A former resident of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex has gone from rags to riches following her election two months ago as the first black, female Cook County State’s Attorney.
During a recent interview, Kim Foxx said the road to becoming the county’s top prosecutor was not easy, but that it’s a reminder of what anyone can achieve with hard work. She keeps a small brick from Cabrini-Green on her desk “to remind me where I came from.”
The 44-year-old wife and mother of two young children said her plans include fighting hard to combat crime, especially in urban neighborhoods, such as North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and Austin on Chicago’s West Side.
“The state’s attorney office is the ‘gate keeper’ of the justice system. When you look at the people who lost their lives in 2016, the overwhelming majority were African-Americans,” said Foxx. “Some of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in this city are also those that have the highest incidents of violence.”
Armed with a $123 million budget, Foxx plans to create a gun violence unit, as well as a chief data and a chief ethics officer.
“Most major law firms and prosecutor’s offices have an ethics officer,” said Foxx, who visited other state’s attorney offices in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta and Houston to learn about their ethics officers.
Foxx, who previously served as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after working 12 years as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, now oversees the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country.
The state’s attorney’s office has 1,270 employees, including 766 prosecutors comprising 584 whites, 81 blacks, 60 Hispanics, 39 Asian-Americans and 10 people from other ethnicities, according to Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office.
One of Foxx’s first acts occurred five days after taking office, when she announced changes to how the state’s attorney office would handle offenders charged with shoplifting.
A shoplifter who steals less than $1,000 worth of merchandise and has less than 10 felony convictions will no longer be charged with a felony. Previously, shoplifters who stole merchandise worth $300 or more could be charged with a felony.
“We have one of the largest jails in the country. What we found is a number of people in our jails are there for non-violent offenses [such as retail, felony theft],” explained Foxx. “And a significant portion [of those offenders] are dealing with drug addiction or mental health issues.”
Foxx said most repeat offenders charged with felony retail theft have some sort of addiction and instead of incarceration, she said, social services are needed. Foxx said the measure would also free up space at Cook County Jail for violent offenders.
Illinois law states that possession of an illegal firearm is a Class 4 felony, a non-probationary offense, and is punishable by one to three years in prison even for first-time offenders.
Foxx said she is not a fan of mandatory sentencing.
“Mandatory sentences do not work, particularly as it relates to gun cases,” she said. “But repeat gun offenders have to be dealt with within that sentencing range.”
When Foxx — who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree from Southern Illinois University — isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her best friend, who happens to be her husband.
“I have been with my husband for a really long time. We met 20 years ago on the campus of SIU,” recalled Foxx. “We enjoy traveling, going to the movies and watching TV.”
Four years from now, when she is up for re-election, people should judge her based on her accomplishments and not her promises, Foxx said.
“I don’t like telling people what I tried to do,” she said. “I like showing people what I did.”