Rev. Al Sharpton urges Black Chicago to take back America
Black faith leaders rally behind Kim Foxx in State’s Attorney’s race
By Erick Johnson
With a week left for the Presidential and local General Elections, civil rights leader Al Sharpton visited Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood on Tuesday, October 27, where he and Black leaders led a passionate press conference as they urged residents to take their frustrations to the polls and vote for their future.
The press conference resembled a spirited pep rally where Black leaders cheered on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, as she defended her record as a reformer and attacked Republican opponent Pat O’Brien, accusing him of being a prosecutor who helped make Cook County the “False Confession Capital of America.”
Foxx was among several Black leaders who spoke passionately at a press conference that stressed the importance of voting as racial hostilities permeate political races on local, state, and federal levels. Black neighborhoods and cities struggle to survive under President Donald Trump. In 2016, many Blacks in Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida did not vote as Trump became the nation’s 45th president.
Today, Blacks young and old are flooding polls across the country. In Chicago’s Black wards, many wait in long lines for hours to cast their ballots during Early Voting. Trump’s opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, is making final campaign stops in big states, including Florida and Pennsylvania. On Tuesday, he campaigned in Georgia, where no Democratic president has won since 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated Republican George H.W. Bush.
As of October 27, nearly 65 million Americans have already cast their ballots during Early Voting. However, many more in Chicago and across the country have yet to cast their ballots in a race that may smash voter turnout records, including that of 2008, when more Blacks than whites went to the polls to elect Barack Obama as America’s first Black president.
Twelve years later, Black America is worse off than four years ago. The Black unemployment is higher than that of whites and Hispanics. Racial tensions and police shootings continue to rise. The percentage of Blacks dying from COVID-19 remains higher than any other ethnic group. And more than ever, there are concerns that Blacks are moving backward. And with the future of Obamacare and the Supreme Court in doubt, Sharpton and Chicago’s Black leaders say they believe this election will be the most consequential in the nation’s history.
During his 20-minute speech at the South Shore Cultural Center, Sharpton said this past summer that was filled with police shootings and violent protests has made the voting even more important.
“Today and all the way to next Tuesday, millions of us are going to the polls complaining,” he said. “We had to march to vote. We had to fight to vote. People laid down and went to jail to vote. None of us have the right not to use a vote that exists in the blood of fathers. When we don’t vote, we get whatever that’s left over.
“We need to have unprecedented numbers. Chicago is where we saw our political and economic capital get started. It’s where we saw Black businesses emerge as powerhouses. It’s where our people rise like [Congressman] William Dawson and [Mayor Harold Washington].”
While in Chicago, Sharpton promoted his book, fittingly titled, “Rise Up: Confronting a Country at the Crossroads.” At the South Shore Cultural Center, David Cherry, President of the Leaders Network; Pastor Ira Acree; Reverend Cy Fields; Reverend Marshall Hatch; Congressman Danny Davis and Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jr. were also present.
Sharpton was scheduled to attend a vigil in Waukegan, Illinois, later that day to remember Marcellis Stinnette, a Black 19-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer, who was later fired from the force. Stinnette’s girlfriend, Tafara Williams, was also shot, but she is recovering in a hospital. The FBI has joined Illinois State Police in investigating the shooting.
“They should not only fire him, they need to prosecute him,” Sharpton said., We’re not anti-police, but police are not above the law.”
At the press conference, Jacob Blake Sr., the father of Jacob Blake Jr., stood near Sharpton as he spoke. In August, Jacob Blake Jr. was shot seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shooting sparked weeks of social unrest. Unlike many Black victims killed by police, Jacob Blake, Jr. is still alive and recovering. No charges have been brought against the officer who shot him.
Police issues take center stage in the race for Cook County State’s Attorney. Foxx faces O’Brien, who this summer turned up his attack on the county’s first Black female state’s attorney after incidents of looting and social unrest grew after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Foxx has vacated many convictions of victims of corrupt Chicago police officers who were found to have forced many Black and Latino males to confess to crimes they did not commit. In 2017, her office stopped prosecuting people who were driving with suspended licenses. This year, Foxx vacated more than 1,000 marijuana convictions just before marijuana became legal earlier this year on January 1.
During her first term in office, Foxx raised the felony threshold for theft from $300 to $1,000. As looting and thefts in the Loop and Mag Mile increased, so did O’Brien’s accusations that Foxx is too soft on criminals as the county’s top prosecutor. There is also the Jussie Smollett case, where her office dropped all charges after the “Empire” actor was charged with staging a homophobic hate crime in Streeterville in 2019.
At the press conference, Foxx reaffirmed her commitment to bringing fairness to Cook County’s notorious criminal justice system. She recalled how growing up in the Cabrini Green public housing projects shaped her. She reminded the crowd about O’Brien’s days as a prosecutor in the 1980s, where he had four innocent Black teenagers convicted of raping a white woman based on wrongful confessions. They were later cleared by DNA evidence.
“When I ran for this office in 2016, I ran unapologetically as someone who has compassion and as a prosecutor who worked in this very office,” Foxx said. “I remind those that when I came here in 2016 in the wake of the Laquan McDonald case, it was before we had a consent decree put on our police department. It was one promise that I as your prosecutor could, in fact, ensure you had a justice system that was fair and bereft of the things we’ve seen before. We cannot ignore history that predates this moment. We cannot go backwards.”