Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 5:26 AM
There was a celebratory feel to Larry Krasner’s inauguration as Philadelphia’s new district attorney, because, as Krasner phrased it, his ascension to the office was the culmination of a movement.
It was a movement led by the disenfranchised, a movement stoked by activists, a movement that succeeded thanks to votes cast by people of color who have long been unequally treated by the criminal justice system.
Krasner was elected not only because billionaire George Soros spent millions in support of his campaign, but also because of Krasner’s history of suing police and representing groups like Black Lives Matter. The black community believed in that history, and now we have some demands.
That was evident in the moments after the inauguration, when Black Lives Matter activists confronted Krasner over the latest police shooting of an unarmed African American. But beyond the shooting of Dennis Plowden Jr. at the hands of police, there are demands that are not about a moment, but are instead about the movement that helped to elect Krasner.
In the hours after Krasner placed his hand on a Bible and pledged to serve with honor, I asked my guests and radio audience to list those demands on Praise 107.9 FM. The answers I received were varied, but they were grounded in healthy skepticism.
Pastor Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church believes Krasner’s history of representing various civil rights groups was driven by a respect for free speech rather than a commitment to civil rights, and that we need to hear more from Krasner on civil rights. But beyond that, Waller says, we need action.
“We need to demand rigorous transparency, and quite frankly we need to see it now before an issue hits the table,” Waller told me in an interview. “So I want to hear in the first 100 days what his policies around police shootings will be, what his policies around stop and frisk will be. And so before we have to see it in the court system, let’s just hear it in policy and hear it in legislation.”
Of course, we’ve heard promises before, especially around the issue of stop and frisk — a police practice that leads to a disproportionate number of searches of black and brown people in poor communities. During his campaign for mayor, Jim Kenney promised to end the practice, which statistics say rarely leads to the confiscation of illegal contraband. Kenney reneged on that promise, and the black community is keenly aware of that fact.
“I’m worried about Larry Krasner pulling a ‘bait and switch’ on us like [Kenney] did to us on ‘stop and frisk,’” tweeted Denise Marie Snow.
@solomonjones1 – I’m worried about @Krasner4DA pulling a “bait and switch” on us like @PhillyMayor did to us on “stop and frisk”. NW Philly residents came out to vote only for Kenney to change his view 2 months later ��.
“My hope is that Krasner will consider the background and mental health of people before throwing ‘the book’ at black and brown people,” Snow added in a later tweet.
The demands, as one might expect, are much the same as they’ve always been. We demand transparency in police-involved shootings, a cessation of the unfair police practice of stop and frisk, consideration of mitigating circumstances when making sentencing recommendations, and the end of cash bail.
Not every demand is easy to meet, says Kevin Harden Jr., a former prosecutor who now practices personal injury law at the Philadelphia based firm Ross Feller & Casey. Still, there are demands that must be made.
“We should be demand [that the district attorney] take a serious look at the credibility of police officers in the city of Philadelphia,” Harden told me in an interview. “This is not to say it’s every officer, but there are officers who have credibility issues. They’ll see an officer may have a problem — and the problem may not be that the officer is enforcing the law differently on the basis of race. Maybe he has a psychiatric problem. Maybe he’s depressed. Maybe he’s fighting through a rough divorce.”
Harden said it’s high time that issue is addressed.
Harden also said the economic issues in Philadelphia must be taken into account when recommending bail and sentences. That means “making sure that the criminal justice system doesn’t perpetuate the city’s poverty problem,” Harden told me. “Looking at how prosecutions can negatively affect the families and children the poor, and people for whom English is their second language.”
Harden said the way to address such issues is to formulate policy from the top down — policy that is readily available for public review, and that every Philadelphia prosecutor should follow.
So what is Larry Krasner prepared to do when it comes to meeting such demands?
“Larry Krasner was elected on the promise of civil rights and equal justice for all,” spokesman Ben Waxman said in a text message. “His vision is a DA’s office that protects the rights of all people with the equal application of justice, especially communities that have been traditionally marginalized in the criminal justice system. He will keep his promise to uphold these values in all areas.”
I hope that’s true. Krasner’s second term should depend on it.