CHICAGO – The city’s police union and a coalition of civil rights activists held competing demonstrations Monday in downtown Chicago to express their divergent opinions on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx handling of the criminal case against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
Police said Smollett, 36, who is gay and black, reported a hoax attack on Jan. 29 near his apartment in the city’s swanky Streeterville neighborhood that was intended to make him look like the victim of a brutal hate crime. The incident spurred the department to spend about $130,000 in overtime as police hunted for perpetrators for the alleged attack.
Hundreds of backers of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police gathered outside Foxx’s office, which has faced criticism from law enforcement, national and Illinois prosecutor groups, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other politicians over the Smollett case.
The pro-police demonstrators – some wearing President Trump’s Make America Great Again hats – chanted “Kim Foxx must go,” and “Back the blue,” while holding homemade signs with messages eviscerating the state’s attorney.
“This is about making sure people are treated fairly,” said Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “We cannot forgot about victims. There has to be a deterrent if you’re going to have laws and we’re going to arrest people. If there is no deterrent, what are we doing?”
Meanwhile, members of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and other civil rights activists stood by supporting Foxx. Jackson said Foxx has become the victim of “unreasonable, unjustified and politically motivated” criticism.
Foxx said she recused herself from the Smollett investigation before and tapped her first deputy, Joseph Magats, to oversee the case.
Foxx said that she ceded control of the case to her deputy because she had traded text and email message with Tina Tchen, a prominent attorney and former Michelle Obama chief of staff, and an unnamed Smollett relative before the actor was charged.
Weeks after the alleged attack, police announced that they had charged Smollett with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. They alleged that Smollett paid two brothers he worked with on the set of “Empire” to help him stage the incident.
Foxx’s office announced last week that prosecutors had reached a deal with Smollett in which they agreed to drop the charges, and the actor agreed to forfeit $10,000 he put up for bond to secure his release following his February arrest.
Smollett has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys say the prosecutor’s office has “flip-flopped” on details of the arrangement.
Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago activist who has spoken against police brutality, questioned why some Chicagoans who were expressing outrage over the Smollett case have been silent about the police department’s checkered history.
The city has paid out more than $700 million in settlements and legal fees since 2010 for police misconduct. In October, a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black teen whose 2014 death spurred street protests and a Justice Department investigation of the police department’s practices.
Foxx, who is black, defeated former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in 2016’s Democratic primary after hammering her for her handling of the McDonald case.
Van Dyke wasn’t charged until 400 days after the shooting – the same day that the city was forced to release chilling police dash cam video that showed Van Dyke fire 16 shots at McDonald as the teen was moving away from police officers who were trying to apprehend him.
“Where were these people, who are out on the street now, demanding justice for a young black boy?” Green said. “This is not just an attack on Kim Foxx. This is an attack on black-elected officials throughout this state.”
Graham, the president of the Chicago police union, announced after the charges that he would ask for a Justice Department investigation of the handling of the case.
Trump also said that he would enlist the Justice Department and FBI to review the incident.
Over the weekend, Foxx offered her most extensive comments to date in a Chicago Tribune op-ed about her office’s decision to offer Smollett a rather lenient sentence.
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“First, falsely reporting a hate crime is a dangerous and unlawful act, and Smollett was not exonerated of that in this case,” Foxx wrote in the Tribune op-ed. “Second, our criminal justice system is at its best when jails are used to protect us from the people we rightly fear, while alternative outcomes are reserved for the people who make us angry but need to learn the error of their ways without seeing their lives irrevocably destroyed.”
Jackson said the union was demonstrating misplaced anger by protesting Foxx, who is up for re-election in less than a year.
“We appeal to the FOP not to polarize the city,” Jackson said. “Kim Foxx is a force for good and an agent of change.”
Betty Underwood, 61, a protester who expressed her displeasure with Foxx, said this one wasn’t a close call.
“It’s so egregious that you can turn away from it,” said Underwood, who lives in the Chicago neighborhood where Smollett reported he was attacked. “There are so many young that have marks on their record for doing something wrong or stupid. But their lives are ruined, because they are not Jussie Smollett and don’t have someone who can call Kim Foxx.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jussie Smollett fallout: Police union, activists hold dueling protests over Kim Foxx conduct