Tearing Down Barriers
Kim Foxx made history when she was elected to be the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Illinois. Chanda connected with Kim to talk about how her upbringing informs her leadership, the struggles of representing institutions, and the support systems that keep her grounded.
Souphak Kienitz 00:08
What you just heard there was two blocks away from my backyard. This is Souphak Kienitz and I work at the Minneapolis foundation. This is a cry from the community after another black man Daunte Wright was killed in the hands of police on Sunday, April 11 2021. Please join me by putting your hand over your heart and acknowledge the death of Daunte Wright and together offer condolences to his son Daunte Wright Jr. and to his parents, family and the community. We are heartbroken and know that words are empty without action. The Minneapolis Foundation is deeply committed to the pursuit of racial justice, and while our hearts are heavy, we know that our work is more urgent than ever, and there are many, many actionable steps the Minneapolis Foundation has already taken, and if you wish to learn more, feel free to browse our website, minneapolisfoundation.org, and then give us a call, and let’s do this work together. Up next, our next guest is Kimberly Fox. This episode was recorded before the Chauvin trial. Kimberly Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the country’s second largest prosecutor’s office. She’s brought substantial progress in priority areas including wrongful convictions, bond reform, transparency and gun violence. Most recently, she helped pass the Safety Act in Illinois, eliminating cash bail in 2023, which was a four year effort, and before I give too much away, here’s Kimberly Foxx, and our host, Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 01:53
Look, Kim, I’m Chanda, and it is super nice to meet you, and as a matter of fact, I’m like, we were talking with a team, and they’re like, who would you want to talk to and I said, you know, I really want to talk to Kim Foxx, and we have a new marketing VP, Michelle Benson, and she’s like, Oh, I’m from Chicago. I know, one of her friends. I’ll just text her. This is how we got connected, and they said, well, why do you want to talk to her, and I said, she seems to just like, just take a hit and keep coming, and I just want to know how, what that, what like, gets that to go, you know, because there’s some people that will just be like, just, you know, I’m done with it. Let me go make more money somewhere else. So, you know, I started out just sort of talking about like my growing up on the north side, and it’s funny, because I really grown in comfort of just talking about that, because there were a number of years where I would not lead with I’m from the north side. So even listening to this podcast, it’s like every single time she says it like three or four times, and it’s like I do that for like, a reason because it was so many years that I censored that out because I was scared of sort of the judgment around it, and I’m wondering, you grew up in Cabrini green, and, you know, I’m wondering if you had sort of a similar story around how you embrace where you were from.
Kim Foxx 03:27
Thank you for inviting me, I’m humbled that you would want to have this conversation with me. I lead every conversation, you don’t, there’s nobody who’s ever come away from a conversation with me, it’s like, “Where is she from?” because you will know that I’m from Cabrini in every single conversation, and I think for me, you know, I live in Cabrini up until I was eight. We moved into a more affluent neighborhood, just a mile north of Cabrini. We couldn’t afford it, but my mother moved us there for the schools, and so it was very apparent. The two worlds right, like I had one foot in affluence and one foot in a project, and so it wasn’t like you could hide that, right? It wasn’t like when I was in Lincoln Park there, people didn’t know I wasn’t from Cabrini, right, and we could not afford to live in Lincoln Park. My grandmother was in Cabrini, my family was there, and so it was an ever present thing that I don’t know that there was a moment that I was unable to talk about it as a kid. In adulthood, it really wasn’t until I started working as a line prosecutor, and around people who had no connection to those communities, and you would hear people talk about the projects, that neighborhood like and just joke, like all day and do the accent to add it, and you don’t know, I’m a lawyer, right? I graduated law school, passed the bar, I’m wearing a suit. I look like you and there was this weird thing where they have distanced you from those communities, and there was a comfort that they had in talking about those communities, as those people weren’t human. and that for me was more of a like, I wasn’t hiding it, it’s just, you know, some conversations didn’t come up, but I was like, I hit you in the face with that every time we talked, because I wasn’t gonna let you be comfortable in the disassociation with me as a black woman from the neighborhood and your perceptions of who those people were. I am those people, it’s like this us against them. I’m a them.
Chanda Smith Baker 05:35
I am a them? Yeah, did you experience that from white and black folks?
Kim Foxx 05:41
Mostly white folks, right? Like, mostly white folks at work. In the, you know, as you move in your career, you get into different spaces, you know where I’m going into different spaces, and I’ll never forget my husband and I went to a gala, a couple years ago, and this one, this black woman was talking to a friend of ours about how excited that she was that he had gotten, he had decided to go back and get his MBA from booth, and it wasn’t quite Northwestern, but it was a blah, and it was just this, no, me and my husband like looking at each other, like who talks like this, but she was black and he was black, and it just was, and it was very much this like, you know, let’s distance, like it let’s show our credentials to each other, and we like we just play spades with this dude, like, this is not even how he operates, but watching that, where you’re like, “Oh, that’s, that’s a thing for you,” or when I was running for office, the first time we had a commercial that was about me being from Cabrini, and I was at a, I was at some, I was at a record store. They set record stores, and there was an older woman who came to me and say why did you feel the need to put, all the bafflement, put Cabrini in there, and I said, that’s where I came from. That’s where I come from, and she says, what it looks like you’re looking for sympathy. Oh, and I was, you know, mindful of my elders, and I know, because there’s a twist that happens in my, in my mouth when somebody says, yeah, and I pullback, there was like this, this is an elder, and I said, why would what. Why would I need sympathy for being that’s who I am, and she’s a, you’re a lawyer, and you’ve accomplished great things like, you know, you should highlight that, not that neighborhood, and that broke my little heart. It really, it broke my heart, because it’s one thing for a contemporary to not understand us. It was another thing for an elder who paved the way for me to, you know, indirectly to say, let’s not remind people of where we come from. You’re, you’re better than that now.
Chanda Smith Baker 08:07
Yeah. Yeah, it’s so indicative of all the ways that we have had to armor up to survive, and you know, really, that’s what it was. It’s like, we want you to be successful. We don’t want that to get in your way. How do you think sort of straddling those realities has informed you, right, of that mile away, right, like being able to see what even a mile, right, a broaden perspective, that there’s many people that are living in poverty don’t have an opportunity to see.
Kim Foxx 08:39
It makes my day to day work, the focus that much clearer, particularly, because, you know, I tell people all the time where I grew up, people have very low faith in politics, politicians. They just why would you, right? Why would you believe that the system was there to work for you, when the same trash in the same light was sitting there when you put up your billboard four years ago. So it’s very little trust, very little trust of law enforcement. Again, I witnessed domestic violence in my home, and the reluctant to call the police, not because you didn’t need help, but I don’t know who I’m going to get, right, and how they engage with my cousins or people around us, versus you go a mile and the universe is just different in how they perceive police, right, and how they, you know, perceive poverty, how they perceive, and it just is very, very stuck. It’s just incredibly stuck, and, you know, I tell people, it’s not a deliberate ignorance, they just don’t know. They just, and people will get so frustrated and even in the conversations that we’re having now, around this reckoning, reckoning were raised again, you know, like how can people not know. People just care about the universe around them, and as Cabrini was like this isolated island, so as Lincoln Park, or you could just absolve yourself of knowledge of anything that didn’t impact your pocketbook, and it didn’t matter that a mile away, a kid just as smart as me, just as talented as me, was going to be denied the opportunity to be at their fullest potential because the school was trash. Because the school was trashed, it wasn’t that the kid was any less, you just were okay with so long as my kid is in a good school, learning a foreign language and in taking these amazing, you know, foreign exchange trips and doing all of that I’m okay. I don’t have to think about that. I’ve never not been able to think about those kids like me, who I was fortunate to have that experience, and the kids who are privileged enough to not even recognize their privilege.
Chanda Smith Baker 11:06
Or you know, or the kids that live there and take the hour train to go to another school, it’s because their parents care more than the ones that don’t, and they are making all of these assumptions, right. I hear that a lot from folks. Chicago, right. Like they cared about their families care, the families that are choosing care more, and it’s like, why are you, where did you get that from?
Kim Foxx 11:29
And by the way, we moved, from the time I moved from Cabrini to third grade to time I graduated from high school, we moved eight times, eight times. We’ve never like, we weren’t in so that like the sacrifice that my mother made, and I honor and highlight, we couldn’t afford that, and if your system is like we cared enough to be homeless when I was 16, or have apartment that didn’t have refrigerators, and we put our stuff on the back porch, or we heated our food on a hot plate, like if you’re like, if my success is predicated on my mother, like moving us into an unstable environment, year after year to get the same education that you got, your system is, your systems fail. Benefiting from a failed system and the hustle we had that’s, you know, that’s in my spirit of hustler spirit, but we shouldn’t make our children hustle for the most basic of their needs, like a quality education.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:25
Yeah, and they’re speaking up and out all the time, and we show them how we value on how we listen and respond. That’s right. Yeah. So it’s interesting to talk about how you know, people can live in their bubble and not have to care about what’s happening a mile away, and here we are on the Friday before a trial in Minneapolis, and you know, George Floyd lost his life on May 25 of last year, and all of a sudden, there are people that are hearing about an issue that they’ve never encountered. They’ve never encountered and it has been a reckoning, I’ve had to reckon with some stuff myself. You know, I mean, I’m not just that day, and that with the internet, but also from being with people that have been saying that they’re working on issues of justice, and then watching them actually see injustice, like, almost like it’s the first time.
Kim Foxx 13:25
Yeah. Yeah, I think what, what was so unique about George Floyd, which, even as I just said, that it’s not actually because we just honored the 30th anniversary of the beating of Rodney King, right, and the video of Rodney King and kind of the horror of like, what is that? Right? What is that, and I remember, I was in college when that happened, and it was like, what, and in 30 years, you know, 29 years later you see a George Floyd. I think a couple things were different, one, everybody was home, right? There was already this kind of collective tension, panic, anxiety, depression that the country was going through because of COVID, and so we’re stuck and you hear, you know, Ahmaud Arbery happened and it’s like, what was that right? Like that was just, that was just maybe a week or two before where those videos and that story had come out, and a story of Breonna Taylor had already come out and so there was this kind of like nine like you do the there’s a picking at the scab. There’s a pick at the scab, and then the George Floyd video, I remember when it came out that it was just like a whisper in the morning, you know, like, have you seen that video? Have you seen it because it come out like late on a Monday night. Have you seen this video? Have you seen this video, and by the end of that day, it was the scab have been removed, you saw how bloody the wound was, and there was no ability to turn it back. Like maybe I didn’t want to plug into Ahmaud Arbery, maybe this Breanna Taylor thing seems weird. I cannot deny that a man with his knee in the neck of another man crying out for his mother is injustice, and as much as I wanted, like, he must have, it must have. It was in your face, that now. This is it.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:29
This, matter of fact, I just almost got teary about it, because my mom came home on a Friday. It’s a Friday, George Floyd, my mom came home to my house for hospice, on that Friday, on that Monday, he’s calling for his mom. So it was the whisper in my house, and then I see it, and you know, he’s calling for his mom, and I know my mom is getting ready to make a journey here, right, and so those things are so connected for me. It feels so personal and I think what feels different is that I think people actually felt more personally connected in all kinds of ways, and it’s amazing how, you know, a pandemic allow for people to see what’s been there. Like these things have been there, the cries have been there. How had, how did that affect you or Chicago?
Kim Foxx 16:34
You know, personally, I did not handle it well, emotionally. Honestly, it is, it’s a collective vulnerability that we all had in the pandemic, I guess, is the way to just make us ripened for the for it. But when you run a justice system, are a part of a system that, you know, is for so many people, not just when you sit as a prosecutor, and every day, you know, that the decisions that you are making, cause harm, like I know this, and, you know, people like George Floyd, and you know, people that, you know, people are like, “Oh, I’m married to a black man,” I am, but I knew a George Floyd, like, from the neighborhood, like I know, this store. I’ve never been in that store, but I know, I know, this setup. I know this, like this isn’t foreign, and the notion that I felt so powerless. I felt so, it felt so personal to me, because I’m like, in here, I am a representative of an institution. I am representative of things that I know is wrong, and I can’t scream out, I can’t cry, I can’t march, I can’t do any of those things, and I can’t defend it. I can’t defend this, and so it feels very, it felt very isolating to me, and I struggled emotionally, mentally, that week, and then immediately had to sort of snap out of it when the protests started to happen, and then the, we had some rioting that was happening, and the tension between I’m a law enforcement official, and I understand this righteous anger, and people who don’t understand this righteous anger, wanting me to respond in a way, from somebody who has a complete disconnect from it. So I struggle if I’m being honest.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:50
Yeah, I struggled, and I think that’s right, that we’re sitting in these roles, right? We’re from the neighborhood, we’re from the community, right. We’re pissed, like, we’re pissed off, we’re angry, we’re tired of it, and we have influence and responsibility, and so, and then sometimes you get critiques from your own community, and you’re trying to do your best, man.
Kim Foxx 19:17
Hey, man, and I get it, right? Like that was that was the struggle for me is, I’m not defending this. This is, this is awful. I also am keenly aware as a lawyer as a prosecutor, what these, how hard it is to prosecute these cases. I understand where people are like, just do something, do something, and knowing that the way that the system operates, that something is never going to feel like justice to you. I get that. It will never feel like justice. The best of my efforts will never feel like justice, and so yeah, it was, I think one of those moments where you are thinking, “What am I doing here? Am I am I helping? Am I giving cover to a system by being a black woman doing this? Am I living? Am I, have I made a career choice that allows me to live my truth?” I struggle.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:26
Yeah. I mean, it’s a real sort of hidden, right, from a lot of people because, and what I’ve said is like, you know, when people are in pain, and when they are being critical, they’re being critical because of what you said, right? They don’t trust government, they don’t trust the police. They don’t trust so much. Like the shots are really aimed towards the institutions in which we represent, and we just take it in, because it just hurts in a completely different way, and because we’re absolutely here to make the type of difference that they’re expecting and change happens, within a context. It’s personal. It’s very personal. That’s actually one of our values at the foundation, it’s all personal, Like, I embody that, all of that last year. So then you’ve got, you know, my daughter was living in Chicago, she graduated from Columbia College last May, and she just moved back this weekend. So, so she’s back in Chicago, but she was down there, and she’s like, Mom, you know, they’re looting, you know, I’m scared, and so you see all of the stuff on the news across the country, not just in Chicago. Here, you see the burning of the city, you see all this stuff, and now it’s like these hooligans are burning down the city. Now we lost sight of the four officers that just killed Floyd. Now, we are focused on the other stuff, and you know, you you’re arresting folks, you let folks go, you get criticized for that, and you’re dealing between pain and the behaviors of poverty and pain and frustration and the lack of available resources to allow people to cope, and so you see this, and you know, that this was a moment for some people who know that everyone that was out there wasn’t violent. You know, everyone else, there wasn’t looting, but you have the rest of the city, there’s like, we can’t allow for this. So you can’t allow for this. So you’re more loud about allowing, not allowing for that, but we haven’t been crying collectively about Laquan and everyone else loudly.
Kim Foxx 22:52
Listen, I did an interview, and I told my husband, I’m like, I got the name one day, if I ever write a book, I did an interview with a radio station here after the first round of uprisings in the city, and I had done a speech about, you know, this collective, the casual acceptance of racism, like all of this, like it was, it was the first time out in weeks, and I’ve had gone out there and I try not to cry and I just poured it out there just from the experience, and I do this interview, the interviewer says, you know, I saw that speech is great, great, great, great, great, but, you know, you talk about heartbreak, you talk about these things, and you know, when I see people running in and out of stores when I see you just don’t seem angry enough. I still, that phrase, wakes me up in the middle of night, at least once a week, and I angry enough about what he saw, and was so dismissive of I saw you tearfully looking at your city being torn apart because people were tired of being oppressed and systems like that just were continually telling them that they weren’t worthy, and that it was very articulate and thoughtful, but then when it came time to talk about people in these stores, you didn’t seem angry enough to me because to me, that is the issue, and what it said about me as a black woman, like we expect you to, like have our same level of iron. I’m not gonna meet you where you, I’m going to acknowledge that you seem hurt because this man was killed like that. We will all agree, but why haven’t you met my level of anger than what is my expectation of what this looks like, and I still, that fuels and fires me every day, and like I said, they’re nice, but I wake up, and I just write that phrase down, you don’t seem angry enough. I just have to keep writing it down, because I’m like, if you ever had to, like put this down, it’s gonna be a chapter like that’s the book, you just don’t seem angry enough. A person not connected to this, to a black woman who has watched the collective anger from the moment I came into this world be ignored and have somebody tell me that I wasn’t.
Chanda Smith Baker 25:49
That’s a privilege I didn’t struggle at once a week. Like, in this version, this week, I push them down. Like, right, like this version, I like not move across the table. Yeah, and like the amount of restraint that it takes, because you know, that your purpose is bigger than this moment. So you have to know how to navigate those conversations with grace that’s not extended to you.
Kim Foxx 26:25
Never extended to you. I mean, it was a remarkable moment, and this was someone I should be clear, which made it even more like whoa, who considers himself an ally, you know, who said prefaced it, you know, I’ve been a big admirer of yours, but it was, it goes back to that beginning question of having two feet, or one foot in each world that we want Lincoln Park, in this moment, and I feel like we see too much of Cabrini but we really let you into this space, and in Lincoln Park, this is what is, this is where we are right now, and there’s too much of that could bring. Can you, can you give us a little more of this, and my frustration is that even if we saw people care, even once we saw this big, that you have to realize that the voices of those people from Cabrini and the expression of this, like we don’t condone violence, we don’t condone that, but there’s a thing that’s happening that if you don’t reconcile that, it’s gonna happen again.
Chanda Smith Baker 27:35
You know, I often tell people, you know, what’s the hardest thing you do and your leadership roles, and I’m like, I think it’s self censorship. I think it is, I don’t have to just think about what I want to say and what I need to do. I actually have to think about how I need to say it, and how I need to deliver my actions because I know that I’m walking a really tight line with some audiences between an ability for them to hear me and an inability to hear me. That takes a lot of additional and hidden stressors that many people are taking, and you know, here you go from Cabrini, elevating, getting promoted becoming you know, hitting all the first and so not only are you responsible for a system that has not been just and has been you know, cruel, really to our community, but you’re the first black woman to lead it, which means I haven’t seen you in that row before.
Kim Foxx 28:57
In which means that, that I have a set of expectations about how you should behave in it too because it’s if I’ve accepted this system and for many people didn’t view it as cruel, didn’t view it as unjust again, if you and your bubble, my engagement with law enforcement has never been wrong. They helped me, my cat got caught up in the tree and somebody came and like, and so, if you haven’t heard the persistent cries, if that’s not your reality, then my expectation of how you will handle this job is very different than your level of anger about certain things should look like this that you giving voice to, you know, me, even thin, I mean, I ran on a platform, that was, the criminal justice system is broken. I ran on that, I said that, like it is now it’s funny, for five years later, like you hear it more resonating from prosecutors, especially when our brand and inn 2016, nobody was like saying that, and my audience actually, and saying that. That was the end user of the justice system, which were from people from the neighborhood, like I fashioned that campaign that was, hey, this system impacts you, so I’m talking to you. You know, historically, prosecutor races, you know, if you got a big urban area is suburban, who tend to be far more conservative and urban, and then historically, people would, would try to ease the concerns of the suburban voter who had very little contact with the system, and I flipped it, and it worked, and I and I get in, and but that suburban voter is still like, listen, we this, our expectation is you’re pounding on the table, you’re calling people, you know, thugs, and you know, we’re not going to, we’re, and when you don’t conform to that, when you say, well, actually, we’re spending way too many resources, locking people up for things that we just shouldn’t be locking people up for. You can agree with me on that your, your children don’t go to jail for drug abuse, they go to rehab. I know too many kids from Lincoln Park, who had drug addictions who have never seen inside of a courtroom, and I know some people were like busting like me who did, and I’m just trying to rectify that. That’s not how this looks, and so I think the expectation because this role had never been occupied by someone like me, not even just as a black woman, from the projects. I’ll let you say that. I’m just saying I, you know, my race is in gender are but two demographics. I think what sets me apart from many people who do this work is my connection to my community? Is that community that I come from?
Chanda Smith Baker 32:00
Yeah, you know, it’s so funny, because people, I’ve often said, right, there’s race, and there’s gender, and then there is geographical bias. There’s geographical stereotyping and I actually at times feel, felt more of that. I feel it less now, but it does live in every decision I make, and so I come at decisions very different, because that’s who I am.
Kim Foxx 32:29
But, even most people too, right, but the funny part is because I come in every decision that I make with that perspective, and so many other people don’t have it, it’s like, well, how could you, and it’s my, actually, the people who occupy this see, for decades, brought their experiences to, and whether that’s a fear of black men, or a fear of people from these neighborhoods, and thus, that informed your policy decision you brought that too, and maybe you didn’t say, well, I’m from the neighborhood that had very little engagement with black people or poor people, and so I have a fear of them, maybe you didn’t say it, but I’m saying it, I come from the projects, and so everything that I do, I viewed through the lens of those who have had the least, but who can give so much more if we give an opportunity, and so every policy decision that I make is in how does it impact those who have the least among us, because I know it makes us all better. I know this. I know this, because if you decide the first black woman to be Cook County State’s Attorney came from 624 West Division, who would have believed you, but I know I’m not the best and brightest that came from that building. I know that I’m that this is not exceptionalism. This is not, and I tell people all the time, and like, how did you do it? How did you make it? You know, you know that, and I was like, well, you know that the question is based on the supposition that people like me are supposed to fail because of all of these institutional and structural barriers, that you wonder how I dug under the fence. I don’t even want to tell you because you might patch the hole, but why don’t we acknowledge that the fences are there, and so I’m about tearing down the fence. That’s what I’m about, because we reach our best potential as a whole community, when those who have so much to give are allowed to reach their fullest potential.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:34
Yeah, my mom used to say, you know, I get them, I have a moment to like, see, so you think you’re smart. You think you’re smart. Let me tell you about how many smart people live around you, and not only that, let me tell you, the smartest in this community are probably sitting in jail, right, because they were bored in school because they didn’t have the right infrastructure around them like don’t think your place makes you different. It’s the supports that you have around you that have allowed for you to navigate in ways that others just as capable were not afforded. Like don’t conflate those things, right, and so, you know, as I know, you got to go in a few minutes, but I wanted to so we’re looking at bail reform, you know, we were working on it at the at the Minneapolis Foundation, and then COVID, then COVID hits, and I’m like, man, COVID got more people out of jail than the last two years of my efforts. I’m like, what in the world? So now I’m like, okay, let me let me rethink this whole thing, and I’m like, so now how do we sustain it, and I know, you know, it’s a complicated thing, right, because you’re like, okay, if I, if I go out there, and we do that reform, then someone, one person does something, then now they want to scrap the whole thing, but I know that’s been important to you, and, and I think there’s also an image of who we think are sitting in jail, and so how any advice on bail reform?
Kim Foxx 36:02
Yeah, somebody is going to do something, somebody out on bail is going to commit an act that disrupts community that causes harm, that will be awful. Like, I think we start with the premise that that is, that is what’s going to happen, and then we also have to acknowledge that the only way that that doesn’t happen is if you like everybody, and that is a foolish concept as well, and so the education component, education, education, people don’t know what bail is, people think bail is a pre trial punishment. People forget that there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and so the education piece is incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, important, because every time someone does anything in this county, it’s like, it’s because Kim Foxx, let him out on bail. Hey, man, let’s walk through, again, how bail works, who makes the decision how to, but that’s what you realize is people just don’t know, and again, you talk about a system that has been so dysfunctional for so long, is that if I tell you that bail is to assure your appearance at trial, and the factors that we should consider are, are you a threat, or are you a flight risk? Those are the two main factors, and then you look at someone who’s in jail for stealing a pair of Jordans for negative $5,000 bond, and you know, that they can’t afford that. That’s not about whether they’re flight risk, or threat. That’s just we manage it, and so I think the education component, the we can’t start with the assumption that people understand bail, and thus believe that it needs to be reformed, and then we also have to, like, inform people, that when people who are out there people who’ve been out on nonviolent misdemeanors, you know, who sometimes do things that you could never predict? These are human endeavors, and so that’s what I was saying, and you know, we just passed the Safety Act here in Illinois, eliminating cash bail in 2023. That was a four year effort, and I don’t even think we get to that point, without the work that we’ve done, the chief judges office has done for the last four years to show that the world isn’t going to collapse. That there will be these moments and we banded together as institutions, we didn’t have people pointing fingers, we said, as a stakeholders in the justice system, we would have each other’s backs on this. That we wouldn’t call out individual judges, we wouldn’t call out the prosecutor, the defense attorney, that as a system, we are better with bail reform, and four years later, we now can document for the rest of the state that this works, and now we will eliminate it in 2023.
Chanda Smith Baker 38:52
That’s awesome, and now you’re taking on chemical and mental health?
Kim Foxx 38:56
Yeah, I mean, we’ve been trying that we’ve been working on that, too. Again, it’s the small bills, you understand this, but you have to keep demonstrating. It’s not going to be one big thing, and for us, it is, you know, the pandemic was like, okay, we’re we not stopping people? Great! We also aren’t prosecuting people for drug offenses, because we need the labs, you know, to run these COVID tests, great! We’re recognizing that this was not a good use of our resources, and at the same time, we’re recognizing the lack of resources in community around mental health, around substance use, and we want to absolve ourselves of being care providers of that, we should, we’re not built for that. You do that. And so the pandemic, I do think, allows for us to evaluate what’s worked, what didn’t, from a pure practical standpoint, even if you’re not super innovative. It’s like, man, look at all those resources that we save by not engaging in over here.
Chanda Smith Baker 39:57
So, Kim, I know that you have been working with, you know, other sisters in this space, and so how do you guys bounce things off of each other, and how do you support each other in this work?
Kim Foxx 40:07
Well, we have a group text. That is, you know, it’s a pretty large group text, you know, sometimes it’s like substantive and other times it’s petty, and in what we realize, is most of us most of the black women who do this work are mothers, most of us are mothers of daughters. Most of us have seen, all of us have seen extreme vitriol come our way, and not even just vitriol of I don’t like your policy. I don’t like the policy you black bee have done. The level of misogynoir is just you can’t even you can’t even quantify it, and the universe of people who experienced that is really small, small. It’s less than two dozen, and so you know, one of the things that we found important was because your friends, you know, when you’re in your circle at home, they don’t understand it, and it can sometimes feel very alienating, because some days, I just don’t want to talk about it. I just don’t, you just don’t get it, like, just and that is not an it’s not a it’s not them, it is just so something. So having a space where others who have gone through this, whether it’s Aramis Ayala, who was the first black woman to be elected state attorney in state of Florida, same year that I was elected. So I sent a news to her office. You know, Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, who was after Freddie Gray was getting horrible death threats, you know, it is nice to be able to be in a space with someone where you don’t have to explain it, or sometimes if you get off the group chat, and you pick up the phone, and you just hear sobbing, and you’re like, yep, is cool, and there’s not that toxic positivity, that’s like, oh you’ll get through it, like, it’s like, you know, I want to marinate in this. I want to just cry without you telling me that it’s gonna be better, and I think that gives us the presence of mind to keep going, that is not just you. That is not just you and your individual policy, Kim Gardner in St. Louis, you know, people ask me, like, how do I stay standing. She had the governor coming after her, the attorney general, the President of United States, just full on attack., and it’s been hard, but she knows that her sisters are with her. She knows that she doesn’t stand alone, and it is that reminder, our mere presence is disruptive. So we got to keep showing up, and so the sister circle, reminds us of why we have to keep showing up, that we’re not alone. That this isn’t just happening to you, is happening for a reason, and it just keeps us sane. Like I said, it’s not always happy. I want to show you that. It is not always happy. It is, you know, some people been watching this Bridgerton show and they want to, you know, know what you think and I know, you already know.
Chanda Smith Baker 43:25
I already know one of our guests said you need like, to survive in leadership, you need people you can be petty with that know you’re not petty. Right? Like, our main game is on. Oh, I can just send my meme, I’m like God, no, I know, I know. I know. I know exactly what your day is, like, I’m already knowing, and we can do that all day, and it just, it brings acknowledgement and it brings a smile in the midst of some really tough stuff.
Kim Foxx 43:52
That’s right. That’s right. It is a sorority. that exists, the initiation is different. I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, but initially, the initiation into this one is different, but the, the sisterhood, the bond, the even if when we’re not doing this, at some point, will always be there. I really appreciate actually talking about, Dejaun Williams told me I wasn’t mad enough. I have not been able to really, because I think when you talk about this work, the policies will be able, you know, to speak for themselves, but it is that line that you walk again, uniqueness of coming from where we come from that you have to endure that other people don’t. So I appreciate being able to give voice to that.
Chanda Smith Baker 44:45
Yeah, I didn’t really know like when I came on, I was like, okay, I wanted to talk about like the reforms and the policies, and then when I started talking, I’m like, actually no, like, I just because I think there’s been such strong imagery of even when you stood up around some of the other women that were being attacked or like, you know, just knowing what’s underneath it, and I think people don’t, you know, we’re so quick to judge. It’s so complicated, and people want simple and quick responses for things that have been going forever, and literally, I feel like in the last year, there are people that didn’t understand the criminal justice system at all, didn’t believe people’s experience that they were saying, then George Floyd happened, and they’re literally leading reforms in the city right now. How can you do that in 12 months and feel like an expert? That’s right. Wow. Well, you know what, I appreciate you. I wanted to talk to you. I see you set it up with the other sisters getting attacked, and, you know, you guys stand up for each other, stand up for this community every day. I know, it’s not easy. I think, you know, setting the charts on a number of reforms, I think is really informing. Thank you for just bringing some energy to me on this day, and I hope you have a good weekend. I know you got to run but thank you so much.
Kim Foxx 46:11
Thank you. This was, it was an honor. Thank you so much, and it’s an honor to serve and honor to serve knowing who you serve.
Souphak Kienitz 46:25
If you want to learn more about the things we’re doing at the Minneapolis Foundation, please visit us online at minneapolisfoundation.org. Thanks to Kimberly Foxx for being on the show and Chanda Smith Baker for being our host. Thank you to Sarah Gillund for making the artwork and copy for this episode, and thank you to Darlynn Benjamín for coordinating and making this conversation happen. If you like this episode, you can tweet Chanda @chandasbaker and let her know, and if you really want to say thank you, please follow us and leave a review on our apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in a couple weeks.Close Transcript -
Kimberly M. Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – the country’s second-largest prosecutor’s office. Her vision is to build the most just, equitable, and transparent prosecutor’s office in the country, by working proactively to make all communities safe while investing in policies to address the underlying drivers of contact with the criminal justice system. State’s Attorney Foxx has brought substantial progress in priority areas including wrongful convictions, bond reform, transparency, and gun violence. Born and raised in Cabrini Green on Chicago’s Near North Side, she is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where she earned a B.A. in Political Science and a J.D. from the School of Law.