BY DAVID A. LOVE – THE PROGRESSIVE
With his May 16 victory in the Democratic primary for Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner aims to change the game of criminal justice in his home city and beyond, helping to redefine what it means to be a prosecutor. A progressive wind is blowing into the D.A.’s office, and none too soon, given current circumstances in the courts and in the prisons.
With support from George Soros, Black Lives Matter, and the progressive community, Krasner emerged from a crowded field to decisively win the primary. Unlike your typical D.A. candidate, he is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney rooted in securing justice for ordinary citizens, those who are often voiceless, disenfranchised, kept out the process, and have their rights violated.
Krasner, who faces a November 7 general election against Republican Beth Grossman and is favored to win in this heavily Democratic city, has sued the government and the police 75 times, and worked with countless defendants.
He is well aware of the injustices in a system of mass incarceration that preys on the poor and warehouses people of color, breaking up families and destroying communities in the process.
Krasner is also a vocal opponent of the death penalty, which he vows never to seek if elected. That is good news in a state that amassed one of the largest death row populations in the country, although the current governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, announced a death penalty moratorium. Seth Williams, the current Philly district attorney, and the city’s first black head prosecutor, has been a dismal disappointment. At first, it seemed that Williams would signal a departure from a prosecutor’s office that fed the justice system with an endless supply of young black and Latino men. But Williams challenged the governor’s death penalty moratorium, and became engulfed in a “pay to play” corruption scandal leading to his own federal indictment.
Lynne Abraham, Williams’s predecessor, worked to make Philadelphia a capital of mass incarceration. Having developed a reputation as “America’s deadliest D.A.,” she pursued death sentences with reckless abandon, particularly against people of color.
After all, until reform-minded prosecutors such as Larry Krasner came along, this was the only acceptable template for a district attorney—a law-and-order, tough-on-crime and “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality that exploited public fears of crime and black and brown criminality to win votes and forge a stepping stone for higher office.
For years, this strategy worked, at least to help build the careers of ambitious lawyers and politicians. It served to expand the prison system and create an incarceration monstrosity that crippled state budget and diverted precious resources from social services, education, and infrastructure spending.