Protests shut down Cook County State’s Attorney forum at DePaul


Xavier Ortega | The DePaulia

Bill Conway, an adjunct professor of finance, is running against incumbent Kim Foxx for State’s Attorney.

A forum for Cook County State’s Attorney candidates to answer questions from a moderator Monday evening at DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus was shut down early because of protestors.

As moderator Kenneth Dotson was about to ask a third question, a member of the audience got up and said he had a question for candidate Bill Conway. Security removed him, but others in the audience started chanting “Let him speak.” Dotson tried to move on, but about a dozen protestors continued demanding to have their questions answered and began chanting, “Justice is a human right, why are all these candidates rich and white,” among other phrases.

Two of the protestors told reporters they interrupted the forum because they wanted to hold the candidates, particularly Conway, accountable, but were told multiple times by forum organizers that they would not be allowed to ask questions at the event.

However, Dotson told The DePaulia that wasn’t the case, and that to his knowledge the protestors had never made such a request. Even if they had, he said, they would’ve been denied “just as everyone else who made such a request would have been denied.”

“This is the fifth debate/forum committee I have served on since 2015 – and I have attended a dozen or so other neighborhood debates – and there has never been an instance where the mic was turned over to audience members to allow them to ask whatever they want,” Dotson said. “The fact of the matter is that those who disrupted the meeting wanted special treatment. Like everyone else, they had the opportunity to submit written questions.”

Some of the protestors said they were there to bring attention to Conway’s campaign finances. Conway has received about $7.5 million in contributions from his father, William Conway, who has an investment firm called the Carlyle Group in Washington, D.C.

“We brought attention to the fact that Conway takes money from his dad and the Carlyle Group, who profits off tear gas companies in Ferguson, and the Chicago police pension fund, which is something we’ve asked him at other events and he refuses to comment on,” said Ab Weeks, an organizer with SOUL in Action.

Naomi Runder, an organizer with People’s Lobby, said these funding sources are tied to harm in black communities.

“When you look at the job of a state’s attorney, like that is a role that you absolutely need someone who’s able to hold police accountable and have the trust of black and brown people to do the job effectively,” Runder said.

Weeks supports incumbent candidate Kim Foxx, who was invited to the forum but did not attend.

At an ABC-7-hosted debate for Cook County state’s attorney candidates on Friday, Foxx said the issue with Conway’s campaign finances isn’t his father, but the firm’s investment “in military weaponry across the globe.”

“Mr. Conway introduced himself to the public as someone with his military career, comparing the city of Chicago neighborhoods with that of Afghanistan,” Foxx said. “That is what is of concern, not his love of his father.”

Forum organizers said they were disappointed with the protestors’ methods.

“It’s mystifying to me that people would think their question would move to the front,” said Kelly Dotson, president of of Lincoln Central board, which helped organize the forum.

It’s unlikely that there will be another forum for state’s attorney candidates in Lincoln Park because of lack of time before the March 17 primary, Kenneth Dotson told The DePaulia.

“[The protestors] came in to prevent anyone’s voice but their own from being heard,” he said.

Before the forum was interrupted, candidates who were present discussed the rise in brazen crimes in the North Side of the city, blaming Foxx’s reform efforts being too lenient on criminals.

Foxx’s criminal justice reform efforts have shifted more of the office’s resources to violent crime, instead of low-level offenses like shoplifting. However, she has come under fire for these efforts’ causing fewer criminals to be kept in jail.

“Being progressive doesn’t mean we have to coddle to criminals,” candidate Bob Fioeretti said. “It’s not that hard to balance [reform and criminal justice].”

Candidate Donna More said Foxx’s office has been undercharging criminals and stressed the need for pretrial detention for “the most dangerous among us.”

Conway also emphasized the importance of balanced criminal justice reform.

“We need to remember what the purpose of jail is,” Conway said. “Jail is a place for people that are a danger to the community. We don’t want to be putting people there who are poor, or addicted or mentally ill… However, if somebody commits a crime with a gun, somebody commits a violent crime, they need to go to jail.”


UPDATE (FEB. 25, 2020, 9 a.m.): This article has been updated to clarify not all of the protestors necessarily support the same candidate.

UPDATE (March 1, 2020, 7:45 p.m.): This article has been updated with additional information about the candidates and on what happened at the forum before the protests began.