By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — District Attorney Larry Krasner stirred up controversy Monday, commenting that Philadelphia is not a city in crisis as gun violence rises to historic levels.
Statistically, nothing Krasner said was incorrect. While homicides are up 13 percent to 524, total violent crimes are down 3.4 percent, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.
On Thursday afternoon, Krasner’s office released a statement in which the city’s top prosecutor argued that the “message conveyed through media sound bites is not at all what I meant.”
“Complete answers based on data aimed at solutions to gun violence will be edited down to sound bites. It’s my job to make sure even those sound bites are careful. As someone whose strong support is owed in part to the fact that I don’t communicate or make decisions like a career politician, it is my obligation to do better,” Krasner said in his statement.
However, some former and current city leaders feel it is disingenuous to say Philadelphia is not in crisis when there are gun-violence-related incidents every day. This has been the deadliest homicide year ever in Philadelphia, including 1,716 non-fatal shootings.
People are getting shot and killed after attending baby showers, at bus stops, sitting on their porches, walking home from school and even after getting rear-ended by other cars.
In an op-ed published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, “Words matter. Words impact, and trigger, and hurt. Words mean something from elected officials. Krasner should publicly apologize to the 521 families of dead victims and the thousands of those maimed by gun wounds this year. He has ignored the pain of the living and insulted the memory of the dead.”
While Nutter was mayor, yearly homicides dropped from 346 to 296 per year, with 400 fewer homicides over his eight-year term than under Mayor John Street.
A statement released by the office of current Mayor Jim Kenny said, “Mayor Kenney and the administration believe that the city is in the midst of a gun violence crisis that continues to afflict our communities, and we are working with all our resources to address it. The increase in violence is unsettling, unacceptable, and must be addressed. We are focused on continuing to partner with communities and across all levels of government to address the gun violence crisis and protect the lives of all Philadelphians.”
Kenney did not address Krasner’s comments directly at the bi-weekly response to the gun-violence hearing.
Former Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams, the first Black person to hold that office, said Krasner’s comments devalue the lives of those who were killed.
“So his comments make me angry,” Williams said. “He sold a false choice and a false narrative to the public that the way to fix the criminal justice system is only to address the racism. No, we have to do that. But simultaneously, we have to promote and ensure public safety.”
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd district, has been a proponent of Krasner’s work and has recently spoken in favor of him at his weekly briefings. However, she called his remarks on Monday insensitive.
“I have long admired D.A. Krasner and his approach to criminal justice reform in Philadelphia. However, I do believe that the comments he made earlier this week were insensitive,” Gauthier said. “It’s been clear for a long time that we are in the midst of a gun violence crisis—not only from the data but from the experiences of people who are traumatized by gun violence in their communities and who have lost loved ones to this epidemic. It’s imperative for our leaders to be clear about the situation we’re facing and their role in addressing it. To bring this crisis to an end, we all need to work together on a collaborative and urgent solution.”
Gauthier asked for an emergency response to the rising homicides level in September 2020, when the city reached 300 deaths.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw was also asked about Krasner’s comments Wednesday. She said that she had not heard specifically what the D.A. said but made it clear that law enforcement is working in a challenging time as gun violence runs rampant throughout Philadelphia.
“So I would say any type of commentary regardless of who it is from, any type of commentary or actions that undermine our ability to be successful, obviously it’s a hindrance,” Outlaw said. “But my hope is that moving forward we can all be aligned and working on the same page.”
City Controller Rebecca Ryhnhart offered a statement about the escalating threat of gun violence in the city.
“Philadelphia has seen its homicide rate increase every year for the last five years and, as of last night, had 523 homicides, the most of any year since the city started tracking it in 1960,” Rhynhart said. “There is absolutely a violence crisis. Every elected leader needs to recognize this and come to the table ready to work together to solve it. People in our city do not feel safe right now, and that is not okay. It is a core government responsibility to ensure safety, and Philadelphians need a plan of action, now, to stop the gun violence.”
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson D-2nd District made it clear he will continue working with Krasner to develop short- and long-term solutions to the violence plaguing the city. Kenyatta said he has never seen widespread gun violence as a lifelong Philadelphian.
“My constituents in the Second Council District (parts of South Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia and Center City) tell me that they do not feel safe because of the gun violence, and they have a feeling that a sense of lawlessness is being allowed in Philadelphia,” Johnson said.
“This gun violence is a five-alarm emergency, and it is devastating our communities,” he said. “We absolutely must do everything within our power to stop it. Quite simply, our community members are drowning, and we do not have life preservers to go around. This is a gun violence crisis of epic proportions. It is a moral crisis. It is an economic crisis. It is a racial-justice crisis. It is a human crisis. Now is the time to act, boldly and urgently.”
According to worldpopulationreview.com, Philadelphia has the 12th highest murder rate per 100,000 people, 20.2 in 2021.
Krasner says his office is focused on real solutions to the problem plaguing the city. He has been adamant that an investment in developing a larger, more comprehensive forensics unit with adequate space will help cut back on gun-related crimes in Philadelphia.
“Real solutions that prevent the next victimization of people who are mostly Black, brown, and poor will never include the illegal stop-and-frisk of half a million young Black and brown people, or a return to mass incarceration paid for by closing libraries, closing public schools, and shutting down treatment and job training,” Krasner said. “Nationally and locally, we stripped away prevention before, and it made gun violence much worse, as this pandemic has proven all over the country. Real solutions require solving more cases with forensics that Philadelphia has never adequately funded. Real solutions include real prevention, fairness that restores community faith in law enforcement, and a laser focus on the most serious crime, which gun violence is.”
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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