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

Data visualization by Jim Daley

The budding movement to abolish police, prosecutions and prisons altogether has been growing for decades and picks up where the 19th-century movement to abolish slavery left off. When the 13th Amendment was ratified to the United States Constitution after a bloody Civil War between abolitionists and perservationists, it abolished slavery except as a punishment for a crime. The fear of Black liberation and America’s untreated addiction to Black suffering set the stage for mass emancipation to give way to mass incarceration. 

Now here we are, again, in the 21st century continuing the struggle to abolish slavery — a.k.a.,  the criminal punishment system. History tells us that we’ll need all hands on deck to accomplish such a feat.

Although Abraham Lincoln was morally and economically opposed to slavery, he wasn’t an abolitionist. He was also morally opposed to Black people’s social and political equality. Still, I can’t imagine abolitionist Frederick Douglass standing in opposition to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation because it didn’t free all enslaved people — the document only applied to enslaved people in the Confederacy, which Lincoln wasn’t even the president of, and did not apply to those enslaved in the border states of Maryland,  Missouri, Delaware, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which had not joined the Confederacy. 

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s administration is our Emancipation Proclamation — a strategic measure to free some without condemning the imprisonment of all.

In 2016, grassroot abolitionist organizers didn’t demand the abolition of the State’s Attorney Office. We demanded a new state’s attorney that would offer short, interim, and long term solutions to address the need for radical change within the racist criminal legal apparatus — and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten with Foxx. We knew then that abolition was the end goal, but reform was the strategy. 

Now, like the slavery abolitionists and anti-slavery crusaders who came before us, prison industrial complex (PIC) abolitionists and criminal justice reform advocates are often divided in philosophy and methodology. While abolitionists express the need for an immediate end to systems of carceral punishment and racial servitude, reformers believe that police and carceral violence can be phased out over time through harm-reduction policies.

I know that we will not prosecute our way to safety. The criminal legal system in Cook County, and in this country as a whole, is not an effective tool for holding community members accountable for intercommunity harm or for resolving intercommunal conflicts. Still, political alignment with Foxx isn’t an acquiescence to authority, it’s an avenue to abolition.

In the Mandela Room of the Westside Justice Center where Foxx and I met in October, and outside of this interview, it is clear that I am an abolitionist and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is a reformist. I know reformed plantations became penitentiaries, and I am unapologetic in proclaiming that we need abolition now. But I’m not mad at or standing in the way of any of Foxx’s reforms that align with my own visions of a more liberated society.


The Revolutionary Column | Is Kim Foxx a scape/GOAT?

In part one of our interview with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, columnist Bella BAHHS calls the steps that Foxx has taken to downsize the footprint of prosecution and reduce the county’s incarcerated population “commendable.”

By keeping her 2016 campaign promise to reduce unnecessary prosecutions and bring more transparency to the SAO’s work, Foxx’s interventions are getting us closer to the possibility of abolition than any other prosecutor who previously sat in her chair.

Between 2008 and 2011 — the first three years of Anita Alvarez’s tenure in the SAO — the average daily population of Cook County Jail hovered between 8,000 and 9,000, according to a study published by a Loyola researcher in 2012. Foxx took office in December 2016; between January 2019 (the earliest month for which data is available on the Sheriff’s website)  and November 2021, the Cook County Jail’s detainee population averaged about 5,846 people. Additionally, the state prison population decreased from 44,715 in June 2016 to 27,298 in June 2021.

That is one victory the organizers of the #ByeAnita campaign can be proud of. The top prosecutor of the second-largest county in the most policed nation in the world is a Black woman from Cabrini Green whose election was made possible by young Black abolitionist organizers, and she is unbought and unbossed by the local police union.

The constant criticism Foxx endures from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other preservationists dims the light organizers have shined on the need to downsize the footprint of policing and prosecution. Foxx uses her position to intercept thousands of poor Black people’s pathways to prisons by advancing policies that limit the reach of the carceral state.

Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE

“People are like, ‘Well, you know she’s not prosecuting everything.’ I shouldn’t. Because there’s so much that just shouldn’t be prosecuted in the first place,” Foxx told The Triibe. Foxx has made it a policy to decline to prosecute thousands of people for nonviolent offenses related to poverty. 

Fears about what Black people would do with their freedom is as American as pumpkin pie. The idea that Foxx isn’t prosecuting enough potentially dangerous Black criminals to secure the county is steeped in racial violence. To secure Cook County, we need to secure affordable housing, accessible healthcare and economic justice. And by defunding prosecutions, we can redirect that capital from punishment to prevention.

Foxx’s rejection of racist fears rooted in colonialism should be refreshing to anyone who believes in Black liberation. Operating without an inherently anti-Black bias and fear of poor people, she gives us a masterclass in progressive prosecution. 

“Because we’re scared, because violence is raging, we should just throw the rules out? And the people who suffer the most are the people who live in communities that are impacted by that violence?” Foxx said. “That’s how we got here. We are in this weird place of knowing the truth in our bad habits, and paying for them, and then get mad when we say we can’t do them anymore.”


The ugly truth is this: Black residents of Chicago and the larger Cook County area have no reason to trust no part of the criminal legal system. And Foxx knows this. The laws are racist. The police are under a federal consent decree for systematic civil rights violations. The prosecutors are in cahoots with the police. The judges are in cahoots with the prosecutors. The juries could hardly be considered peers, and the prisons are far from rehabilitative.

In October, Foxx dropped murder charges against five men arrested in connection with an Austin shootout. In the now-viral video, all the shooters are wearing masks and gloves, and it is unclear who initiated the deadly gunfight that was captured on police POD footage. Foxx told me that in the absence of eyewitnesses, fingerprints or gunpowder residue to verify that the men in the grainy video were the men brought into custody, she had no probable cause to file murder charges.

She explained that she was following the number-one prosecutor rule laid out by the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct: refrain from prosecuting a charge that is not supported by probable cause.

Prosecutors also are supposed to refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused. Given that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is a former prosecutor herself and she is always in the media offering extrajudicial persecutions of Black community members, I would have never thunk it.

Foxx didn’t drop the charges because she’s abandoning Black communities to violence. She dropped the charges because she’s protecting Black community members from the violent prosecutorial misconduct that we’ve come to normalize.

“We have been so dysfunctional in this county for so long that when you say, ‘No, we don’t just arrest everybody,’ people are like, ‘Yes, we do,’” Foxx said.

Foxx views her role at the SAO as that of an intermediary between police and imprisonment, and says she feels responsible for building a system of checks and balances to alleviate abuses of power. When it comes to barriers to progressive prosecution, she cites the illegitimate policing practices that landed CPD under the federal consent decree — patterns of using excessive force and violating Black people’s 4th Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. 

As of Nov. 4, Foxx’s office had vacated 123 cases in total. Of those, 114 convictions were related to just one officer — Ronald Watts, a former CPD sergeant who ran a criminal enterprise within the department with a crew of crooked cops who terrorized the residents of the Ida B. Wells housing projects in Bronzeville. Watts’ gang routinely planted drugs after unconstitutional searches, extorted a “street tax” from drug dealers for police protection and targeted those dealers’ rivals for arrests while falsifying police reports. In 2012, Watts pled guilty to robbing an undercover FBI agent who posed as a drug dealer and admitted to a practice of extorting Black street entrepreneurs. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison. 

“If I believe that you might be somebody who’s going to hurt me, going to plant drugs or guns on me like Sergeant Watts did in Ida B. Wells, if I believe that you are going to hem me up for whatever, because I’ve seen it, when something happens, I’m not calling you. Why would I call you? Why would I invite that into my life?” Foxx said, seeming to understand why I make it my business to never call the police. “And even though I see what’s happening around me, I might have greater trust in the community to take care of this than I do the police, because you have shown yourself over time to not be trustworthy.” 

Former SA Anita Alvarez only vacated five CPD-related cases during her last four years in office.

Surely, if 114 wrongful convictions can be traced to just one police officer in a department riddled with corruption, then there’s plenty more to be done to right the past wrongs of law enforcement and to safeguard communities most susceptible to police and prosecutorial abuse.

Foxx says she needs at least 100 attorneys dedicated to focusing solely on conviction integrity review. But with upwards of 40,000 felony cases and 200,000 misdemeanor cases coming through her office every year, there’s currently fewer than 10 people doing that work.

“When I came in the office, the request for conviction review went up fivefold because people were, like, ‘I believe she gon look at this. I believe she cares about these things,’” Foxx said. “So some of the things we have done, and I think we need to continue to expand on, are working with other groups [who do this work]… we have to partner with other folks because we just don’t have the capacity, and it keeps me up at night.”


It has become evident from Foxx’s tenure that progressive prosecution has the power to change how states are governed and to shift the paradigm of police work. In Cook County, drug-related convictions have declined dramatically since Foxx took office; the SAO has dismissed increasing percentages of cases each year since she took office, and in March 2020 Foxx announced her office would decline low-level drug offenses as a matter of policy. However, nationwide, substance use has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses rose nearly 30% nationally between April 2020 and April 2021, and are still climbing.

“People are using drugs more now because of the pandemic. But we’re not arresting people for drug possession at the same rate we used to,” Foxx said. And that’s not because they’ve had a change of heart. It’s because the system has changed.” 

Felony drug cases still made up a large percentage of the cases the SAO received since Foxx took office. Between December 2016 and October 2021, the Cook County SAO prosecuted 119,348 adults for felonies, 47,635 (or 39.9%) of which were narcotics cases.

Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE

Foxx said she would like to stop prosecuting drug cases altogether, which would save Cook County billions of dollars on prosecutions and imprisonment, and could free up some of the SAO’s resources to build out a more efficient Conviction Integrity Unit.

“I would rather you invest the money that we spend in the court system on treatment. Take me out of it. Take my office out of it,” Foxx said. “If you’ve got to shrink my resources on drug cases to deal with treatment—take me out. Take me out.”

Never did I ever think I would hear a prosecutor advocate that the SAO be disinvested from in favor of investing in substance use treatment and alternatives to incarceration that actually address the root causes of crime. Foxx and I agree that the best way to tackle America’s illegal drug problem, and the violence that sometimes spawns from it, is to treat people’s addictions and guarantee accessible and equitable medical and mental health care. 

When the demand for illegal drugs goes down, the supply will too. Until then, police will continue to find illegal drugs wherever they decide to look for them. And because police are overwhelmingly dispersed to surveil Black and low-income communities, they’ll continue to arrest Black and low-income users and suppliers. 

On Wednesday, Injustice Watch and the Better Government Association co-reported that despite cannabis possession cases dropping from more than 10,000 in 2000 to less than 1,500 in 2018, Black people made up an increasing percentage of defendants.

“If you want to know where people are actually using drugs: Northwestern, U of C, Loyola, DePaul,” Foxx said knowingly. “You want to get weed? We know if you wanted to do targeted enforcement on where you could find drugs, you will go to all the universities.  But there’s a choice that is made. We don’t do that. Because those people have potential. We don’t want to mess up their lives.’

Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE

Foxx can’t transform the nature of policing but she is trying to change what crimes are considered harmful and punishable by prosecution, and even that she cannot do alone. The County’s Board of Commissioners would have to approve defunding racist drug prosecution. But that’s unlikely right now given Foxx’s dwindling support from criminal justice reform advocates who argue that she’s doing too much and abolitionists who argue that she’s not doing enough.

Foxx says ignoring and refusing to redress the reality of racism in policing and prosecution is “kind of like conversations around critical race theory, where people are afraid to have those conversations because it means that we have to talk about the things that we did that made us so uncomfortable.”

“We would rather say that violence is the result of one elected prosecutor and not a history of disinvestment. Because then shame on us and the policies that we’ve allowed to keep, and then we can come after you. It’s the same argument to me,” Foxx said, comparing attacks on progressive prosecutors to attacks on Critical Race Theory.

“I look at where we are talking about violence in this community, in these communities, in the same way that we’re having this philosophical debate about critical race theory and the difference is, on the national level, we’re talking about Republicans talking about [critical race theory]. This is a democratic city. We don’t want to talk about our ugly truth of criminal justice,” Foxx said, sitting in the middle of the West Side at the Westside Justice Center.

While I stand in full support of Foxx’s efforts to deprioritize prosecutions of nonviolent crimes related to poverty, and to decarcerate nonviolent and wrongfully convicted prisoners, I know that her often expressed desire to focus on crimes of violence reinforces the idea that we need heroic armed police and prisons to secure us from dangerous armed Black people.

“I know where you stand on abolition,” Foxx tells me. “I know where you stand. I ain’t there. I am, however, at—we should save that [imprisonment] for a certain group of folks who need that timeout. Some folks need some time out. But it has been such exploited, that we just shove people in these systems, and then say, look at these repeat offenders. The conditions there are not set up for people to come out and do well. It’s not.”

Foxx noted that 90 percent of people who go to prison come out. In Illinois, nearly half of people released from prison are reincarcerated within three years, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. Long-term, that figure is even higher.

“What business model can have a failed rate of 53% and we’re just like let’s keep doing the same thing?” Foxx said.


But we’re not doing the same thing in the suburbs that we are in the city. Foxx told me that she lives out in the suburbs now and the women in her neighborhood started a group chat encouraging one another to apply for concealed carry licenses and attend firearm and home defense training in case they are ever in danger and in need of guns for protection. Gun possession is a staple of American culture, but it’s routinely discussed as an inner-city problem.

Since December 1, 2016 there have been 26,998 reported incidents of illegal gun possession in Chicago for which CPD has made 5,257 arrests, representing a clearance rate of 19.5%. Foxx has approved about 89% of gun-possession charges since taking office. Between 2011 and 2016, Alvarez’s office approved 94% of such cases.


During that same time period, there have been 10,658 shootings that were not robberies or homicides and only 519 arrests, representing a clearance rate of 4.8%. Foxx’s office has approved about 95% of violent gun cases, a proportion similar to Alvarez’s.

Foxx knows that the fear of violence and the belief that guns are necessary to ensure public and personal safety is what actually creates the conditions for gun violence. When discussing why she categorizes illegal gun possession as a nonviolent offense, she acknowledged that the difference between illegal gun ownership and legal gun ownership is not criminality.

“The difference is one’s ability to get it legally versus illegally. And the barriers that many folks, particularly Black and brown, particularly Black, have to getting a FOID card, getting the license to carry. The fear is the same. It’s the ability to access a gun legally,” Foxx said.

Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE

Finally! A prosecutor who gets it. If white women in the suburbs are scared despite being tucked away in their ADT-secured homes far removed from rampant gun violence, of course Black boys out West, out South and over East feel the need to bear arms walking down the same blocks they’ve lost their friends and loved ones on. It doesn’t mean they’re ready to kill; it does mean they’re not ready to die.


Prosecuting 18-year-old Alton Spann for fatally shooting 24-year-old UChicago student Shaoxiong Zheng won’t change the fact that teenage Black boys on the South Side of Chicago are being raised in such dire poverty that they’d take a life — and risk their own — for $100. 

Prosecuting 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse for killing two men with a rifle during a 2020 protest in Kenosha — in which he was found not guilty — won’t change the fact that teenage white boys in Illinois are being raised to fear, hate and take arms against people who support the ongoing movement for Black Lives. 

And the prosecution of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichaelson and William Bryan Jr for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery — in which they were found guilty — will not change the fact that white men across America feel justified in hunting down and murdering Black men who they suspect have committed a crime.

Cook County and this country both have some really deep rooted issues that prosecution doesn’t begin to remedy. As an abolitionist and as someone who co-led the #ByeAnita campaign that pushed Foxx this far, it is my work to push Foxx and the SAO forward. So, we talked about restorative justice.


Foxx shared that the family member who sexually abused her when she was a child died a couple months ago. She said the death of her abuser didn’t make her feel a sense of justice or being further along in her healing. To the contrary, she said, “It was incredibly difficult for me. Because that PTSD I talked about came back full swing. I felt and vividly remembered what happened to me. And this person is no longer here to hurt me… And If he had gone away for 40 years, and died still, I think I would feel the exact same way.”

Foxx believes we should center victims of crimes in determining the most effective way to redress and repair harm. But within the current criminal legal apparatus, the state has a bigger interest in an individual’s harm than the individual harmed.

Restorative justice is a process of bringing victims and perpetrators of harm together with their respective affected community members to repair harm and rebuild relationships. Conversely, within the criminal legal system, the ever-present threat of prosecution and incarceration discourages those who’ve caused harm from ever admitting it. 

Foxx says she wanted the opportunity to ask her abuser why he did what he did to her, and to tell him what it felt like. She wanted him to own and acknowledge what he did. She called it personalized justice.

“I think we need to do more in listening to the people who have been hurt and harmed, and ask them what feels right to them,” Foxx said. “We don’t talk enough about the power of restorative justice and the personalized justice that comes from that. That’s what we need to be talking about.”

Cook County currently has three restorative justice community courts. The first started in North Lawndale in 2017, and in 2020 two more started in Englewood and in Avondale. For a case to be eligible to be diverted from a criminal court to one of these community courts, the person charged must live in one of those three neighborhoods, be between 18 to 26 years old, be charged with a nonviolent crime and have a nonviolent criminal history, and accept responsibility for the harm caused. The victim of the crime must agree to participate in the process.

Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE
Data visualization by Jim Daley // The TRiiBE

I asked Foxx if she supports expanding these models to support people charged with violent crimes and criminal backgrounds and her response was an enthusiastic yes. She says that Cook County has only just begun to “put our toe in the water” with the new community courts model. Without complacency, she said, 10 years ago she couldn’t even imagine getting this far in criminal justice reform. Without complacency, I look 10 years ahead into the future and see abolition on the horizon.

As state’s attorney, it is not within Foxx’s power to change the conditions we exist in that necessitate gun violence, substance use and lawlessness for survival. That’s not her work. It is also not within her power to change the nature of police work. And it’s not her work to change the conditions within prisons. 

Her work is to advance systemic changes to how prosecutors respond to the Black and poor people the system has already and always deemed criminal. Let her do her work. And let us do ours, revolutionaries. Onward.

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