Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council/City & State Pa.)
By Reggie Shuford
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was reelected in 2021 with an overwhelming margin of victory. In both the Democratic primary and the general election, Krasner received more than twice as many votes as his opponents. The message from a large majority of voters was clear: they wanted four more years of Krasner at the helm of the district attorney’s office.
But now, less than a year after his landslide reelection, some politicians in Harrisburg on both sides of the aisle have decided all on their own that being duly elected to public office by voters is not enough. These lawmakers, many of whom do not even live in the vicinity of Philadelphia, have formed a legislative subcommittee in the state House to investigate the district attorney’s office’s response to rising gun violence in the city. One potential outcome of the subcommittee’s investigation? The impeachment of Larry Krasner.
Make no mistake, the scourge of rising gun violence in Philadelphia is horrific. It is not unique to Philadelphia, however. Instead, it is a nationwide problem in cities that have both progressive and conservative prosecutors at the helm. From the global pandemic to rising wealth inequality to the flood of firearms in our communities, the violence in Philadelphia and elsewhere is driven by a complex set of factors that will be difficult to unravel.
The politicians targeting District Attorney Krasner know that there is no single driver of the violence. But that’s not stopping them from heaping blame on Krasner and launching this investigation. It’s a cynical political move intended to undercut real reforms to the criminal legal system.
It’s also yet another brazen attack on our democracy.
The signs of a teetering democratic system are all around us, from the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election to the state legislators who launched a sham investigation of Pennsylvania voters last year.
Those who engage in trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election are undermining democracy and putting the American experiment in grave peril.
The forming of the subcommittee to investigate Krasner is also a slap in the face to the voters who overwhelmingly reelected him less than a year ago. For many of those who voted for and continue to support Krasner, gun violence isn’t just some policy debate; it’s right in their backyard. In both the primary and the general election, the voters who bolstered Krasner’s margin of victory were often Black and lived in neighborhoods most impacted by the rising gun violence.
But the will of the people doesn’t seem to matter to lawmakers like those who are leading the charge in investigating Krasner. If pinning rising violence on a progressive prosecutor who is working toward meaningful reforms in the criminal legal system disenfranchises thousands of voters, then so be it, these politicians seem to be thinking. And, of course, there is little-to-no evidence that reforms to the criminal legal system lead to an increase in crime.
Politicians who exploit fear of crime for their own gain are also resisting any reforms that attempt to create a fairer, more just legal system. We’ve seen similar campaigns to oust reformist prosecutors in Chicago, in St. Louis, in the Bay Area, and elsewhere.
So, this investigation into Krasner’s office does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of a concerted nationwide effort to undermine criminal legal reform. And many of those at the helm of these efforts are leading efforts to strip away rights in other areas.
Prosecutors are among the most powerful people in the criminal legal system. They have the discretion to choose who to prosecute and how vigorously to prosecute a case. The solution to those who abuse this power lies in the hands of the electorate, not by politically driven investigations.
Those who benefit from mass incarceration know that attacking progressive prosecutors is an effective way to undermine reform and efforts to decarcerate our jails and prisons.
But these cynical political attacks won’t deter this reform movement. And we will not sit idly by while some politicians mount yet another attack on democracy in the name of preserving the mass incarceration status quo.
Reggie Shuford is the executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
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