cook county state's attorney

Chicago Police Union Is Still Mad About Jussie Smollett Case, Stages Protest

Jussie Smollett.
Jussie Smollett. Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

National attention seems to have shifted away from the Jussie Smollett case, but feelings are still raw in Chicago. On Monday, the city’s Fraternal Order of Police — the union that represents Chicago police officers — is holding a protest outside the offices of Cook County state’s attorney Kimberly Foxx.

The FOP has been on a warpath against Foxx since at least March 26, when her office announced it had dropped all charges against Smollett. The black, gay Empire actor was accused of staging a fake assault against himself on January 29 and charged with several counts of felony disorderly conduct. The union in the past has demanded federal investigations into Foxx’s prosecutorial decisions, which it deemed too lenient. This week it called on her to step down. “It is Ms. Foxx’s duty to prosecute this crime. She refused to do so,” the FOP wrote on Facebook. “We believe that [she] should immediately resign her position.”

Monday’s demonstration is meant to further articulate the FOP’s outrage. The union has made a habit of casting Foxx as unfit, citing in particular her office’s decision to drop the 1995 case against Ricardo Rodriguez, an undocumented man wrongfully convicted of murder. Rodriguez’s conviction rested on the work of retired detective Reynaldo Guevara, who was accused of “beating suspects and improperly coercing witnesses,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Naturally, it was Rodriguez’s freedom rather than Guevara’s alleged misconduct that upset the FOP.

The protests will be met by a rare pro-prosecutor counterprotest, staged by racial-justice groups including Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100, which are supporting the decision made by the state attorney’s office. That decision continues to be described in news reports, and even by elected officials, as “confusing”: In lieu of prosecution, Smollett remanded the $10,000 in bond money he’d paid the city and performed community service, all while maintaining his innocence.

In reality, this outcome is far from unexpected. Lost in the shuffle — especially amid the bipartisan outrage decrying Smollett’s case as an example of wealth and fame insulating an individual from consequences — is that last week’s resolution is consistent with the prosecutorial approach for which Kim Foxx was elected in 2016. “This is consistent with what we do in alternative prosecution,” Foxx told WLS when asked why her office did not prosecute Smollett. “In the last two years, we have had 5,700 people participate in some form of diversion program, because we want to get to just outcomes.”

Foxx’s predecessor, Anita Alvarez, was notorious for her harsh treatment of suspects and refusal to hold police accountable. Her more than yearlong delay in charging Officer Jason Van Dyke for killing Laquan McDonald is well-known. Less so was her tendency to charge locals with felony eavesdropping for recording conversations with police. Foxx promised reform on both fronts. “While Alvarez had offered the standard bromides of a state’s attorney candidate — she’d be tough on crime, she’d fight for victims — Foxx … called for a ‘holistic’ approach to criminal justice, one that recognized that crime was ‘not just an issue of good guys versus bad guys’ but often was a product of concentrated poverty,” the Marshall Project wrote of her candidacy.

In the view of Foxx’s office, this has meant minimizing contact with the criminal-justice system where possible, particularly for nonviolent incidents and especially where similar outcomes are reachable without expending resources in court. “If [Smollett’s] found guilty on a Class 4 [felony], the likelihood was he was going to get some type of, perhaps, restitution, community service, not prison,” Foxx continued. “And so if we can get to the same outcomes, if we get to the same measures of justice without going through the court process, we do that, and we’ve done that historically.”

Simply put, rather than special treatment given to Smollett because of his stature, last week’s decision more likely stemmed from an operating principle the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has been implementing since 2017. The evidence is that the office has applied the same standard to thousands of other people, the vast majority of whom are nowhere near as rich or famous as the Empire star. In many cases, this has kept them away from a county jail system that already holds nearly 8,000 inmates. Concurrently — though it’s unclear whether the relationship is correlative — homicide and shooting rates in the city continue to fall.

This has done little to quell the anger of Foxx’s detractors, predictably, but it has highlighted their folly: Just as the investigative resources the city claims Smollett wasted underscore how few murders the Chicago police solve (roughly 18 percent annually), outrage that Smollett did not face harsher consequences underscores how narrowly focused many remain on wasteful prosecution and carceral punishment for punishment’s sake. That is, of course, unless the target is a Chicago police officer. Indeed, if accountability was truly of interest to Foxx’s critics, it would behoove them to address the notoriously racist and brutal Chicago law-enforcement apparatus instead of, say, deriding criminal convictions secured for its officers as merely an excuse to “kick around the … [CPD].” If a just outcome to Smollett’s case was actually the goal, one would imagine a court-free resolution that produces the same results would satisfy them.

Instead, police-union members are in the streets protesting that the actor did not stand trial in a city where law enforcement has frequently demonstrated its illegitimacy. Foxx’s premium on diversion programs is inseparable from the department’s history of torturing false confessions out of black residents. Her efforts to keep Chicagoans out of contact with the criminal-justice system for nonviolent offenses are inextricable from the city’s inability to adequately address black impoverishment and black segregation, and the violence that both produce.

None of this is particularly confusing. It is a reasonable response on Foxx’s part to the circumstances, and falls well within her discretion, in addition to being the same response her office committed to years ago and has been applying since. Perhaps the most confusing part of this ordeal is why a police union would expend energy protesting a prosecutor for not raking an alleged nonviolent offender over the coals. But then again, considering their historical hostility toward her, maybe that’s not so confusing either.

People Shouldn’t Be ‘Confused’ by the Jussie Smollett Result