‘We’re in really, really uncharted territory,’ Kim Foxx says of gun violence in Chicago

State’s attorney reflects on a friend being shot while she was growing up, says more has to be done to prevent retaliatory shootings and rejects criticism her office is too easy on gun crimes.

SHARE ‘We’re in really, really uncharted territory,’ Kim Foxx says of gun violence in Chicago
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

In a wide-ranging interview on gun violence in Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx reflects on a friend’s being shot while she was growing up, says more has to be done to prevent retaliatory shootings and pushes back at criticism her office has faced that it goes too easy on gun crimes.

Question: What do you make of criticism from Police Supt. David Brown that more needs to be done to keep gun offenders behind bars?

Kim Foxx: We have asked for any data that they have that’s different from the data that we have. Our data, when we’re able to look at someone who’s been arrested, say, on a gun charge because that was the narrative — that these people are arrested with gun charges, and they’re right back out, and they’re committing new crimes — didn’t substantiate that.

Q: Many say economic development in low-income neighborhoods and an end to institutional racism are the long-term answers to solving Chicago’s violence problem. What can be done in the short term?

Foxx: I think your point is well taken about the long-term, systemic issues. I want to point out that, inasmuch as we say that takes a long time, I also would like to see us put some real heft behind it.

In the short term, I think we have to figure out who are the drivers of violence and what’s driving it.

When we are talking about a lot of conflicts that are being settled with guns, we’re not talking about large organizations protecting corners. We’re talking about a slight indignity that happened on Facebook or someone avenging a loss from a year ago. It’s why the police have been beefing up security around funerals because we have enough intelligence to tell us that those are now hot spots.

And so it is using the intelligence that we have specific to the neighborhoods and going after those who we know are driving violence. That is a police effort using intelligence that’s gathered on the ground. It’s a prosecution effort of when we get those folks, being sure that we are asking for no bail when possible, being able to use our resources to charge when the penalties are significant. It is the violence interrupters. We’ve seen it in other jurisdictions like New York, like Los Angeles where there are people on the ground, even before a police officer is called, they go where the conflicts are and talk some folks down.

It’s all hands on deck.

Q: A little boy near the old Cabrini-Green got shot to death the other day. [Janari Ricks, 9, died July 31 when someone opened fire in a housing complex on the Near West Side. Darrell Johnson was arrested two days later.] You saw Ald. Walter Burnett and community activists talking to residents to get them to cough up a suspect. Do you think more of that kind of thing is necessary?

Foxx: Yeah, absolutely necessary. It is not just lip service.

It’s not just the police and prosecution. We’re after the fact.

Ruben Salazar Elementary School fourth-grader Janari Ricks, 9, was killed July 31 while playing outside with friends on the Near North Side. An ex-convict was charged with firing from a nearby alley the bullets that struck Janari in the chest in the 900 block of North Cambridge by what was once Cabrini-Green.

Janari Ricks., 9, who was killed when someone fired shots, striking hims in the chest, on July 31 as he played with friends behind the former Cabrini Green public housing complex in the 900 block of North Cambridge.


These crimes are hyperlocal. There are not people from other areas of the city coming in, causing harm and going back. People know who is committing these crimes, and I understand the fear and the anxiety of living in the same neighborhood with someone who has no regard for killing children. However, we cannot give shelter, a safe space, for people to do that.

We were able to make an arrest in that case. But far too many of these cases don’t end in an arrest because of people’s fear and reluctance to engage. There’s got to be a point where this is so despicable and so horrifying that we come together as a community and say: You can’t take our children.

Q: You grew up in Cabrini-Green, right?

Foxx: Yeah, I was there in the ’70s and ’80s. It was even more violent than what we’re seeing right now, unrelenting violence. But there also was a sense that children were off-limits.

I knew a girl that I used to jump rope with who was shot when I was 8. I remember seeing her when she finally was able to come back out and play, and we were looking at her scars. I’m 48. And I still remember that like yesterday.

Q: Do you think there’s a disregard for human life that’s even worse now than it was in the ’70s and ’80s? What explains dozens of little kids getting shot this year, five killed? What explains a 50% rise in murders this year?

Foxx: There was a rule. And it’s a terrible thing to talk about the rule of criminality, but once upon a time there were rules and permissions and things that you had to do in order to retaliate.

Right now, it is: Somebody said something on social media, and someone’s in the car, and someone’s shooting the gun with no regard.

There’s a lack of concern for the others who are around — the need to immediately gratify the thirst for revenge at any and all costs, without any calculation or thought or fear of reprisal.

And the weaponry is different. You don’t walk up on shooting scenes any more when there’s one or two shell casings. Now, there’s 15, 20, 30.

The number of guns on the streets continues to be high. Background checks have been through the roof since this pandemic has started. So it is no surprise that people who want to possess guns and can’t do so legally are out there trying to find guns on the illegal market.

And so we have an issue in Chicago that has not changed, which is oversaturation of illegal guns in our communities.

I think we’re in really, really uncharted territory. Right now, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, in the middle of a financial collapse, civil unrest and an oversaturation of guns — and violence that just is unrelenting.

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