The rioters, vandals and looters taking over the streets in Chicago and Portland often act if they know they will never be held accountable for their wrongdoing and, in many cases, they are right.
In both cities, liberal prosecutors elected on criminal justice reform platforms have made it clear they will not pursue charges against most of those arrested for protest-related crimes, but after months of mayhem, that light-touch approach is drawing a backlash.
Chicago Alderman Anthony Napolitano last week accused Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx of running a “catch-and-release system.” He pointed to a Chicago Tribune analysis that found she had dropped more than 25,000 felony cases.
“We had a justice protest that was hijacked a couple of months ago by domestic terrorists. They looted and rioted a city, the CPD — Chicago Police Department — locked up the criminals, our state’s attorney let them go,” Mr. Napolitano said on Fox News.
In Oregon, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt last week announced a policy under which only those accused of “deliberate property damage, theft or force against another person or threats of force” would face charges.
“We recognize that we undermine public safety, not promote it, if we leverage the force of our criminal justice system against peaceful protesters who are demanding to be heard,” he said at a press conference.
The likely outcome is the dismissal of hundreds of the 550 misdemeanor and felony charges pending against Portland protesters, stunning those who watched as an American city was besieged for more than 70 straight days by protest-spurred violence, including fire-setting, window-smashing and assaults on police.
Multnomah County Republican Party chair James Buchal predicted that “the policy will encourage further lawlessness in Portland.”
“Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of criminals involved have been arrested for the worst conduct, and it appears the DA is throwing out 90% of even those few cases the police were allowed to arrest,” Mr. Buchal said in an email.
Still, Mr. Schmidt, part of the national wave of liberal prosecutors, has reason to believe he enjoys a mandate after being elected May 19 with 77% of the vote. The same cannot be said of Ms. Foxx.
After besting a crowded Democratic primary field in March with 50.2% of the vote, Ms. Foxx faces a tough challenge in November from Republican candidate Patrick O’Brien, who boasts a 40-year career as a Cook County judge and as a state and county prosecutor in Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
The Aug. 9 looting of the Magnificent Mile drew national headlines, but Mr. O’Brien said stores along Michigan Avenue have been beset for months by shoplifting flash mobs cleaning out high-end retailers and others.
“They’ve been able to do that without breaking a window, just rushing in and grabbing stuff and leaving,” said Mr. O’Brien. “The idea of people deciding they can break laws involving property is not something that just started in the last couple of months. Kim Foxx, her priorities and her policies I think are fueling this.”
Even Chicago Democrats are publicly turning against the first-term prosecutor after widespread looting in the high-end retail district was followed by violent clashes Saturday in the Loop, where police arrested 24.
At last week’s press conference, even Mayor Lori Lightfoot singled out Ms. Foxx, saying that the more than 100 arrested during the melee “need to be held accountable and not cycled through the system.”
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said “criminals took to the streets with confidence that there would be no consequences for their actions,” prompting Ms. Foxx to call her own press conference and blame the violence on “a global pandemic coupled with civil unrest coupled with economic depression.”
“The notion that people believe they are somehow empowered because people were not prosecuted for looting back in the wake of the unrest beginning is simply not true,’ said Ms. Foxx.
Alderman Raymond Lopez, a Democrat, has challenged her version of events, telling Fox News that “the fact that Kim Foxx is delusional in thinking that criminals who have seen no repercussions will be stopped simply because an activity is illegal shows you how out of touch she is.”
A Chicago Tribune analysis found that under Ms. Foxx, the state’s attorney dropped felony cases against 25,183 defendants through November, or 29.9%, far more than her predecessor, Anita Alverez, who declined to prosecute 18,694 such cases during a similar period for a drop rate of 19.4%.
‘Revolving door’ for rioters
Ms. Foxx may be the poster child for defendant-friendly prosecutors, but she is hardly alone. Exercising a light touch has become the rule rather than the exception in many cities when it comes to the unrest spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced in June that he would drop charges on unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct, citing the importance of the social justice message carried by Black Lives Matter and other groups.
“Days after the killing of George Floyd, our nation and our city are at a crossroads in our continuing endeavor to confront racism and systemic injustice wherever it exists,” Mr. Vance said in a June 30 statement. “Our office has a moral imperative to enact public policies which assure all New Yorkers that in our justice system and our society, black lives matter and police violence is a crime.”
Ms. Foxx gained national notoriety in March 2019 when she dropped 16 felony counts against “Empire” co-star Jussie Smollett, who is Black and gay, stemming from his alleged false hate crime report. Ms. Foxx has benefited from political action committees funded by top Democratic donor George Soros.
Her office has been criticized for bail policies that allow accused rioters to return immediately to the streets, often while the mayhem is still happening, by signing an “i-bond,” in which they promise to return for their hearing on individual recognizance without posting cash bail.
She has defended her bond approach, arguing that Cook County had been long charging “excessive bail.”
“What you’ve seen in the last several years is trying to remedy that. Having to set an accessible bail is constitutionally rooted,” she told reporters last week. “Now some people should not have bail at all, people who pose a threat to the public or are a flight risk, and those people you will see given no bail.”
After three years, however, Mr. O’Brien said the state’s attorney’s office has turned into “a revolving door,” and perpetrators know it.
“This kind of behavior by the prosecutor gets disseminated by people committing crimes,” he said. “They’re more than aware. They basically understand her better than the people that are at home thinking everything is safe, their property is safe, and the stores they shop in are safe.”
Ms. Foxx has indicated that she would be open to changing her approach. In a Wednesday op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, she insisted that “pointing fingers of blame will not make us any safer,” but she also said she was willing to listen.
“I invite my colleagues in law enforcement at the city, county, state and federal level to join me at a table devoted to advancing public safety and equal justice,” she said. “If, as it has been alleged, policies of my office are proven to contribute to looting or lawlessness, I will be the first to change them.”