Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council/City & State Pa.)
Turn on the TV and scan the headlines, and you’re sure to see Republican candidates, from Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania to Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, blaming progressive prosecutors and liberal pols for skyrocketing crime nationwide.
On Monday, a Republican-led House committee that’s building the case for impeachment against progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner issued an interim report concluding, among other things, that his office is effectively a revolving door that puts violent criminals back on the street.
In fact, the report released by the progressive Center for American Progress suggests the exact opposite.
There is “no evidence to support the claim that progressive prosecutors were responsible for the increase in homicide during the pandemic or before it,” researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto wrote.
As The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein wrote in a story published last week, researchers found homicides “increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys.”
And as Brownstein points out, the new research buttresses previous work by the centrist Democratic group Third Way that found Red States have a “murder problem.”
That report found “per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Joe Biden,” Brownstein wrote. “The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century.”
On Monday, state Rep. John Lawrence, the Chester County Republican leading the House panel, rejected Krasner’s assertion that there is a statewide rise in crime, noting that while rural Adams County has seen a 300 percent rise in homicides since 2019, in real numbers it’s an increase from one to four murders.
“Any attempt to make that correlation is utterly ridiculous,” Lawrence said, as the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall reported.
Lawrence’s assertion is callous on its face.
The loss of one life is tragic enough, with its impacts rippling out across families, friend groups and communities.
And in tiny Adams County, whose population of 104,340 is more than five times smaller than Chester County, (pop. 541,519), an increase from one to three violent deaths represents an exponential increase in trauma.
Adams County’s elected district attorney, Brian Sinnett, is a Republican. Data show that Trump carried the county by comfortable margins in 2016 and 2020. It’s hard (and probably unfair) to draw an inference, but an uncharitable analysis points to Adams as a microcosm of the conclusions of the Third Way study.
The new report does not downplay the magnitude of the challenge that the spike in violent crime posed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Nor does the Capital-Star’s analysis seek to downplay the gun violence in Philadelphia, which has seen 437 homicides so far this year, according to a citywide database. Through Oct. 23, there were 1,552 shootings in the city, 408 of which were fatal, the database indicates.
The overall increase was the “‘greatest annual increase in over 100 years,” according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” the report’s authors wrote. “It was also widespread. For instance, the number of homicides that year increased in 90 percent of the 65 cities in the Major Cities Chiefs Association, all with populations over 250,000.”
But “the increase in homicide in the United States was not a uniform or ‘national’ phenomenon, as some media organizations reported,” they continued. “Homicides decreased in several major cities, including ones served by progressive prosecutors.”
And in Philadelphia, which was included in the new report, “the uneven pattern of homicide does not support a claim that progressive prosecution causes homicide,” its authors wrote.
The “number of homicides fell in the 8 months following the election of Larry Krasner; it then rose suddenly in the third week of August 2018. Another sudden and short-lived surge in homicides in December yielded an overall increase of 8 percent for the year,” they wrote.
In 2019,”homicides increased less than 1 percent. In 2020, homicides rose 37 percent (just above the national average), and in 2021 they increased 12 percent,” the report’s authors concluded, adding that the “volatility in the incidence of homicide could not have been caused by the election of a new prosecutor nor a ‘consistent’ and ‘systematic’ policy of ‘de-prosecution.’
Rather, the data seems to buttress what gun violence advocates have been arguing for years: A flood of weapons, coupled with the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s utter reluctance to pass even the smallest of reforms, or to give municipalities broader latitude to fight gun crime within their borders, is helping to drive the violence.
The failure, it is more than fair to argue, is not one of prosecution. It is a profound failure of policy.
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