Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner was not in San Francisco on Friday, but he was a center point of the Symposium on Progressive Prosecution. The progressive prosecutor really jump started the movement when he took office in 2018, but has become a recent lightning rod for criticism from police organizations and, more recently, the president.
Appearing via Zoom, Mr. Krasner nevertheless made his presence known to the conference on Friday. He noted in his opening remark, “I don’t always hear clapping, what I often hear is Donald Trump’s appointees saying unkind things about myself and my friends – Rachael Rollins, Marilyn Mosby and some others.”
His core message: “The reality is that people are with us, they have been with us for a very long time and they have been with us for a very long time because of what mass incarceration does.”
He said, “The end of mass incarceration is mass incarceration. When the crushing weight of such an unjust policy becomes so heavy that it is no only cracking the bones of the people in the jail cells, but its cracking the bones of their mothers, fathers, co-workers, high school friends, entire communities – changing the demographic composition of communities to the point where there’s a very different balance between the number of men and women in those communities.”
He said when you get to that point, “the institutions may not be listening, but people see it and they are ready for change.”
He said that “the institutions don’t get it, but the people do.”
The movement, he said, has grown from a few to 30 and soon he believes they will be 60. And they are not 60 prosecutors in small jurisdictions, “these are prosecutors in major jurisdictions across the United States.”
In the earlier panel discussion, US Attorney McGregor Scott pushed back against progressive prosecution.
One of the points he made was that cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore had rising homicide rates as the result of these progressive policies.
“In the past two years, there has been a general decline in the homicide rates across the United States. In Philadelphia, in 2018, the first year of Mr. Krasner’s term as district attorney, homicides went up 11 percent, the highest rate in more than a decade. In 2019, they were up again, and as of this morning, year to date to 2019, they are up again another 26 percent,” Mr. Scott stated.
Larry Krasner responded.
Said Mr. Krasner: “People like McGregor Scott are going to pick factoids or pick outlier cases. They are going to pick things that are symbols but are not realities and they’re going to come at our throats.
“This is what has gone on in journalism for well over 100 years. The reality is that journalism is every bit as culpable in many instances historically speaking as prosecutors are culpable for the rise of mass incarceration and the deep injustice that we have.”
He saw a big job of progressive prosecutors to “change the narrative.” He said, “We have to tell the true story, the real story and we have to tell it in a way that people are not used to hearing it.”
He said if the narrative is Philadelphia had homicides increase by 11 percent and the prosecutor caused it, “if that’s what the narrative is going to be – then we’re going to lose that fight in the dark.”
To win the fight, he said we need to have research, new metrics and expose the truth.
“If we are going to do that, we’re going to win the fight,” he said. He talked about their work in Philadelphia that created their DA’s office data lab. They have 15 people who are grant-funded full time employees.
One of the things that they re-examined was conviction rate. Under the standard measure, if they determined that an individual was wrongly incarcerated, and let them go, it would count against them.
“There is no reason why you’re determining that an innocent person is sitting in jail and letting that person go should count against you on any kind of a metric that measures up to the justice we are supposed to see,” he said.
Based on that they came up with a measure of “an accurate conviction rate.”
He pushed back against the 11 percent homicide increase as “a completely decontextualized factoid.”
He noted, “He left out for example that homicides have gone up for seven consecutive years in Philadelphia, I’ve been there for two and the other five years they went up under exactly the type of criminal justice policies that Mr. Scott espouses.”
Mr. Krasner also noted that, in his first year, “violent crime went down five percent.” The second year, violent crime went up five percent. “Flat, those are the metrics, that is the reality,” he said.
However, his larger point is that he doesn’t believe that prosecutions determine whether homicides or violent crimes are happening or not.
“That’s nonsense and this is a much more complicated situation that we’re dealing with,” he said. “If they want to have stupid arguments, then let’s give them some stupid answers.
“They’re ignoring ever fact that hurts you,” he said. “We should be willing to deal with the facts. There should be nothing, nothing, nothing that we believe in more than the truth.”
Larry Krasner said that he has been mightily “disappointed in what (journalism) has looked like in criminal justice for a very long time.”
He said he has found that they can “elevate the level of local journalism by offering them true facts, in context, by offering them data that they couldn’t access themselves,” to the extent “that you yourself become a valuable source, a transparent truthful, honest, and reliable source,” to the “extent that you are not doing what the Donald Trump minions want to be done – which is propaganda” to the “extent that you are actually going to give the press the truth all the time – they’re going to like you better.”
They have found as their data capacity has increase – they have gotten more respective, earlier inquiries from the press and the media is providing more balanced coverage.
“It’s not Willie Horton coverage,” he said. “It’s not what Donald Trump wants you to swallow.”
He finds this as “the key to the survival, the increase and frankly the success of this as a national movement of criminal justice reform.” This is what enables them to overcome the tendency to “talk in terms of anecdotes as opposed to scientific terms.”
He said, “Turn talk about the law like it is around medicine, into talk around the science.”
Larry Krasner said, “Speaking Donald Trump’s nonsense propaganda and his various minions who are perpetuating it around the country, one of the magnificent skills of our current president is that he has the ability to take exactly what he is and accuse other people of it with a straight face.”
He said, “This is the most lawless president of at least my lifetime and I was around for Richard Nixon so that’s saying something.”
He continued, “His national political strategy is to accuse progressive prosecutors from cities where there is a substantial population of people of color of being ‘lawless.’”
He said, “This dude is holding up this newspaper proclaiming his ‘acquitted.’” “While he calls other people lawless. It is the southern strategy all over again.”
He said, “He’s not going to say – just as Richard Nixon was not going to say – the N-word. He’s going to find a different way to say it. The way he’s going to say it is he’s going to say Kim Foxx’s city (Chicago) is lawless. And Philadelphia is lawless… All these other places that are urban. All these other places where you have a majority of residents who are not white – all of these places are lawless. He’s going to do it from now until Election Day.”
Mr. Krasner called the attention by Donald Trump on the one hand not surprising but, on the other hand, “it is an index of how truly effective this progressive movement actually is that we got under the skin of the worst president of my lifetime. The most lawless president of my lifetime.
“The nation sees that there’s a good fight to be had here and we’re the ones to wage that good fight,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
You can listen to Larry Krasner’s Interview on Everyday Injustice from last week here:
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