There has been so much misinformation around Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s actions in the Jussie Smollett fraud case. Time for me to share the real deal — from having been a prosecutor for close to two decades!
Much has been made over Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the case involving Empire star Jussie Smollett. Initially, Smollett was charged with 16 criminal counts for allegedly faking a hate crime, with himself as the victim. Foxx has been attacked for being too lenient, and for having contact with representatives of Smollett’s camp.
As a former prosecutor who handled homicides and violent crimes, it’s time to clear up some myths and misconceptions.
A prosecutor is expected to speak to a victim
While Foxx did have contact with Smollett’s camp when the case initially began, she ceased contact when it became clear that Smollett was being investigated as a defendant. It is impossible to investigate a case and determine its veracity without speaking to the victim. With a high profile victim, you often end up speaking to intermediaries. If it turns out the victim is not truly a victim, you end contact and prosecute if there is enough evidence. This is normal, and in criminal cases, there are twists and turns that one can’t predict.
I once had a homicide case that I thought was a slam dunk.
Every year for Black History Month, I produce a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”. The aim is to highlight female legal eagles of color, past and present, who blazed the trail for me (as well as many other sisters and brothers to follow).
Did you know that it was an African American female attorney that brought down mobster Lucky Luciano?
I surely did not!
A dear friend of mine Louise brought this to my attention on Facebook. She posted:
Just finished “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster” by Stephen L. Carter. The book is about Eunice Hunton Carter, the author’s grandmother. The granddaughter of slaves, she was a graduate of Smith College, and later became the first black woman to receive a law degree from Fordham University in New York City. In the mid-1930s when special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, she was the only member of his team who was not a white male. And it was her work that brought down Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history. This is a remarkable story about a truly remarkable woman.
So of course, I had to investigate!
Eunice Hunton Carter was born in 1899 in the city of Atlanta. Her parents, who were social activists, encouraged her to push boundaries. After graduating cum laude from Smith College with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1921, she pursed a career as a social worker. Later, Ms. Carter became the first African American woman to graduate from Fordham Law School in 1932.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her to “women’s court” to serve as a prosecutor of women perpetrated crimes — at the time, mostly prostitution. This made her the first African American female Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan.
While working in this court, Ms. Carter started to see a pattern — certain prostitutes kept getting arrested all over New York City, and were consistently bonded out by the same bail bondsmen, and represented by the same attorneys. The bondsmen and attorneys were connected to the mobster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. Lucky Luciano created the infamous “Commission” — which brought all five mob families together to settle disputes and carve up territory. He was ruthless, running rackets and “whacking” or murdering anyone who stood in his way.
Armed with her observations, Ms. Carter spoke to her boss, special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, and they began to build a case. They were able to prove that the prostitutes had to kick back half of their earnings for protection as well as representation. This meant Luciano was benefiting from prostitution. Due to her hard work, they secured a guilty verdict, and Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison. He served 10 years before being deported to Italy (after cooperating with authorities).
Ms. Carter continued to serve as a prosecutor until 1945, when she entered private practice. She married Lisle Carter, Sr., who is one of the first African American dentists in New York. She also advised the United Nations on women’s issues and was active with the United Council of Negro Women and YMCA until her death in 1970.
Get the book by her grandson Stephen L. Carter here.
Ironically, when I first became a prosecutor, my goal was to do mob and drug trafficking cases. Life took me on a different path, but I’m thrilled to see a sister who blazed the trail and was an unsung heroine in the fight against organized crime. With the knowledge that the mob (in general) did not have a high opinion of African Americans or women, learning about her work made it that much sweeter.
Thank you Eunice Hunton Carter for being a true Legal Diva of Color!
Please see my first piece on theRoot.com. I tackle the issue if whether or not Senator Kamala Harris’ time as a prosecutor should take her out of the race for president. I also share my perspective as a former prosecutor of color.
The piece caused quite a stir on Twitter and in the comments section of the Root.
To be clear, I am adopting a wait and see approach — with an open mind and proceeding with caution, as with anyone who wants to sit in the Oval Office. It seems like some politicians are allowed a “complicated” past while others are faced with a high level scrutiny. I think people are allowed (and should!) evolve and grow around issues of policy. Let’s see what the next year brings!
Since announcing her intention to run for president this past Martin Luther King Day, a firestorm has swirled around Sen. Kamala Harris. Some attack her for her personal life; others attack her based on her record as a prosecutor in California. Kamala served as San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and as California attorney general from 2011 to 2017. She joined the United States Senate in 2017, where she still serves today.
Some accuse her of not being “pro-black” because of her work as a prosecutor, stating that a prosecutor upholds a racist system.
Let’s get thing straight—you can be pro-black and a prosecutor.
Whelp, another year is in the books. 2018 brought some interesting highlights — many of us were full on #WakandaForever in honor of the movie Black Panther; we dissected Danny Glover’s masterful video for the song This is America; and millions of activists found their voices as a result of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as due to the current presidential administration. We lost Anthony Bourdain and Aretha Franklin. We joyfully welcomed a new Duchess of Sussex in Meghan Markle during a glorious royal wedding.
Every year, I write as a form of therapy to cope with the untimely passing of my mother from cancer. It’s a way to honor her, as well as to take my mind off of the pain. It’s been six years — the grief is better than it was, but I know I will never be the same. Over time, I’ve come to accept this new normal. Not everyone is blessed to have had a great relationship with their mother — so I count myself lucky.
This article came out of the #BlackWomenAtWork Twitter hashtag from last year. Women of color were discussing various microaggressions we face in the workplace, often from folks who seem so “surprised” by our presence, or for defying the stereotypes they have of us. I shared an experience I had, and a conservative commentator decided to weigh in without completely understanding the context (or frankly, even trying to understand). So, a tutorial ensued. The fact that it has been so highly read for two years in a row shows that the issue is one that is not going away any time soon.
In June of this year, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain passed away as a result of suicide. It hit me hard — not only because I was a huge fan of his shows, not because we were in France at the same time — but because many people still struggle to understand mental health. There are so many misconceptions tied to money, material things, and outward appearances — as to who should or can be depressed. Money gives you access to better care, but it does not insulate you from the crippling effects of depression. There is no shame in admitting you need help. There were dark periods in my life where a good therapist helped me get back on track. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. May he rest in peace.
Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years this past January for molesting the athletes in his care over a span of 30 years. Instead of the focus being on his heinous actions and betrayal of young athletes who were serving our country through sport, the attention shifted to Judge Rosemarie Acquilina for comments she made during sentencing. It was, what has sadly, become a pattern of the “boys need to stick together” mentality, even when one of the boys was dead wrong. In this piece I analyzed her actions and the context. Little did we know that there was more to come in the form of continued #MeToo revelations, and a contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearing. These occurrences are a constant reminder of the need for diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system, to ensure that everyone gets a voice — regardless of gender, money, power or privilege.
A judge in Miami Dade County, who many of us knew for many years, lost his seat due to his use of racial slurs at work. Many folks who are not of color wonder how to be an ally. I laid out a few — but the key is not to remain silent. Record everything, and don’t let racist instances slide. The lives of many hang in the balance.
There you have it! Were there other pieces that you liked from this year? Anything you’d like to see me write about next year? Sound off in the comments!
Wishing you and yours a happy, safe and prosperous New Year. See you on the flip side!
In the wake of mass shootings, there has been a narrative about who should and should not carry a gun in America. Politicians and high-profile gun groups like the NRA routinely rally to support gun owners and the Second Amendment.
But does their support include all gun owners? The silence is deafening when it comes to people of color and their gun rights.
Three high profile examples come to mind: Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and EJ Bradford.
In July 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in Minnesota. He was a licensed gun owner, and during the stop, disclosed this information to responding officer Jeronimo Yanez. When he reached for his license per the officer’s request, he was shot and killed by the officer. The usual smear campaign ensued – his driving history of minor civil infractions was trotted out before the public. The officer was discharged after being acquitted of criminal charges.
But where was the outrage from the NRA for the death of a licensed gun owner? Rather than vilify the victim, where was the support from the gun community? A spokeswoman from the NRA went so far as to blame Castile in his own death.
Last month, Jemel Roberson was shot to death by a police officer in a Chicago area bar. There was no question as to whether he was a good guy with a gun – he was a security guard at a bar who had just managed to subdue a shooter. As he had the gunman pinned to the ground, the clothing that he was wearing bearing the label “security” did not save him from an officer’s bullet.