Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Facebook photo)
*This story was updated at 3:38 p.m. July 21, 2020 with additional comment from Krasner’s office.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Tuesday that he’ll arrest and prosecute federal law enforcement officers if they break the law in Philadelphia.
“If people break laws in Philadelphia — for example, if they kidnap people, jumping out of vehicles, if they shoot people in the head with rubber bullets fracturing their skulls, if they engage in crimes, even if they happen to be law enforcement — this district attorney’s office is going to hold them accountable,” Krasner told a Democratic state House panel.
Krasner’s comments come after President Donald Trump, a frequent user and stern defender of executive power, mentioned Philadelphia and five other big American cities as destinations for an ad hoc federal police force deployed in the midst of widespread protest over racial injustice, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The officers, who do not have badges identifying their origin, have been pulled from multiple agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, such as the Border Patrol, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Safety Administration.
Trump’s latest law-and-order pronouncement, follows a July 13 statement that the president would use federal authority to “go in and take over cities” to fight local crime.
Murders have increased in 25 large American cities, according to the New York Times, as states have left COVID-19 lockdown amid the summer heat. The murder spike has occurred even as violent and property crime rates have gone down.
In an email, Widener University law professor Mike Dimino said Krasner’s promise was likely unenforceable.
“It is within federal authority to protect federal buildings from vandalism,” Dimino said. “So the D.A. would not have the ability to arrest — or otherwise obstruct — federal officials for carrying out federal responsibilities.”
The unidentified police forces have drawn the most attention in Portland, Ore. They “started playing a more obvious and active role” on July 1, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, after Black Lives Matter protesters began surrounding the city’s federal courthouse.
OPB reported last week that these officers have driven around Portland in unmarked cars, grabbing suspected protesters off the streets far from the courthouse, before releasing them hours later without ever revealing a charge.
The conduct has even led the region’s U.S. attorney to call for an internal investigation into the officer’s actions. Portland’s mayor and federal lawmakers have likewise expressed outrage with the federal police force.
*In an email, Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Krasner, said that federal officers “pulling people off the streets into unmarked cars without a warrant or without identifying themselves … could rise to unlawful detention, which could be charged criminally.”
“And obviously, unjustified use of force should be dealt with appropriately no matter what badge or title you hold,” Roh added.
It also wasn’t just Krasner pushing back. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney likewise made his concerns known on Twitter.
While the City of Philadelphia has not received any formal notification that federal agents will be sent here, we would use all available means to resist such an abuse of power. https://t.co/xCRiwIxvXD
— Jim #VaxUpPhilly Kenney (@PhillyMayor) July 20, 2020
Even former Pennsylvania Governor and inaugural DHS head Tom Ridge, a Republican, said it would “be a cold day in hell” before he would allow anonymous federal police into the commonwealth.
But federal officials dismissed local concerns about the unsolicited police presence.
“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job,” acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”
Krasner’s statement came from a question from state Rep. Bill Kortz, a conservative Democrat from Allegheny County, at a policy hearing on policing reforms
“We’ve all seen on the news lately where the President of the United States has cobbled together his own little private police force of federal agents and he’s sent them in to break up protests,” Kortz said.
He asked Krasner if there was something “to be done legally to stop this egregious behavior.”
Krasner linked his stand to his father and uncles’ fight against fascism during World War II.
His relatives, Krasner said, fought “to make sure we did not have a president who thought it was okay to ‘take over cities’ and throw people in jail for exercising their sacred right to protest and freedom of speech.”
A criminal trial in front of a Philadelphia jury for anyone who breaks the law is “the least we can do to honor those who fought fascism, including those who are fighting it even now,” Krasner elaborated in a statement.
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