Chances are, you’ve never heard of the Gun Crimes Strategies Unit. We think you should before you vote on March 17.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx launched the unit shortly after she won election in 2016, a bloody year in which Chicago racked up 3,550 shootings, 764 of them fatal.
What was the most-prosecuted felony at that time? Retail theft.
Foxx had promised to pour more resources into fighting violent crime, and she did, sending prosecutors to work alongside police in Chicago neighborhoods with the worst gun violence. Following similar models used in New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere, she assigned assistant state’s attorneys to work directly with law enforcement — local and federal — to target and charge the repeat gun offenders who are behind so much of Chicago and Cook County’s violence.
For the first time in decades, the state’s attorney’s office was employing an overarching and data-tested crime fighting strategy, rather than just racking up convictions. And it was a strategy built on principles of social justice — making our streets safer without mindlessly filling up jails.
It was exactly what Foxx had promised.
A strategy that’s working
According to preliminary data from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the strategy is working. Our streets are in fact safer, and that is likely in part because more repeat gun offenders are being charged as “armed habitual criminals,” a Class X felony that carries stiff penalties.
In the 11th Police District on the West Side, arrests of gun suspects charged as armed habitual criminals rose from just nine in 2015 to 48 in 2018. In the 7th District in Englewood, arrests rose from 10 in 2015 to 37 in 2018. Shootings in the unit districts decreased by 35% from 2016 to 2018, more than the 31% decrease elsewhere in the city.
At the same time, Foxx declined to prosecute more than 5,000 low-level criminal cases that her predecessor, Anita Alvarez, likely would have pursued, a 2019 report from The Marshall Project found.
To us, this looks like justice. Every hour a prosecutor spends building a case against a repeat gun offender is an hour not wasted prosecuting, let’s say, a homeless drug addict who steals $33 worth of underwear.
During Foxx’s tenure, the guiding philosophy of the state’s attorney’s office has undergone a sea change, and it’s a change that must continue.
Thoughtful, committed and effective
Today, we strongly endorse Foxx in the Democratic primary for another term as Cook County state’s attorney.
Foxx has proven to be thoughtful, committed and effective. She is the candidate who has freed more than 80 wrongfully convicted men and women, giving us hope that Chicago finally can shed its image as the “false confession capital of the U.S.”
She is the candidate who expunged thousands of low-level pot convictions after the state legalized the use of recreational marijuana.
She is the candidate who has increased, by 25%, the use of alternatives to prosecution for nonviolent offenders, giving them the chance to avoid prison — and when did prison ever help a young and foolish petty criminal turn his life around?
Smollett case shouldn’t overshadow accomplishments
We know. You are reading this now and thinking two words: Jussie Smollett.
As well you might.
Foxx bungled that case. She really messed up. And we’re not convinced her only mistake was, as she contends, a “lack of transparency.”
From the moment Smollett was charged with lying to the Chicago police about some faked-up mugging outside his Near North Side apartment, Foxx should have hung up the phone on any politically connected attorney trying to plead the actor’s case.
And Foxx’s office should not have allowed Smollett to walk until he did the bare minimum — admit in writing that he had made it all up. The police deserved better than that.
We’ll have to wait on a report by a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, to learn all that transpired. There is no doubt the Smollett case was the one great pratfall of Foxx’s first term.
We endorse her all the same. It would be an injustice to allow a single high-profile mistake to overshadow her accomplishments.
For too long in Cook County, violent crime rates have soared even as we have filled our jails and prisons with nonviolent offenders. For too long, a kid from Wilmette who screwed up could catch a break that a kid from the West Side couldn’t. The first young man might pull a stint in rehab while the second gets swatted down with a felony conviction.
But we see nothing in their policy positions or resumes to make us believe they would do a better job than Foxx in pushing the state’s attorney office toward greater effectiveness — making us safer — even as it advances the cause of social justice.
Kim Foxx has kept her promises. She has, once again, earned your vote.
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