Saturday, June 17, 2017
How Cool Is That? -- This Remarkable Democratic DA Candidate in Philadelphia Sued Police 75 Times: New York Times
PHILADELPHIA — Larry Krasner has sued the Philadelphia Police Department 75 times. He has promised not to seek the death penalty. He has even called law enforcement “systemically racist.”
Now, in a twist that would promote the gadfly to the top of the food chain, he is poised to become the district attorney of Philadelphia.
Mr. Krasner, a veteran civil rights lawyer, defeated six opponents — all of them with more crime-fighting chops — in a Democratic primary last month, winning nearly 40 percent of the vote and becoming the unexpected favorite in this heavily Democratic city.
Unlike most would-be top prosecutors, who run on promises of locking up the bad guys, Mr. Krasner campaigned against mass incarceration and what he described as the “failed culture” of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.
On Monday, jury selection was set to begin in the trial of the current district attorney, Seth Williams, a Democrat, on charges that he sold his influence in exchange for lavish gifts and stole from his mother. And despite some recent overhauls, Philadelphia still has one of the highest incarceration rates of any urban center in the country.
Mr. Krasner also credited his victory in part to national politics, saying that Philadelphians had cast their votes against the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and signs of a rollback of federal oversight of police departments that routinely violate civil rights.
“When you’re 56 and you see the worst president of your lifetime and the worst attorney general of your lifetime trying to reverse good things that date back to the ’60s,” Mr. Krasner said, “you might just have to do something about it.”
And so he has offered up a menu of initiatives aimed at fighting what he called “the criminalization of poverty.” He has promised to cut down on the prosecution of minor cases, divert drug addicts into treatment and ignore, where appropriate, what he described as draconian sentencing guidelines. He has also said he would abolish money bail — which often leads to the jailing of poor defendants while wealthier ones go free — and would decline to seek charges in any case he deemed to be based on an illegal stop and search.
This agenda has left an opening for his opponent in the November election, Beth Grossman, a career local prosecutor who was for years a Democrat before becoming the Republican nominee. Ms. Grossman, too, has promised to overhaul the city’s justice system by cutting back on the criminal prosecutions of small-time drug offenders. But she chided Mr. Krasner for going too far.
“We already have one public defenders’ office in Philadelphia,” she said. “We don’t need the district attorney to be a second.”
A slim, dapper man with a reputation for a cranky courtroom manner, Mr. Krasner ran an unconventional campaign from the start.
When he entered the race, he had no experience with politics or fighting crime, and only two paid staff members — both of whom had worked for Senator Bernie Sanders. But he eventually received support of more than $1 million from an independent group that was funded by George Soros, a billionaire who has given assistance to a number of candidates in district attorney races across the country. The group flooded the airwaves with television ads on his behalf.
A few days before he won the primary, Mr. Krasner appeared onstage at a campaign event in a sober shirt and necktie and performed a cover of the Clash’s “Clampdown” with Sheer Mag, a local punk band. The anarchist anthem was meant to appeal to his base of grass-roots activists, who know him well from his highly visible representation of protest groups like Act Up, the AIDS awareness advocates, and Black Lives Matter in their confrontations with the police.
Mr. Krasner is so outside the mold of the typical district attorney that even though he eventually moved to the top of the polls, neither Mayor Jim Kenney nor Gov. Tom Wolf, both Democrats, endorsed him — or anyone else — in the primary race. But as he has entered the general election, several top Democrats in Philadelphia have announced their support for his campaign.
“Yeah, it’s ironic, but this is 2017,” said one of them, State Senator Vincent Hughes. “People have to feel that the system works correctly and for them. And that, I think, is what Larry’s going to do.”
The Working Families Party, another Krasner ally, chalks up his victory to “a sea change” in opinion on criminal justice, with the public increasingly frowning on capital punishment, harsh sentences, and the criminalization of mental illness and drug addiction.
But the city’s police officers have a different view.
Well before the primary, John McNesby, the president of Philadelphia’s police union, called Mr. Krasner’s candidacy “hilarious.” After some of Mr. Krasner’s supporters chanted anti-police slogans at his victory party, Mr. McNesby publicly referred to them as “parasites of the city.”
At the end of May, Mr. Krasner and Mr. McNesby sat down to discuss their simmering tensions. “A lot of positive things were said in that meeting, constructive things,” Mr. Krasner said, “and hopefully they turn out to be true.”
Mr. McNesby did not return calls requesting comment.
Mr. Krasner has also gotten criticism from some of the city’s former prosecutors, several of whom published a letter in The Philadelphia Citizen days before the primary calling him “a radical candidate with no experience prosecuting crime.” Mr. Krasner acknowledged that, if he was elected, some employees of the district attorney’s office would “have to go,” but he insisted that he would “get along famously with the rest.”
Though his positions have made him the latest liberal darling on the national stage, his campaign staff members were initially concerned that he might alienate Philadelphia voters by welcoming the spotlight too eagerly. But that seemed to change on Monday, when after a weekend of stumping at neighborhood events, he took a morning train to New York City to bask in the glow of his newfound attention.
He spent his visit glad-handing donors and meeting with editors of The Nation magazine. On Tuesday, he dropped in for a spot on the left-wing news show “Democracy Now!” and found time in the evening to share a beer with a like-minded comrade, Eric Gonzalez, Brooklyn’s acting district attorney.
But as the train pulled out of 30th Street Station Monday morning, Mr. Krasner was talking, as he often does, about his struggles with the police: the time he won an acquittal for a black community activist who had been beaten by officers but was then accused of assaulting them, or the case in which he exposed how local detectives had made up a fictional informant.
“I don’t think this makes me anti-law enforcement,” he said. “I think sticking up for good cops by going after bad ones isn’t adversarial. Every good cop I know hates bad cops. They demean the profession.”