A Chicago-area prosecutor and the chief Cook County judge challenged claims by city officials that a lack of consequences for rioting earlier this summer led to widespread looting in Chicago overnight Sunday.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis in May “requires us to ask tough questions, to do deep deliberation, and to put all hands on deck.”
“All hands on deck means that rather than standing and pointing fingers, we work together,” she said at a press conference.
In a press conference Monday morning, both Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared to blame the courts and prosecutors for not holding criminals responsible for their actions.
Brown said he believed looters were confident they wouldn’t face consequences.
“They based that on what happened previously, that we made a lot of arrests during May and June, and not many of those cases were prosecuted to the fullest extent. We have to have consequences for the arrests that Chicago police officers make,” he said.
“These looters, these thieves, these criminals are emboldened by no consequences in the criminal system. They get released. Many charges get dropped. And so they feel emboldened to do it more.”
Lightfoot singled out Foxx, calling upon her and the courts “to make sure that these individuals who are arrested and those to come are held accountable, put your best people on this.”
Foxx, a Democrat, in late June said she would not prosecute people “charged with minor offenses related to peaceful protests” but told reporters Monday that her office is still prosecuting felony offenders. Just 29 percent the cases presented by Chicago police officers from protests and rioting in May and June were felonies, and 90 percent were approved for charges.
“Those cases where the facts and evidence support it, charges were filed, and those cases are pending to this day,” Foxx said.
“We cannot conflate peaceful protesters with what we saw last night. Last night was not an extension of peaceful protest. Last night was not an extension of righteous anger. Last night was a blatant display of criminal behavior. What drove that behavior, how we got there, are questions we can continue to answer.”
Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans added in a written statement that “the court must not only consider the fact that the defendant has been arrested, but also the evidence that supports the allegations and the evidence, or lack of evidence, that supports the defense.”
“While the case is pending, the court’s bail decisions must balance the right of the defendant to be presumed innocent with any evidence that the defendant would pose a real and present threat to the physical safety of any person,” he added.
“Subject to scheduling limitations required to comply with public health guidelines for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the circuit court of Cook County is prepared to promptly and fairly adjudicate all cases brought before it.”
According to data from Foxx’s office analyzed by the Chicago Tribune, the prosecutor’s office has dismissed more than 25,000 felony cases since assuming office late last year. That amounted to charges being dropped against nearly 30 percent of felony defendants, a spike from the 19.4 percent of charges dropped by Foxx’s predecessor in her last three years in office.
Foxx didn’t dispute the data but said it gave an incomplete picture. The cases prosecutors dismissed were against what she described as low-level, nonviolent offenders.
“It is always eye-opening to be able to look at our own data and compare it to my predecessor’s past,” Foxx told the Tribune. “I can’t reconcile what her decision-making was, and how they chose to (dismiss) cases in the past. But I will say that this administration has been clear that our focus would be on violent crime and making sure that our resources and attention would go to addressing violent crime.”
The paper found that the higher rates of dropped cases included people accused of murder, shooting another person, sex crimes, and assaults on police officers.