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Kim Foxx’s critics waste too much time on Jussie Smollett

There seems to be little time for the victims the Cook County state’s attorney’s office serves every day. 

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks at a press conference at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after filing motions to vacate more than 1,000 low-level cannabis convictions.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks at a press conference at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after filing motions to vacate more than 1,000 low-level cannabis convictions.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

So little time.

Last week’s Chicago Tribune Editorial Board meeting, streamed live on its website, was hosted by at least a dozen editors and reporters who interviewed the candidates running for Cook County State’s Attorney in the March 17 Democratic Primary.

Incumbent Kim Foxx is facing former 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, as well as former prosecutors Bill Conway and Donna More.

It’s a crucial meeting for those seeking the newspaper’s endorsement. And a crucial one for voters seeking a window into the issues and policies facing the county’s top prosecutor.

About half of Monday’s hour-long session were spent on one man and one case — the infamous Jussie Smollett.

Foxx was inundated with questions from the journalists. Then her opponents piled on.

What happened with Smollett? Why did you drop the charges against him? What changed? Why won’t you explain? What happened, what happened, what happened?

Thirty minutes on Smollett, then a mere half hour on everything else. Everything, such as, a thoughtful, cogent examination of the progress and challenges of the second largest prosecutor’s office in the nation.

So little time.

A year ago, Smollett, an actor on the Fox TV show “Empire,” claimed he was accosted and beaten on a dark night in Streeterville by two racist and homophobic attackers.

The story was a national sensation. Chicago police launched a massive investigation and concluded Smollett faked the whole thing.

Foxx’s office charged Smollett with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, but later dropped the charges. In return, Smollett agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond and complete a community service assignment. He did not admit guilt and still won’t admit that he lied.

We learned that a well-connected family friend of Smollett asked Foxx to look into the case, raising questions about favoritism. That proves, some say, that Foxx practiced a double standard to protect her Hollywood friends.

Special Prosecutor Dan Webb is investigating her handling of the case.

Foxx clearly mishandled the case, as she has acknowledged in numerous media interviews, her campaign ads, and repeatedly during the Tribune session.

She can’t go into details because it would “jeopardize” Webb’s investigation, she said.

The reporters harangued on, suggesting she stop “hiding behind Dan Webb.”

I’m not here to beat up on the competition. I know and respect many of these journalists. But there seems to be little time for the victims the state’s attorney’s office serves every day. The vast majority are blacks and Latinos who come from struggling communities on Chicago’s South and West sides. They must cope with the pernicious, violent crime in their neighborhoods.

Those families could care less about a spoiled celebrity who got a slap on the hand.

A hallmark of Foxx’s tenure is her effort to shift resources away from low-level offenses like shoplifting and instead focus on those violent crimes.

“While there may be people that are focused on this one case, we have now led the nation in the vacating of wrongful convictions,” she said. “Violent crime has gone down because we’ve put our resources in going after gun crimes in some of our hardest-hit neighborhoods.”

Foxx has pushed to have those arrested on minor crimes be released without a cash bail, so they can return to productive lives as they await trial. She has championed the expungement of records for those prosecuted for low-level marijuana possession, so they can get jobs.

Her most vocal critics, it seems, are white. They live in safe, middle-and upper-class communities. They have little time for the pain.

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Follow Laura S. Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish