Rallying cries to defund the police have become commonplace on the heels of this summer’s uprisings around the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and too many others by police. Now Chicago and Cook County voters have a once-in-every-six-years opportunity to put Cook County on the path to “make Black Lives Matter.” How? Cook County voters can vote NO on retaining Judge Michael P. Toomin. Judge Toomin represents a status quo that refuses even the most basic reforms for the Cook County Juvenile Court. Removing a powerful, clout-heavy judge like Toomin from the bench would strike a blow to a system that criminalizes people on the margins—specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous young people.
Michael Toomin is the Presiding Judge of the Cook County Juvenile Court, which is the oldest juvenile court in America and one of the largest in the country. That means he runs the entire juvenile division of the county court and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC or formerly known as the Audy Home). Toomin has judges that report to him and he makes all the high-level decisions. He only reports to the top judge in Cook County—Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. Fortunately, every six years judges are put up for a retention vote, which means that regular voters can choose whether to keep a judge in power or not. This November, Judge Toomin is up for a vote. We’d like to explain why voters of Cook County should vote NO on Toomin (#TossToomin).
Toomin’s record as Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court for the last 10 years speaks for itself. It reveals a judge who is not interested in helping court-involved youth but would rather lock up young people, even when indisputable evidence shows that any amount of incarceration or detention is extremely detrimental to the development and life chances of anyone—especially young people. The ruthless legal system, politicians, and mainstream media who co-sign tough-on-crime political theater have, for far too long, been given a pass when their policies wreak unimaginable but everyday violence on young people in Cook County. Judge Toomin and the whole racist justice system depend on voters and the general public not noticing or even caring about the people who get swallowed by these death machines.
The especially messed up part about Judge Toomin isn’t that he’s trying to hold onto power for the sake of power, but that he goes out of his way to punish and exact cruelty on the young people of Cook County. For the last 10 years, Judge Toomin’s poor leadership has left up to one million dollars annually on the table that could fund diversion programs to keep Cook County’s young people out of prison. Toomin also created a fake court with the Chicago Police Department to “scare young people straight” that was in such poor taste that the Mayor shut it down a year later. (1, 2) Toomin has willfully trapped young people in jail during the COVID-19 pandemic, much to the distress of impacted youth, their families, and lawyers. (3) While Toomin would have us believe that he’s impartial, he actually picks and chooses which state laws he cares about. This spring, during the pandemic, he ignored Illinois law and postponed a young person’s trial longer than 30 days. (4) Meanwhile in 2016, Judge Toomin fought for the power to jail 10 year olds by forcing the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a unanimous Cook County ordinance that prevented the detention of children under the age of 13. (5)
Toomin’s insistence on punishing young people coupled with his powerful position at the head of the Cook County Juvenile Court cannot be separated from the racial disparities within our youth prison system. In 2018, 70% of all JTDC admissions were Black youth, while only 10% of admissions were white. (6) This pattern does not go unnoticed–as deputy committeemen for the 25th ward and DSA member Ugo Okere stated, “I believe Judge Toomin is one of the judges that truly uphold white supremacy and this punitive system that we have through his actions on the court. He’s fueling this mass incarceration system that puts Black and brown people in jail at disproportionate rates.” (7)
While there are clear limits to electoral politics, voting to take people like Judge Toomin off the bench can make an immediate difference in young BIPOC’s lives and free them sooner rather than later. Making #BlackLivesMatter for young Black people in Chicago means voting NOT to retain Judge Toomin—punch 206.