By: Zak Krone
Citizens of Philadelphia have an interesting decision to make this May in the primary for the upcoming District Attorney’s race. Seth Williams is leaving office, recently indicted for more than 21 counts of bribery including wire fraud. Good riddance to another cravenly ambitious prosecutor. So who is left to fill the gap? Amid the usual lame promises to be tough on crime, bridge the gap between police and citizens, and pursue the death penalty in “extreme cases,”, one candidate seems to be running dramatically left of the pack.
Lawrence Krasner is running for District Attorney, though running under the umbrella of the Democratic Party, his politics are anything but. In February he fielded questions from an unvetted crowd at Everybody Hits on 6th and Girard. During the hour long Q&A session Krasner spoke as a concerned citizen, appalled by the injustice in our criminal justice system, and frustrated by the cynical “Dirty Harry style” approach to policing that fails us everyday. “We have more black men in prison right now than slaves at the beginning of the Civil War… Justice is what makes us safe. Right now we have injustice, and it’s not keeping us safe,” he explained throughout the night.
Change, so often turned into a hollow political slogan, in Krasner’s case seems born out by his career as a defense attorney. He’s carved out a niche defending protesters of all stripes for the past twenty years, including last year’s Democratic National Committee and those seeking help through the Up Against the Law coalition. Krasner at times seemed especially hostile to elements of law enforcement, specifically calling out the Fraternal Order of Police’s John McNesby. “I don’t want his endorsement. A lot of these other candidates want to run for something else later on. I don’t want the FOP’s endorsement so long as John McNesby is in charge.”
Some stark promises of the evening included:
- Ending illegal use of stop and frisk. He explained “What we have now is fifty kids, they’re all black and brown… and they’re going to search them all for no reason other than the fact that they’re black and poor… The reality of what’s going on is that it’s a sweep and they’re acting like an occupying army.” He would require officers to log pedestrian sweeps in order for evidence to be usable.
- No longer going for maximum sentencing. “Six percent of criminals perpetrate sixty percent of crimes, going for maximum sentencing is unnecessary and a waste. We’re not trying to win a trophy.”
- Unequivocal support for sanctuary cities. “The Obama administration created a more efficient deportation apparatus not realizing [what] would come later… I can tell you that in every way the law allowed me to, I would not be helping… I will not be mining for charges that allow it easier for people to be taken away when ICE comes to round up families.”
- Using a societal perspective when facing prosecutions. “I’ve seen homeless people given one to two years for stealing food. What a great use of resources.” This would also include refusing to prosecute minor marijuana possessions. “Marijuana should be as available to adults as beer… Adults should be able to enjoy it recreationally.” This includes recognizing the opioid crisis for what it is, a reaction to the peddling of dangerous drugs by big pharma which require a rehabilitation-first approach.
Nonetheless there are still some concerns. For one, Krasner is running within the confines of the Democratic primary. He labels himself a progressive but wasn’t quick to embrace the mantle of socialism publicly. “There’s an idea,” he explained to a smaller crowd after the address, “that begins with an ‘s’ and ends with an ‘m.’ It’s a good one. And all I’ll say is that you need people to sail the ship after the pirates take over.” Why not come out with it? Maybe the approach of normalizing policy and ideas before political labels makes sense when an ill-informed public is still afraid of boogeymen. But there’s also the danger of letting oneself become homogenized in a party which has failed to convince the working poor of this nation that it’s worthy of their trust. Engaging in electoral politics is no substitute for direct action, but at the very least Krasner seems to promise an arm of the law more keen on on staying out of the way of radical activism. Philadelphia radicals and activists will have a chance to decide whether or not a guarded ally is worth their vote by May 16th.