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.
Another day, another shooting where multiple lives were lost. This time, it was in a a place designed to save lives — Mercy Hospital in Chicago.
Dr. Tamara O’Neal was the victim of domestic violence. The shooter was someone she was in a relationship with. Three other lives were lost: Pharmacy Resident Dayna Less, and Officer Samuel Jimenez. Officer Jimenez had been on the police force for less than three years. The gunman Juan Lopez also died.
The whole incident is heartbreaking, especially after the NRA made a big to do by telling doctors they should “stay in their lanes” and not have discussions about firearms with their patients. Interestingly, last year, the ACLU at Florida successfully sued for the First Amendment right of doctors to be able to talk to their patients about gun safety in a case commonly known as “Docs v. Glocks“. The importance of doctors having such conversations is that it can lead to a discussion as to whether or not the patient feels safe in their own home. Revelations of domestic violence open up the door to the resources that are available to victims.
There is a narrative that if a victim arms herself that somehow domestic homicide could be prevented. Let’s think through this particular situation. Is a doctor going to go from surgery to surgery, patient to patient with a gun strapped to her back? It’s not practical. Domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous calls any police officer can respond to because of the volatility of the situation. If it is unsafe for a trained professional, how is it any safer for a civilian? Additionally, how many of us (especially in communities of color), remember the case of Marissa Alexander? She fired a warning shot during a domestic violence situation, and ended up in prison. This leads to a question with regards to equality of 2nd Amendment enforcement across racial lines (but that is the next installment –stay tuned!).
One of the reasons why I vocally opposed Marsy’s law in the state of Florida is the fact that it provides no resources to victims of crime. Nationwide, there has been a strain on budgets to protect survivors of domestic violence. Shelters are operating on a shoestring budget. Some shelters cannot accommodate whole families especially if the children are over a certain age, or are male. DV service providers often rely on the kindness and donations of others rather than robust government funding. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides a source of funds, but more is always needed.
Women of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of domestic violence, and for it to be more fatal. Again, it comes down to access and networks of assistance. If you are wealthier, you may be able to finance your escape from your abuser. If you are in a lower social strata, it is more difficult for you to be able to pick up and leave. It’s even more difficult if there are children involved. Think about it: you have to come up with a first, last and security deposit, in a place that is not near your abuser, as well as buy furnishings and make sure that your children’s education is not interrupted. Meanwhile, you need to maintain your full-time job. We all know that jobs are not easy to come by.
This heartbreaking scenario and loss of lives should be a call to action. Not for more guns, but for more resources so that victims and survivors can start their lives over again. Aspects like counseling, shelter, relocation, and more police presence if required are critical to successfully escaping an abusive relationship. Employers should be required by law give days off to verified domestic violence victims so that they can attend court hearings, get a restraining order, or to move if necessary. Also, it should be mandatory for workplaces to train with regards to domestic violence situations, so that if such an issue is brought to their attention, they know to know to notify security or take extra steps to make sure the abuser does not gain access to the workplace.
To be clear, my points about the lack of resources is not to dissuade victims from leaving — it is to raise awareness about the challenges surrounding domestic violence as well as ways we can do better as a society. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you do not have to suffer in silence. Click here for resources.
May Dr. O’Neal and all of the victims rest in peace. May their families find comfort and healing. And may their deaths not be in vain — but instead, stimulate discussion, legislation and change around the issue of domestic violence.
John R.K. Howard, photo from Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office
Chicago 4, courtesy of Associated Press
Hey RLD Family, and Happy New Year!
My newest post in the Huffington Post tackles the recent attack on a disabled man in Chicago. Before you flip out — read the article until the end.
What’s Fair is Fair: Give the Chicago 4 Probation
It has recently come to light that four young people in Chicago brutally assaulted a disabled young man. They filmed the entire incident on Facebook Live, and broadcast it for all to see. He was kidnapped, forced to drink toilet water, and was beaten repeatedly. Brittany Covington, Tesfaye Cooper, Jordan Hill, are 18. The last offender was Covington’s 24-year-old sister, Tanishia Covington. This crime was particularly heinous because of the fact that the victim was attacked not only for his disability, but for his race, as well purportedly supporting a different political viewpoint to the offenders.
This crime is horrible and must be punished.
In October 2015, three young men in Idaho assaulted a disabled young man. John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, were charged as adults with felony counts of forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. A third teen was charged as a juvenile. The history of their interactions with the victim included racial slurs, taunting him because of his race and disability. The victim and the offenders were on the same high school football team. The young men forced the victim to sing racist songs, and beat him on prior occasions. The prior harassment ended in these young men holding the victim down and inserting a metal hanger in the disabled victim’s rectum; they then kicked it repeatedly. The victim has now been institutionalized; it is not a stretch to conclude that it is partially because of this despicable crime.
The prosecutor in this case argued that this was not a sex crime, and that the racial component was not as bad as it seemed. The defense attorney and the prosecutor reached an agreement that would include probation as a punishment with no prison time; there is also the opportunity for the charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor at a later time.
As I reflect on the events over the last few weeks affecting us here in the United States, it is easy to be overwhelmed. The release of the police shooting video from Chicago; the shooting of peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors in Minneapolis by alleged white supremacists; the protests around the nation at colleges and universities addressing racial inequalities; and the madness that is the “Trail to the Chief”, also known as the presidential campaign for 2016. While we are beginning the holiday season, which can be stressful enough in and of itself, the negativity that is real life affects us all. In light of this, I encourage you to read the suggestions as set forth by this author. It was intended for the Paris attacks, but the advice is applicable in any troubling news cycle. Sometimes it is good to detach and go to our own little “bubble” to protect our sanity; we are then better able to act when needed to address injustice. All Warriors get tired!
Last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris gripped everyone around the globe, and with good reason. Lives were lost in an unwarranted, vicious cycle of events, that targeted innocent people going