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.
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!
Walking is a lot of things. It’s great exercise. It’s a cost-free mode of transportation. But for Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, evidence suggests that it’s leading to discriminatory encounters with police.
Black pedestrians in Jacksonville are ticketed a stunning three times as often for pedestrian violations, like jaywalking, as white pedestrians, according to ProPublica and The Florida Times-Union. In a recently published exposé, the outlets examined 2,200 tickets issued in Jacksonville between 2012 and 2016. They found that although representing only 29 percent of the city’s population, Black people received a whopping 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets. Disproportionate enforcement also occurred for lesser known offenses. For instance, 68 percent of people who received tickets for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” were Black.
In Jacksonville, crossing the street on a yellow light or walking on the street where there is no sidewalk can result in getting a ticket with a $65 price tag. If you are poor or working but struggling to make ends meet, this is an especially hard pill to swallow. Failure to pay may impact your credit score or possibly result in suspension of your driver’s license.
The disparate citation rates in Jacksonville raise serious concerns about racial profiling. The ProPublica/Times-Union story even includes pictures of police officers doing the exact same thing that Black pedestrians have been ticketed for.
The issue of disparate enforcement in the state of Florida is far from new.
The ACLU analyzed the rate of stops and tickets for seatbelt violations for 2014. Statewide, Black motorists were stopped and ticketed almost twice as much as white motorists based on data from 147 different law enforcement agencies. In some places, data showed Black motorists were as much as a staggering four times as likely to be ticketed.
In Tampa, Black children as young as 3 years old were targeted for stops while riding a bicycle and ticketed for things like “bike riding with no hands.” From 2003 to 2015, more than 10,000 bike tickets were issued — 79 percent of them to Black residents. Black people, however, compose only 26 percent of the Tampa population. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services issued a scathing report indicating that the tickets burdened Black cyclists in Tampa and did nothing to reduce crime or improve safety.
Does law enforcement have a compelling reason why they continue to overpolice communities of color? No, they do not.
The reason given by Jacksonville law enforcement for their pedestrian ticket enforcement practices is that it reduces pedestrian fatalities. But city officials in Jacksonville have not backed up that reasoning with evidence showing, for example, that the rate of pedestrian fatalities was actually lowered over time as a result of whatever practices are leading to such high rates of ticketing Black people for pedestrian offenses. Law enforcement has likewise not presented data showing that such interactions have reduced crime by, for example, leading to the apprehension of crime suspects or seizure of weapons and contraband.
Overpolicing of communities of color leads to one thing: the overpolicing of communities of color. That’s unacceptable and illegal. It’s time for Florida law enforcement agencies to make changes to the way citizens of color are treated. Only by embracing reform can police in Florida protect and serve everyone equally.
I was approached as then President of the National Black Prosecutors Association to write an article for this collaborative project between the Marshall Project and Vice. It’s important to note, in a world where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, that diversity is a critical issue, especially in the upper echelons of the profession. As we explore criminal justice reform, issues in policing and lifting up communities of color, it is even morecritical that prosecutors reflect the communities they serve.
“The only way to help your people is to be a defense attorney.”
My father was the first to tell me that, but definitely not the last.
He went on to explain that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the civil-rights leaders of the 1960s had great lawyers to call whenever they got jailed for protesting. Without these lawyers, my dad explained, African Americans would never have advanced toward equality.
When I was in college and law school, I was also told that as a black woman, the only way to look out for “my people” and defend the Constitution was to become a defense attorney — and more specifically a public defender.
I followed that path, interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City while I was an undergrad. A couple of the attorneys I met there formed their own shop, and I later interned for them during law school. But during my final year, I got an offer to become a prosecutor in Florida.