Alvarez’s over-zealous and un-empathetic prosecutorial style — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff Kim Foxx.
Foxx sat for an interview with Austin Weekly News earlier this month, before the McDonald murder video was released.
Can you explain what it is the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office does?
The State’s Attorney is the chief law enforcement office for the county and deals with all manner of criminal law. So any case being charged in the criminal courts comes through that office.
So that means somebody who possesses drugs to someone who commits murder to police officers. The State’s Attorney determines who gets charged, what they get charged with and what cases get dismissed. They are the central figure piece.
You know, people erroneously believe that all power is in the hands of the police, but it’s the State’s Attorney who takes the stuff from the police and decides what to do with it.
In addition, we have a civil practice, so anytime the county gets sued or there’s an issue related to litigation involving the county, the State’s Attorney’s Office is the lawyer for the county. So, we represent the taxpayer in civil litigation.
Do you know how much money the city spends on settling police abuse cases? And what role does the State’s Attorney have in preventing police abuse?
I don’t have the exact figure at hand, but the city spends millions upon millions. If the State’s Attorney isn’t holding people accountable, the lines get blurred as to what’s police misconduct and what isn’t.
We have an incentive to make sure that we aren’t spending millions of dollars because the police are blurring the lines. We have an incentive in the State’s Attorney’s Office to make that line clear.
Not all police are bad. You should want to expel the bad ones. You know those videos of people who work at fast food places and don’t wash their hands when they come out of the bathroom? It’s the same in law enforcement. Somehow, we’ve become afraid to say that people who aren’t good at their jobs in law enforcement should not be in them.
How would you distinguish yourself from Alvarez for people on the West Side?
My criticisms of this current [State’s Attorney] administration largely stem from the fact that there’s not even a recognition that certain communities have been disproportionately impacted by not only crime and violence, but by criminal justice policy that have set communities back.
Couple that with unemployment, divestment and schools. The current administration has no recognition whatsoever outside of its own silos, so there are no conversations about quality of schools, unemployment rates or the fact that you have more people concentrated in poverty in certain sections of the city who also have been to the Department of Corrections.
It’s not just paranoia when we talk about resources being dispersed throughout the city and county, and that the West Side has struggled to get its fair share. Part of that is having leadership that recognizes that you have value in those communities. For so long, the West Side has been seen as an after-thought.
What distinguishes me is that recognition [of value]. I went to church at Greater Galilee. My mom went to Mt. Vernon Baptist Church [located in the JLM Abundant Life Community Center]. I have connections to the West Side and I know people who live there and they’re frustrated.
Violence is plaguing communities and yet we don’t put our time, resources and focus on working with those communities. There are great block clubs, religious institutions and dedicated faith-based leaders, but they’re so after the fact.
Instead of meeting them at vigils, we need to work together to meet their needs. I will meet the community where they are, because that’s the only way we’ll get out of this epidemic. We need to have them drive the conversation about what happens. I don’t think that Anita has a history of doing that. I don’t know about Ms. More. I will simply say, I have relationships.
Is there a feature issue, or area, that is central to your campaign?
I think of my campaign as really being community driven. Part of why I talk about my background so much is because I don’t think we’ve had elected officials or policymakers driving policy that affect communities like the ones I came from. So for me, my legal credentials are great, but my community credentials are what drive me. We haven’t had people in these positions living in the communities we’re trying to serve.
What are some concrete proposals in that area that you would implement if you’re elected?
One of the obvious things we’ve been working on, even when I was in the State’s Attorney’s Office, was restorative justice programs. Restorative justice is built on the model that you have victim, offender and community all rooted together because in all likelihood they all live together. How do you get the victim to feel whole? And the community has to accept the person back into it.
I won’t have one community justice center for the West Side, one for the North Side, one for the South Suburbs. It has to be a real integration of the office and the community. […] For instance, we have to ask the schools how we can get them resources so they’re not relying on the criminal justice system. That’s easy, low-hanging fruit.
What is the current situation, when it comes to community justice centers, under Alvarez?
She has these community justice centers where you have, I think, two attorneys and a victim witness person and maybe another administrative person. So, in a county of five million people there may be, on the high end, 20 people from her office dedicated to that.
So you’d be willing, if you’re elected, to divert funding from other programs into these areas that you mentioned?
Correct. I talk a lot about reprioritizing our resources. On the front end, we arrest a lot of people for drug possession and we also drop a lot of cases for people arrested for drug possessions.
We need to have a meaningful collaboration with entities like the Cook County Health System, which now has Medicaid expansion and can give people insurance for the first time in their lives so they can get treatment. If we give people treatment instead of using our jails to just hold them for three weeks while they dry out and don’t do anything with their addiction, there’s millions of dollars that can be saved by that diversion.
The money we save doing that should be reinvested into other priorities, which include community engagement and dealing with violence. I would say that the violence issue and the community engagement issue are hand in hand.
What would be your approach to handling abusive police officers?
I will deal with police in the way they should be dealt with, which is with the same regard with which we will hold other people who commit crimes. Police take an oath. They have a responsibility to uphold the law. I think you should look on instances of abuse on a case-by-case basis.
I think the reason people believe Anita hasn’t been tough on police is because we know of enough cases that have been settled in federal court. There’s been enough judgments paid out by the city and county. If we’re paying out $5 million to settle, something is amiss. We’d rather pay $5 million than hold this officer accountable?