Photo courtesy of Kim Foxx (Facebook)

The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, national organizer Tiffany Cabán explains how Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx inspires her work as a public defender.

This Tuesday, Cook County residents have a very clear choice to make when they head to the polls to cast their ballot for state’s attorney. On one side, there’s Kim Foxx, a progressive prosecutor who has remained accountable to the community that elected her. The alternatives, such as Bill Conway and Bob Fioretti, offer a return to yesteryear when too many poor people of color were eaten alive by the system of mass incarceration for the most minor of offenses. 

For the last four years, I’ve watched how Foxx moves. She’s an example of what happens when a prosecutor reimagines our definition of public safety, plus makes public health a priority and prison a last resort. Watching the success in Cook County was one of the inspirations behind my own run for District Attorney in Queens, New York. I’m a public defender who  ran on many of the ideas that Kim Foxx campaigned on. Ideas like police accountability, focusing resources on tackling the most serious and violent crimes and embracing ways to keep people out of the criminal justice system and in the community. 

Photo: Tiffany L. Cabán

While I didn’t have the chance to bring this to fruition in Queens, what’s happened in Cook County is proof that these ideas work. High numbers of people behind bars is not synonymous with public safety. Public safety is, however, tied to public health outcomes. It necessitates ensuring that people get mental health or substance abuse treatment instead of prison. Foxx has focused on this. Under her tenure, incarceration rates have dropped 19 percent. Contrary to what her detractors might say, crime hasn’t gone up. Total crime, including homicides, has dropped each year, too. 

Foxx knows, like I know, that locking people up for traffic tickets they can’t afford to pay isn’t being tough on crime — it’s criminalizing poverty. These non-violent offenses, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of those in detention under Foxx’s predecessor, don’t contribute to safety. They destabilize communities, making us less safe. Those held in pre-trial detention because they can’t make bail are more likely to lose their jobs, homes and children. That makes us less safe. It is nothing more than the illusion of safety. 

And it’s that illusion that Foxx’s detractors want to return to. You can tell a lot about someone by the enemies they make. If the people hurling the most attacks at her are police unions, [former State’s Attorney] Anita Alvarez and others deeply invested in maintaining systems of mass incarceration, it’s a safe bet that Foxx is on the side of the people, and on the right side of history. 

Following the coverup in the LaQuan McDonald killing, young Black and Brown organizers worked too hard to usher Anita Alvarez out of office. In the years following, Kim Foxx has made good on many of her campaign promises and inspired a new generation of progressive prosecutors from coast-to-coast. She needs more time to finish the job. Cook County should re-elect Kim Foxx. 

Tiffany Cabán is a national organizer with the Working Families Party