BY SHAUN KING – NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Can you name your district attorney? Do you know what they stand for? Do they earnestly hold police accountable for corruption, brutality, and misconduct? As I travel the country and ask people these questions, I rarely get past the first one because a shockingly high percentage of people have no idea whatsoever who in the world their district attorney is.
If you don't know who your district attorney is, you are a central reason why the crisis of police brutality continues to get worse in America. If you are not actively fighting to have a district attorney who is determined to go against the grain and hold police accountable for their misconduct, then you are a central reason why police brutality exists in America.
No single individual in America's cities plays a larger, more pivotal role in holding terrible police accountable than the district attorney of that city.
Not only do district attorneys play an essential role in determining whether or not charges are brought against officers, they have everything to do with how aggressively those charges are pursued, how deep and probing the investigation turns out to be, which attorneys are placed on the case, and so much more.
In most cities, though, the DA's office and the police department aren't just two hands on the same body, they are two fingers on the same hand. They work in such close concert with one another, day in and day out, as partners in the same endeavor, that it is sincerely a ridiculous notion to expect them to ever hold each other accountable. I don't even mean that as a criticism. They are partners. Police and prosecutors work together as members of the same relay race team.
Police, as first responders to emergency calls and reports of crimes, have the baton first — rushing out of the gates to make their initial determinations. Sometimes on that same day, or soon thereafter, police officers formally pass that baton to prosecutors.
As suspects remain in jail, or get out on bond, prosecutors often build their cases after extensive interviews with the police, and consistently call those same cops back as expert witnesses when the case goes to trial.
Consequently, and understandably, they are close — like family. They aren't just professional partners, their bonds are deep and real. They work together on incredibly difficult cases, under enormous pressure, all year long, for years on end. I said all of that to say I understand how and why it could be so difficult for prosecutors to go after corrupt cops, and even for police, or fellow prosecutors, to go after corrupt prosecutors.
The explicit design of this system will, by definition, consistently fail to hold bad cops and prosecutors accountable for their worst actions. That leaves us those of us determined to reduce police brutality with two primary options — and we should, in every city in America, be fighting for both of these options around the clock.
The first option is elect prosecutors who, as a matter of principle, want to root out all bad cops and rotten apples from within their system. These people are a rare breed, but they exist.
The best example I know of is Larry Krasner — who just won the Democratic primary to become the next District Attorney of Philadelphia. Larry is an amazing man who ran on a reformer's platform, stating publicly that the entire justice system is not only corrupt, but poorly designed, and must be rebuilt from the bottom up.
He has actually sued the Philadelphia Police Department dozens and dozens of times. As district attorney, he will have to partner with them in ways that he's never done before, but the message has always been clearly sent that he is fully willing and able, and likely, to hold bad cops accountable.
Larry won by a landslide against a crowded field because he's authentic, he had a serious plan for reform, and because he has a known record of fighting for justice that simply could not be disputed.
His candidacy resonated with voters unlike anything I've ever seen before in a district attorney primary race, in great part because the overwhelming majority of Americans know full well that the justice system is unfair and in need of hardcore change. He ran on that, unapologetically, and won. He's not beholden to any political machine and is going to be free to do his job just as he promised.
City by city, town by town, men and women like Larry Krasner must be elected. Of course all politics are local, but his candidacy provides a serious framework that can and should be duplicated. That's option number one. The district attorney elections in your city may be next year or several years from now — but whatever the case, a complex local coalition must be formed to ensure that the right person is in that office.