“The Revolutionary Column” is our monthly series by raptivist Bella BAHHS where she spits revolutionary commentary on politics and pop culture.

It’s Oct. 29, and incessant rain falls upon the fall leaves littering the city streets. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx saunters with an air of casual regality out of the rain and into the Mandela Room of the Westside Justice Center (WJC) in East Garfield Park, where she has agreed to interview with The TRiiBE.  

The “Black Panther Party 50 Year Retrospective” exhibit on display in the foyer provides archival documentation of the BPP’s Illinois chapter and the short revolutionary life of Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton, who was murdered in 1969 in a pre-dawn raid on his East Garfield Park home by Chicago police assigned to the office of then-State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan. The exhibit grounds us in the history of how we got here and reminds us of how much further we must go.

The last two times I was in this space, I was surrounded by abolitionist organizers including the late Malik Alim, whose work as campaign coordinator for the Coalition to End Money Bond and as an advocate with the Chicago Community Bond Fund was instrumental in the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act — an abolitionist-aligned reform that Foxx enthusiastically supported to alleviate the consequences of pretrial detention on poor people. 

There’s a portrait of Chicago’s first Black Mayor, Harold Washington, hanging in the Mandela Room. And a warm ancestral presence hangs in the air. It feels reassuring and demanding—a gentle yet forceful reminder that it is our duty to continue the struggle for Black liberation not only in Chicago but across the African diaspora. 

Two non-imposing and sharply dressed Black men on Foxx’s security detail wait outside the room at a table nearby in the Movement and Justice gallery, where the featured artwork of abolitionist Monica Trinidad uplifts the continued struggle, resistance, and survival of Black and brown communities. Unlike City Hall, where I interviewed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the WJC’s atmosphere is calm, welcoming, and encourages new solutions to old problems. 

I know what the space means to me, but I didn’t choose this as the location to conduct our interview. Foxx did, and I want to know what it means to her.

“I think the heart of the West Side should be centered in all of our conversations about what’s happening in our city — particularly when we’re talking about violence and opportunity and the lack of investment,” she said.

The Westside Justice Center “is a hub for activism. It’s a hub for advocates. It is an anchor in the community,” Foxx explained. “And all of the work that I do intersects with everything that they do here. So, I wanted to not be in the office. I wanted to not be in the places where people always come. I wanted to be where the conversation should be centered, so that’s where we’re at.” 

Foxx became the first Black woman to lead the Cook County SAO in 2016, winning by a landslide thanks to young Black abolitionist organizers in the ongoing Movement for Black Lives who led the #ByeAnita campaign to unseat incumbent Anita Alvarez — who was complicit in covering up the CPD murder of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald and decidedly refused to bring charges against former officer Jason Van Dyke for more than 400 days. Organizers demanded that the SAO be held accountable for its role in legitimizing white supremacy and destroying Black lives.

Foxx believes that her implementation of progressive policies at the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) aligns with the WJC’s work to mitigate the harms of incarceration on criminalized communities. But because I’m an abolitionist, the term “progressive prosecutor” sounds oxymoronic to me.

I find nothing progressive about aiding in the kidnapping and torture of Black people. I find nothing progressive about legitimizing a system that relies on racist laws, racist policing and a racist penal system.

Protesters rallied in Chicago after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

Still, I respect Foxx’s efforts to disrupt some of the ways in which the criminal legal system preys upon poor people. The steps she has taken to downsize the footprint of prosecution and reduce Cook County’s incarcerated population by eliminating cash bond, decriminalizing drug possession and petty theft, and destigmatizing gun possession are commendable. 

But Foxx finds herself under constant media and political attack whenever she demonstrates allegiance to the ongoing Movement for Black Lives that elected her.

Now, even Black Chicagoans are turning their backs on Foxx. When she drops ill-begotten felony charges and refuses to condone illegitimate policing, she’s accused of aiding and abetting criminals. When she upholds her promise to divest from prosecuting nonviolent crimes and drops petty charges against thousands of poor Black people, her detractors harp on a single case in which they accuse her of showing preferential treatment to one Black celebrity. When she supports parole for people who have been incarcerated for decades, she’s accused of supporting murderers. And when she supports probation, pretrial freedom and alternatives to incarceration, she’s blamed for all the failures of an already-broken system of policing and punishment. 

The SAO has been historically rooted in anti-Blackness and the hyper-criminalization of poor people struggling to survive social and economic inequity in racially segregated neighborhoods where their most basic needs are not met. We cannot expect one person to right all the office’s wrongs. The fact that Black people only make up about 30 percent of the city’s population but account for nearly 75 percent of Cook County Jail’s detainee population reflects a culture of racist policing and prosecutorial procedures that did not begin, and will not end, with the election of Kim Foxx.

I ask Foxx how her identity, her upbringing in the Cabrini Green public housing projects, and her experience as an assistant state’s attorney for 12 years informed her decision to run for the office. 

“It starts from where I grew up at 624 West Division, so right in the heart of Cabrini — the white projects,” she tells me referring to the color of the high rises’ facades. “My mother was 17 when she had my brother and 18 when she had me. My dad was from Lawndale. He had gone off to college, so a single mom raised me all by herself. But my grandmother was there, my aunts were there, and my cousins were there. And we’re talking about the 70s and 80s, so I saw a lot.”

After the 1968 West Side uprisings in response to the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., more than one thousand people from out West were left homeless and forced to relocate to the Cabrini Green projects with no financial support. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cabrini Green had gained a national reputation for violence and murder — much like the South and West Sides of Chicago today.

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When Foxx was about 8 or 9 years old, one of her friends who she’d jump rope with got shot. She remembers being more concerned with whether the girl’s injuries would make her double-handed than the injury and trauma itself.

I get it. For Black girls in Chicago, how well you’re able to turn ropes can really make or break a friendship. A good double-dutch partner is rare — gun violence isn’t. Foxx’s candor makes the experience feel so familiar that I almost forget how privileged I am to be interviewing someone in such a high position of authority. The first Black woman to serve as top prosecutor of the second largest county in the nation talks and grew up just like me.

“I had a cousin who was shot 8 times and ended up having to leave Cabrini for his safety and moved to Englewood,” Foxx continues. “So, I’ve seen people involved in gang life. I’ve seen people impacted and I’ve seen the whole range myself, having been a victim of sexual abuse and assault as a child, and we didn’t involve the courts. My mother, when she discovered what happened, handled it herself. The community handled it themselves. So I saw a world of violence, and I saw a world of community support, and I saw institutions that didn’t take care of it.”

TRiiBE revolutionary columnist Bella BAHHS and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx get real in a one-on-one interview at the Westside Justice Center on Oct. 29. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Relatable. Foxx shares that it wasn’t until she moved to Lincoln Park — a mile north of Cabrini Green — and started going to school with affluent white children at LaSalle Language Academy that she began to imagine all possibilities of who and what she could become. It reminded me of how I felt for four years commuting from my childhood home in Austin to Lane Tech College Prep in Roscoe Village. 

“I saw all these kids who had everything that I didn’t have, but weren’t any better than me. It was crystalized for me. They weren’t smarter than me. They weren’t more thoughtful than me. They just had more than me. So, I grew up with this belief that I could do whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “I don’t know that I would have believed that if I hadn’t seen it when I went to LaSalle.”

Foxx says she was first inspired to infiltrate and transform the SAO when she took a job at the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian to make ends meet after she graduated law school. 

“I got there [to Public Guardian] and these were kids in the foster care system — overwhelmingly Black — many of them come from neighborhoods just like mine. When I would see the Black girls, a lot of them had issues of sexual abuse and assault. We had a lot of parents who were struggling with substance use issues,” Foxx said. “My mother smoked marijuana every day of her life until she got sick with cancer, so I knew that. We had people who were suffering from mental health issues. My mother suffered from bipolar [disorder] — we didn’t know that, because there wasn’t a name for it, and we didn’t have access. And, so, these kids could have been me.” 

It was jarring to Foxx that the people in the SAO, who were making decisions about the lives of Black children and petitioning them to come into the system, had no understanding of or empathy for Black parents.  

“I wanted to go to the State’s Attorney’s Office at that point,” Foxx said. “I knew all of the things that you said were wrong with the system, and I wasn’t going to cede that space to people who had no connection to it.”

As an abolitionist, I fundamentally believe that Foxx’s job shouldn’t even exist. Prosecution at its best is an ineffective tool for keeping communities safe. Black neighborhoods are the most prosecuted neighborhoods in Cook County and we are no safer because of it. This is why the ongoing Movement for Black Lives demands the defunding of police and carceral culture.

The goal of abolition is to make the SAO obsolete by replacing it with substance abuse treatment facilities, mental health clinics, family resource centers, workforce development programs, and resources that actually meet people’s needs.

In the meantime, Foxx’s efforts are a step in the right direction. But political adversaries and media pundits discourage belief in a world where justice and punishment are not synonymous by mischaracterizing Foxx’s support for abolitionist reforms as dangerous, careless and threatening to public safety. Last summer, for example, when Foxx took a stance against filing charges against peaceful protesters, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown and Mayor Lightfoot said that she was emboldening criminals by dropping charges against people involved in looting.

Foxx’s support and implementation of policies that aim to divest from the prosecution of nonviolent crimes in order to focus the SAO’s resources on violence has made her one of the most vilified state’s attorneys in the history of this nation.

In response to people like Superintendent Brown, Mayor Lightfoot and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Pat O’Brien, who ran an ad saying criminals have a friend in Foxx during his unsuccessful law-and-order campaign against her in 2020,  Foxx offers this: “I wasn’t the state’s attorney in the 80s and 90s when we had, in 1989, somewhere close to 1,000 murders in the city of Chicago — in 1990, 900-some-odd-murders in the city of Chicago. I told you I was a child in Cabrini when we were seeing the violence running rampant.”

“And, so, the notion that somehow there’s one person in one office that is responsible for literal decades of violence — that has been rooted in disinvestment — is a disingenuous argument,” she said. “I don’t remember in 2016, in that horrifically violent year, that people thought that the then-state’s attorney, who was a more traditional prosecutor, was responsible for that. I don’t remember hearing that the state’s attorneys of past, in those violent years of before, were somehow responsible.”

In 2016, before Foxx got in office, Chicago recorded its highest number of homicides — 762 — in two decades. After Foxx’s election, that number decreased to 653 in 2017, 561 in 2018, and 492 in 2019. 

“We instituted progressive policies, and violent crime — I’m not saying I was the cause — but it went down in 2017. And in 2018, and in 2019,” Foxx said. “Again, I’m not saying that I’m the cause, [but] what I can say is my policies, if in fact they were going to lead to chaos and mayhem, it would have happened in ‘17. We would have seen a continued trend in ‘18 or ‘19.”

I have to really resist the urge to scream POP YO SH*T THEN SIS! Let the mainstream media tell it, Foxx is single-handedly spearheading the spike in violent crime in Chicago herself; but what’s missing from much of the conversation is the heightened economic depression that continues amid this ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. There’s an increase in violence all over the nation: in red states and blue states, in states led by progressives and states led by law-and-order conservatives.  According to The Atlantic, the U.S. murder rate saw a historic rise of nearly 30 percent in 2020, a year that saw an estimated 21,500 murders nationwide. 

“And, so, I get frustrated not because of the personal pointed attacks. I get frustrated because people who live in neighborhoods like this [East Garfield Park], who want to have the same quality of life like those kids at LaSalle had that I got to see, they don’t want leaders pretending about what the real issues are because then we’ll see the same cycles over and over and over again,” Foxx said. “And we’re not going to get to real answers if we don’t talk about what the real problems are. That’s my frustration.”  

Despite the web of lies spun about her in the media, Foxx knows exactly what the real problems are and doesn’t stray away from them. One of the first things she did after her election was bring on the SAO’s first-ever Chief Ethics Officer. The reasoning for that particular hire stems from an experience she had as a young assistant state’s attorney.

It was either a drug or gun case, she said, but there was an issue with the way police obtained evidence. While taking statements from the two detectives on the case separately, they offered completely different accounts of what had happened. Foxx said she made a face while listening to the second detective’s story, and looked in her notes to make sure she heard right. The detective then said to her: “What do you need me to say?” She responded, “The truth.”

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Foxx shared this with her supervisor, and the supervisor told her not to call the second detective. And that was it. She never knew what happened to him after that. She never knew if he went into another room, and asked a colleague the same question, “what do you need me to say?” She never knew if anyone told him what he needed to say.

“I can’t rubber stamp illegitimacy. I can’t rubber stamp if you’re violating people’s constitutional rights. I can’t rubber stamp if you’re cutting corners. I cannot allow for you to come into a courtroom and not tell the truth,” Foxx says matter-of-factly. Now, if a situation like that happens in her SAO, the assistant doesn’t go to a supervisor — they go straight to the chief ethics officer to file a report.

“Historically, this office had just rubber stamped whatever policemen were doing,” Foxx said. “If we all know about [notorious CPD Detective John] Burge today, what was happening back when it was happening in real time? And if we know about [disgraced CPD Sergeant Ronald] Watts today, what was happening in real time?”

I’m honored to extend my platform to offer skeptical Chicagoans a more complete understanding of who our first Black woman State’s Attorney is — in philosophy and practice. What Foxx is doing is bigger than sensationalized cases tried in the court of public opinion. 

The top prosecutor of one of the largest counties in the most incarcerated nation in the world looked me right in my eyes and said: “I’m not sending you to prison for things that you don’t need to go for — low-level crimes, issues related to mental health, issues related to poverty. Prison ain’t gone make that better. You come back worse because you got a conviction now and you’ve been exposed to what prisons are. Prisons are horrible places.“

I was skeptical at first too, but by the end of our nearly two-hour sit-down, I could say with all certainty that we must protect Kim Foxx at all costs.

Stay tuned for part two of our revolutionary interview with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

(Black Ancestors Here Healing Society) is a Chicago-based raptivist and revolutionary, nationally known for making sedition irresistible through her art, activism and advocacy.