News & Politics

Kim Foxx Suggests Criticism Over Jussie Smollett Case Is Based in Racism

Feb. 22, 2019 photo of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

On Saturday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx effectively blamed racism for the criticism of her office dropping 16 felony counts against Empire actor Jussie Smollett. She touted being the first black woman in her role, and suggested there was a double standard behind people criticizing her handling of the case.

“I cannot run an office that is driven by anger and public sentiment,” Foxx said. “I must run an office that looks at the facts, the evidence, and the law on every case. That is my responsibility.”

“I am undaunted by the events of the last two weeks,” the prosecutor continued. “I believe that this has sparked a reason for us to have a conversation about where we really stand on criminal justice reform, what we really believe when we talk about the rhetoric of a broken system and fixing it.”

She lamented that “the efforts that I’ve had on criminal justice reform, that were once celebrated by many in this county that are now being attacked because of one case and one celebrity, I think we have to ask ourselves what is this really about?”

Foxx suggested it is “really about” racism. “As someone who has lived in this city, who came up from the projects of this city, to serve as the first African-American woman in this role, it is disheartening to me, and to the women and men for whom I represent … when we get in these positions, that somehow goalposts change.”

“Somehow when you do the best and if you put our office on national standards there are people watching what we’re doing in Cook County around criminal justice reform and yet and yet, so I will tell you that this is personal,” Foxx added.

Earlier in the press conference, Ja’Mal Green, a 23-year-old former candidate for Chicago mayor and former surrogate for the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presidential campaign in 2016, slammed the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) as “all white” and “the Blue Klux Klan.”

He praised Kim Foxx and slammed FOP leaders for critiquing her leadership. “We have all white men FOP, getting up looking like the Blue Klux Klan,” Green said.

Yet Foxx deserves criticism, both for the Smollett case and for her general pattern of exonerating criminals and targeting the police — the trend she describes as “criminal justice reform.”

Smollett infamously claimed that in January, masked white attackers wearing MAGA hats screamed, “This is MAGA country!” before seizing him, putting a noose around his neck, and pouring an unknown bleach-scented liquid on him. In February, police announced that they had begun investigating Smollett upon discovering evidence that suggested the Empire actor had paid Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo and his brother Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo to attack him. Unearthed evidence included receipts showing the brothers buying the rope used in the attack and a check Smollett gave them.

After police arrested Smollett, prosecutors charged him with 16 felony counts. Mysteriously last month, the prosecutors dropped all 16 counts. Smollett and his attorneys insisted he had been telling the truth from the beginning, but the police and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not buy it. Emanuel called the dropping of the charges a “whitewash of justice.” President Donald Trump has called for a federal investigation into the case. Police chiefs gave Foxx a no-confidence vote after the Smollett case.

Foxx had intervened on behalf of Smollett and his family at the beginning, so she recused herself from the case — but she did not recuse her office.

Last month, Martin Prieb, second vice president at the FOP, accused Foxx of “weaponizing” the criminal justice system the same way President Barack Obama did. He emphasized Foxx’s history of letting criminals off the hook.

One particularly egregious example involved the vacating of two felony convictions for high-ranking Spanish Cobra gang member Ricardo Rodriguez in February. Eliminating the 20-year-old convictions paves the way for Rodriguez to avoid deportation and remain in the country, FOP representatives argued.

Prieb also mentioned two cases early in Foxx’s administration. Arturo DeLeon-Reyes and Gabriel Solache confessed to stabbing Mariano and Jacinta Soto, murdering them and kidnapping their children. Yet Solache and DeLeon-Reyes claimed, like so many convicts, that they were victims of police misconduct, even though they pleaded guilty and confessed to the murders. The two were later released after Foxx’s office granted immunity to a police officer who testified against the department.

According to FOP’s reporting in 2017, Foxx received hefty political contributions from Arthur Loevy, one of the most powerful wrongful conviction law firms in Illinois.

Prieb also noted that one of the attorneys for Smollett, Patricia Brown-Holmes, also prosecuted three Chicago police officers for an alleged conspiracy against 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Foxx relentlessly attacked her predecessor, Anita Alvarez, for failing to charge the police involved, even though the officers were later acquitted. Ja’Mal Green praised Foxx for prosecuting police in the Laquan McDonald case.

Criminal justice reform is a good thing, and sorely needed. But Foxx’s attempt to defend her corruption in the name of such reform is disgusting. Her attempt to blame the criticism of how her office handled the Smollett case on racism is beyond the pale — especially since Police Chief Eddie Johnson is himself black, as is Rahm Emanuel, who called the dropping of charges against Smollett a “whitewash of justice.”

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.