During a town hall at the Institute of Politics last week, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx agreed to meet with the family of Charles Soji Thomas, the University of Chicago student who was shot by the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) in April 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis. Thomas is currently being held in Cook County Jail awaiting trial.
Second-year Alicia Hurtado, an activist with student group #CareNotCops, first asked Foxx if she would commit to dropping the charges against Thomas. While the University originally pressed charges, Foxx’s office is now prosecuting the case against Thomas on three charges of aggravated assault, with a hearing scheduled for March 4. #CareNotCops has been engaged in an email-writing campaign to Foxx’s office urging her to drop the charges, and they have attended Thomas’s previous court dates to support him and his family.
Foxx said that she could not address Thomas’s case specifically, but she spoke to the need for the criminal-justice system to reform its approach to mental health.
“We are really struggling not talking about [Thomas] in particular with the fact that we have [an] inadequate response to the mental health crisis in our country,” Foxx said. “This is one of those areas where our system hasn’t caught up. How do we hold someone accountable? What does accountability look like? How can we as a system not do further harm?… All the things people need to be better and well, our jails do the opposite of that.”
Although Foxx declined to go into the details of Thomas’s case, she agreed to a request by #CareNotCops activist Anna Kinlock that she meet with the organization and Thomas’s family.
“I believe Kim Foxx will keep her word,” said Kathy Thomas, Charles’s mother, in a statement provided to The Maroon. “I would love the chance to discuss Charles’s situation with her and show he’s more than a booking number.”
Students Working Against Prisons (SWAP), one of #CareNotCops’s parent organizations, said in a statement that the meeting is an important first step toward getting the charges dropped.
“We’re very pleased that Kim Foxx agreed to meet with us and Charles’s family, and we’re grateful to the people who helped make it happen by calling and emailing her office with us,” SWAP said. “We’re proud to be holding Foxx accountable to her commitments on restorative justice along with allied organizations.”
Foxx is running for a second term for Cook County state’s attorney in the Democratic primary against challengers Bill Conway, Donna More, and Bob Fioretti. During the town hall, Foxx detailed the changes she has made in her time as state’s attorney, emphasizing her achievements as a “progressive prosecutor.” She mentioned the decision to stop prosecuting people in traffic court for driving with suspended licenses as one such accomplishment, and her decision to vacate marijuana possession convictions for 770,000 people whose possessions would have been legal after recreational marijuana was legalized in Illinois on January 1, 2020.
Foxx also explained how her office reprioritized cases while working with limited resources: for example, moving lawyers from low-level retail theft prosecutions to work on gun crime. She noted that part of that priority shift involved investing in the work of the Conviction Integrity Unit, which reevaluates claims of wrongful conviction, especially in cases convicted by false confessions under what has been widely acknowledged to be police torture.
As state’s attorney, Foxx is part of a wave of progressive prosecutors who have been elected in recent years, including Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner, Boston’s Rachael Rollins, and San Francisco’s newly elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was raised in Hyde Park. Foxx credited her own victory in the 2016 state’s attorney election and the policies she has implemented since as crucial to the rising popularity of the progressive prosecutor: district attorneys elected on promises of reforming the criminal justice system, with policies like ending cash bail and increasing police accountability.
“When I ran for this office, there was not the notion of a progressive prosecutor.… Larry [Krasner] doesn’t get to do what he does if the people of Cook County don’t show up and say this is possible,” Foxx said. “Where Cook County was once the butt of the joke in justice reform, we are [now] leading the country in what is possible in prosecutors’ offices and criminal justice across the board, and for that I’m extremely proud.”
In response to a question about her relationship with the Chicago Police Department (CPD), Foxx claimed that her office has cooperated with CPD to share data on gun crime conviction rates and that accusations that she didn’t want to prosecute gun crime cases are not accurate. Foxx said that the relationship between the state’s attorney and CPD had changed, since her office was only charging cases with sufficient evidence to convict.
“We’re checks and balances. I’m not a rubber stamp,” Foxx said.
Correction on Feb. 28, 2020, 9:11 a.m. CST:
A previous version of this article listed Pat O'Brien as a state's attorney Democratic primary challenger, and left out Bob Fioretti. O'Brien is a challenger in the Republican primary, and Fioretti is in the Democratic primary.