Running to change how Philadelphia does justice

Longtime critic of Philadelphia justice system aims at reform from the inside.

BY SAM NEWHOUSE – METRO

At first, it's a bit hard to understand why Larry Krasner wants to be district attorney. For years, the defense lawyer has been trashing almost everything about how the Philadelphia DA's office does business.

Krasner blames the DA's office for a world of social ills, from what he called "excessive" sentences that cost $40,000 a year to keep inmates in "crime school" to police actions that "sweep up young black or brown men in poor neighborhoods and treat them all like serious criminals."

He described a client who became a drug addict while serving 12 years for a robbery: "We spent half a million dollars on this guy, and now he's still addicted to drugs, years later. That's 12 years that we weren't paying a public school teacher, when the appropriate sentence was more like five years."

Krasner fumes about prosecutors' use of a cash-bail system that can keep poor people facing charges locked up for months or years before trial, the low funding for fingerprint and DNA evidence analysis, and failures to provide potentially exculpatory evidence to defendants under the constitutional requirement set by the Supreme Court in 1963 in the Brady v. Maryland case. 

"This office has paid lip service, at best, to Brady ... and they do it because of a culture that flows from the Rizzo era and has been carried forward by this District Attorney's office ever since," he said.

Krasner's unorthodox views are getting strong support from some of Philadelphia's most outspoken critics of the criminal justice system.

"He has fought and continues to fight the racist nonstop police brutality epidemic," fellow attorney Michael Coard wrote of Krasner in a column for the Philadelphia Tribune. "He is the blackest white guy I know." 

Blacks Live Matter organizer Asa Khalif is personally endorsing Krasner. He said he wants a DA who will will take a stand against police misconduct.

"Larry's going to drop the hammer on these corrupt officers," Khalif said. "I don't care what color the man is. I judge him by his record."

But Krasner thinks most Philadelphia cops' values aren't that far off from the higher standards demanded by groups like Black Lives Matter.

"The vast majority of police want to see police officers who do the wrong thing, whether it's corruption or physical abuse, properly disciplined, reprimanded, and when necessary fired or charged," he said.

Full story in METRO