The candidates running for Cook County state's attorney attended a "faith in action assembly" on Monday, during which they addressed several police accountability and criminal justice reform issues, including whether they think a special prosecutor should be appointed to handle local police-involved shootings. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the event, hosted by the Community Renewal Society.
The race for Cook County state's attorney ramped up Monday, with the three candidates staking out their positions on whether a special, outside prosecutor should be appointed to handle all local police-involved shootings.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez -- who is under fire for her handling of several law enforcement cases, including the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer -- is running against Kim Foxx and Donna More in the March 15 Democratic primary.
All three candidates appeared jointly late Monday morning at a packed "faith in action assembly," focused on the issues of police accountability and criminal justice reform. The Chicago-based Community Renewal Society (CRS), a progressive, faith-based group advocating for social and economic justice, hosted the event at the First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 W. Washington Blvd.
The faith group held the event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the city of Chicago continues to reel from the McDonald shooting video and other police misconduct controversies.
CRS speakers raised concerns over the credibility of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates Chicago police-involved shootings. The agency, which underwent leadership changes amid the fallout over the McDonald video, has a history of finding the vast majority of officer-involved shootings to be justified.
"This system isn't broke, it's working the way it was intended to work," the Rev. Yehiel Curry, pastor at the Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, told the crowd. "We need a special prosecutor for all police shootings."
Foxx was the only Cook County state's attorney candidate who spoke in support of appointing an outside, special prosecutor for all police-involved shootings.
"I think history has shown that we've had numerous police shooting cases and very few who have been held accountable for it, and the best way we can ensure that the conflict of interest that exists because of the inherent intimacy between the state's attorney and the police officers is to take it out of the prosecutor's hand, the local prosecutor's hands, and appoint a special prosecutor," Foxx, a former Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, said in remarks after the event. "I think for transparency and accountability to the public, it is the most logical way to get that done."
Alvarez triggered boos from the audience when she spoke against the idea of appointing a special prosecutor.
"When it comes to a special prosecutor, the law is very clear," Alvarez told the crowd. "There has to be a legal conflict between the city state's attorney in order to take the case away."
Alvarez went on to say that she has charged 96 police officers as Cook County state's attorney, saying that she is "not afraid to charge police officers."
She added that "any officer who commits a crime should be held accountable. I've been doing it. I will continue to do it, and there's no need for a special prosecutor."
Rather than appointing a special prosecutor, More said she would, if elected, create a special unit of Cook County assistant state's attorneys focused solely on police-involved shooting cases. The special unit, she said, would report directly to the state's attorney.
"We're gonna use the grand jury to aggressively prosecute police officers," she told the crowd.
More, a former state and federal prosecutor, spoke to reporters about her proposal after the event.
"I don't need to pay a special prosecutor to do this. I'm gonna make sure that we get real-time evidence. You know, IPRA and all these independent agencies, they are there for police disciplinary actions. We should have an assistant, one of these in this independent group that I am advocating, be first responders on the scene of every police shooting and be trained in the justified use of force. And through that method, I want real-time evidence coming to the state's attorney's office," she said. "I don't care about what disciplinary action they're gonna take with the police, if he's gonna be on desk duty. If there is evidence of a crime, the state's attorney should be the first line of review, not the last. I don't want to wait for IPRA. I'm impatient."
Foxx, meanwhile, took jabs at her opponents over their positions on the special prosecutor issue.
"I think, one, for State's Attorney Alvarez, she has defended a practice that she has played a part in and has supported for years," said Foxx, who previously served as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's chief of staff. "I think for candidate More, I can't offer why she doesn't see that there's an inherent conflict, and the notion that having special lawyers who only do that type of work diminishes the conflict doesn't make sense."
Alvarez left the event without taking questions from reporters.
Monday's assembly was also aimed at rallying support for CRS' proposed "Fair Cops" ordinance, which would establish an independent police auditor in Chicago who would have subpoena power and access to all police records and misconduct complaints. CRS has been pushing for the Fair Cops ordinance for the past year.
"The Laquan McDonald videotape is only the tip of the iceberg, and there are more to come," said the Rev. Robert Biekman of Southlawn United Methodist Church on the South Side. "And that's why we need Fair Cops now!"
"It has become apparent to many of us, and it should be to all of us, that the police in Chicago cannot police the police," he added. "It's time for an independent auditor in the city of Chicago, and that is what the Fair Cops ordinance does."
More was the only state's attorney candidate to back the Fair Cops ordinance.
"The worst day is when your law enforcement officers break the law. These are folks who are out there to protect us. Do we need safety measures? Do we need to make sure that they're being held to a higher standard? Sure. So I support the ordinance," More said. "And part and parcel with that, if there is evidence that a crime has been committed, I will charge it."
Alvarez and Foxx both said they are reviewing the Fair Cops proposal. On other issues, the Cook County state's attorney candidates committed to fund community-based restorative justice "peace hubs" and expand diversion programs.
Chicago Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Walter Burnett (27th) and Emma Mitts (37th) also attended the assembly and pledged support for the Fair Cops ordinance.
More than a dozen state lawmakers, all Democrats, were at the event too. They promised to advocate for a series of CRS-backed state proposals, including measures to install a graduated income tax in Illinois, help formerly incarcerated individuals access employment opportunities and eliminate the requirement that people provide sworn affidavits in order to file police misconduct complaints.
CRS, which does not endorse candidates, plans to hold a "day of faith at the Capitol" on April 12 to press for those and other proposed policies.