BY WILL BUNCH – THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
Few people have seen the big picture of criminal justice in Philadelphia the way that Kevin Harden Jr. has seen it -- selling drugs on the street corners of West Philly and even wounded in a gun fight as a youth, then turning it all around, getting his law degree and spending a half dozen years in the district attorney's office under Seth Williams.
Now in private practice, the 31-year-old Harden spent his Election Day working for the man who promised to radically change that system, the veteran civil-rights attorney Lawrence Krasner.
"Larry understands that poor people get the short end of the stick," Harden told me by phone early last night from Election Court, where he was challenging campaign irregularities on his candidate's behalf. He cited Kranser's promise to end cash bail and not lock up non-violent arrestees who pose no apparent threat to the community. "He's going to be sensible -- to make sure his policies don't affect the poorest and most marginal communities."
OK, it's true that the vast majority of folks didn't bother to even vote today, and it's hard to compete with the must-see TV of the NBA draft lottery and the slow-motion implosion of Donald Trump's presidency. So maybe you didn't hear the big boom that went off around 9:45 p.m., the moment that Kranser was declared the winner in the seven-candidate Democratic primary to replace the scandal-scarred Williams as DA.
What was that sound? Nothing less than the stirrings of a whole different kind of revolution from the city that gave America the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights -- a revolution aimed at finally undoing draconian justice regime that had turned the Cradle of Liberty into a death-penalty capital and the poster child for mass incarceration.
If elected in November -- and he is the heavy favorite in this overwhelmingly Democratic town -- Krasner has pledged to never seek capital punishment while working to end bail policies that lock up people for being poor, an asset-forfeiture program that has been a national disgrace, and stop-and-frisk searches that disproportionately target non-whites.
Krasner told his wildly enthusiastic supporters tonight that "[o]ur vision is of a criminal justice system that makes things better, that is just, that is based on preventing crime and is based on building up society rather than tearing it apart."
... if Krasner's win is indeed a revolution, tonight was only Lexington and Concord. Many more proverbial shots will be fired. The influential Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed third-place finisher Rich Negrin, is certain to be livid over Krasner's primary win, and likely to throw everything it has behind the more traditional GOP candidate Beth Grossman -- a former prosecutor -- in the November election. But could a Republican ever win again in Philly? In the age of Trump? It sure seems like a tarnished brand, at least around these parts.
The real problem for Krasner -- if he stays on track to win in the fall -- will be institutional opposition from cops and at least some of the 300 career prosecutors in the DA's office, a group that Philadelphia journalist Ryan Briggs dubbed "the deep state" of criminal justice in the city. Already, 12 former DA's office employees have ripped Krasner in an open letter, calling his reform ideas "dangerous," and adding, "imagine working for someone who has openly demonized what you do everyday." That kind of over-the-top rhetoric will only heat up in the months ahead.
But those concerns were shrugged offtoday by the thousands of Philadelphians who went to the polls with visions of a city that finds new ways to steer its young people away from crime and drugs without feeding the schools-to-prison pipeline.