Commentary

Krasner’s impressive actions speak louder than his imperfect words | Michael Coard

When I publicly endorsed Krasner in 2017 and again in 2020, I described him as “The Blackest White Guy I Know.” I did that — and continue to do it — because I knew him for over a decade as one of the few white (or Black) attorneys who stood with me representing Black activists pro bono

District Attorney Larry Krasner (Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council/City & State Pa.).

By Michael Coard

At the outset, I must concede that I cannot defend the indefensible. District Attorney Larry Krasner was completely wrong on Dec. 6 when, during an unscripted interview, he extemporaneously said, “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness. We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence.”

The author with District Attorney Larry Krasner on the campaign trail on Election Day 2017. — Avraham Gutman photo

Even though he was technically correct in pointing out that non-gun violent crime categories are down, that’s a distinction without a difference. Just ask the mothers of the 439 sons and daughters who were shot to death in 2021 as of Dec. 6.

Because he soon realized that he had misspoken, he did the right thing on Dec. 13 by unequivocally apologizing and sincerely stating, “I did not acknowledge the pain and the hurt that people feel in … Philadelphia. My words unintentionally hurt people. It was never what I wanted to do …. I know those words were the wrong ones …. I accept full responsibility … because I failed in not acknowledging … [people’s] pain and suffering.”

Now that he has genuinely apologized, I’d like to enlighten people who think it’s his job to stop crime. First of all, he’s the DA. He’s not the police commissioner, a police inspector, a police captain, a police lieutenant, a police sergeant, a police corporal, a police detective, or a police patrol officer. The DA’s job is not to investigate crime, search people, or arrest people. Instead, it’s simply to prosecute defendants after police investigate, search and arrest. Here’s a prime example.

I recently represented a young man who was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by police for an alleged expired emissions sticker. When the officers approached, they ordered my client — the passenger — out of the car, even though they later conceded that he had not been doing anything illegal or suspicious inside the car. While the officers were interrogating him outside the car, he fled. They chased him and claimed he tossed a gun in the trashcan during the chase. One of the officers went to the trashcan and the second officer continued the chase. That first officer found a gun in the trashcan. The second one tackled my client and the two officers together handcuffed him, placed him in a police vehicle, and took him to the station for processing.

When the case went to court, I filed and argued a suppression motion based on the fact that, even if that gun did belong to my client, the police had no reasonable suspicion to order him (as a non-suspicious passenger) out of the car, no legal right to interrogate him without a Miranda warning, no probable cause to chase him — since that chase constituted an illegal arrest — and no lawful basis to take him into custody.

Why? Because he hadn’t committed any crime, and because they hadn’t suspected him of committing any crime, or of having engaged in any suspicious behavior while he was inside the car, and also because it is not a crime to run from cops. That’s why! Based on that and based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 Terry v. Ohio ruling, and numerous recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings, what the police did here was blatantly illegal.

As a result, the judge in that case had no choice other than to grant my suppression motion, throw out the gun as evidence, and dismiss the case despite the valiant attempts by an impressive Assistant DA to keep the gun in as evidence. No one can blame the DA’s office or the judge. The cops should not have engaged in an illegal arrest. They should have understood that reasonable suspicion is required to stop someone and probable cause is required to arrest someone. That’s not Krasner’s fault.

Krasner is not the cops. He’s merely the person who uses what the cops give him. If the police give him lawful evidence, he can seek to punish the so-called “bad guys.” But if the police don’t give him lawful evidence, he can’t seek to punish anyone. So don’t blame him when far too many of the police investigations, searches and arrests across the city are unconstitutional and therefore useless in court to protect the community. As I said, he’s not the cops.

When I publicly endorsed Krasner in 2017 and again in 2020, I described him as “The Blackest White Guy I Know.” I did that — and continue to do it — because I knew him for over a decade as one of the few white (or Black) attorneys who stood with me representing Black activists pro bono.

I also describe him as “The Best DA in Philly History” because, objectively speaking, he is. Several past and present community leaders and respected community entities (including my beloved Tribune that on Dec. 12 called Krasner’s “no crisis” statement “tone deaf”) hypocritically expressed their righteous indignation and public outrage in response to Krasner’s Dec. 6 words.

Fortunately, during my most recent “Radio Courtroom” show on WURD96.1FM, one of my guests, namely Dana Carter, a local educator and the daughter of a retired Philly cop, set the record straight by clearly pointing out that actions speak louder than words when it comes to everyone, including DAs. She continued by pointing out the following:

“Where were the righteous indignation and pubic outrage in 1967 when the then-DA gave a total pass to the brutal cops who viciously beat many of the 3,000 unarmed Black children who were outside the school district building peacefully protesting against citywide systemic educational racism? And where were the righteous indignation and public outrage in 1985 when the then-DA gave a total pass to the bloodthirsty cops and heartless city officials who bombed, killed, and incinerated or were responsible for the bombing, killing, and incineration of eleven human beings, including five defenseless children?”

And to Carter’s powerfully persuasive list, I add the following:

Where were the righteous indignation and public outrage when, during the Commissioner/Mayor Rizzo era, the-then DA gave a total pass to the police despite the fact that in 1979 Philadelphia became the first city in U.S. history to be sued by the Justice Department for systemic and widespread police brutality? And where were the righteous indignation and public outrage when, as was discovered within the past few months, the four DAs who were in office at the time falsely prosecuted and falsely convicted 23 completely innocent defendants from 1984 through 2016, causing them to suffer unjustly while serving a combined total of over 450 years in prison before recently being exonerated by Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit?

For those reasons, I stand with Krasner. But it’s not just those reasons. It’s also these:

1. He cannot be blamed for Philly’s current high homicide rate. In fact, no DA can for any homicide rate because societal conditions, not DAs, cause or deter crime. Locking up a bunch of people does nothing to bring a homicide victim back to life. But education, employment, drug rehab, and mental health counseling can help to deter someone from committing that homicide. Furthermore, any reasonable person must admit that social media in particular and the societal/emotional/financial effects of the COVID pandemic in general have increased violent crime. And say what you want about Krasner, but he didn’t invent social media or create COVID.

Oh, by the way, as noted by scholars at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, UCLA School of Law, Seton Hall University and Penn State University in a report published on Oct. 13, Philly doesn’t have the highest increase in homicide rates per capita during the COVID pandemic. Atlanta does. In fact, there are 18 cities ahead of Philly, which is number 19.

And as noted in a CNN report on Dec. 12, Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, which is a non-partisan criminal justice think tank, says that the increase in violent crime is an epidemic “all across the country.” CNN added that, “More than two-thirds of the country’s most populous cities have seen more homicides in 2021 than last year, a continuation of the troubling increase that began at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, according to a CNN analysis of over 40 major cities.”

2. Krasner has increased the financial and physical support for devastated family members of homicide victims through his 15-employee Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors (CARES) program that provides immediate grief counseling, funeral expense payments, and utility bills assistance.

3. The FOP hates him. And that is the very same organization that endorsed racist Donald Drumpf twice, the very same organization that joined the KKK in endorsing Drumpf twice, and the very same organization that fraternized with the racist Proud Boys last year in July at a Mike Pence rally.

4. On the other hand, Krasner was endorsed by the Guardian Civic League, which is the Black police officers’ organization.

5. He is not a knee-jerk Rizzo-esque “law-and-order” politician. To the contrary, he’s a thoughtful “justice-and-solutions” public servant. But he’s no “softie” when it comes to the really bad guys. He believes that the punishments should justly fit the crimes and the criminals. That’s why he said, “The DA’s office must (and does) target the 6% of criminals who commit 60% of the crimes. It must not (and does not) target entire neighborhoods where people of color and poor people live.”

That’s why I stand with District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Opinion contributor Michael Coard is an attorney and radio host. His work appears weekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. He wrote this column for the Philadelphia Tribune, where it first appeared. 

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