Meet Larry Krasner, Philly’s New Progressive DA Who Has Sued the City’s Police Dept. 75 Times

Krasner beat his Republican opponent by over 40 points last night, part of a progressive electoral wave across the country.

Nyle Fort November 8, 2017

Lar­ry Kras­ner ran as arguably the most pro­gres­sive Dis­trict Attor­ney can­di­date in the coun­try. In May, he sent shock­waves through­out the Penn­syl­va­nia polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment after win­ning the Philadel­phia Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry. And last night he defeat­ed his Repub­lic oppo­nent Beth Gross­man by more than 40 points in the gen­er­al elec­tion to become Philly’s next DA — part of a broad­er wave of pro­gres­sives elect­ed to office.

In These Times spoke to Kras­ner about the sig­nif­i­cance of his cam­paign for local and nation­al politics. 

Your cam­paign web­site states, The cul­ture of the Philadel­phia DA’s office must change” What exact­ly must change?

This is a cul­ture that has been focused on try­ing to bring as many cas­es against as many defen­dants as pos­si­ble, which basi­cal­ly means poor peo­ple, as pos­si­ble. We have one pub­lic school after anoth­er clos­ing in Philadel­phia but we’ve got oh so many prison cells. The real­i­ty is that good pub­lic edu­ca­tion pre­vents crime. Good drug treat­ment pre­vents crime. Good job train­ing pre­vents crime. Good eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and avail­abil­i­ty of jobs, pre­vents crime. But build­ing more and more jail cells caus­es the cycle of pover­ty, it caus­es crime

How do you under­stand the rela­tion­ship between street vio­lence and the insti­tu­tion­al­ized vio­lence of poverty?

Vio­lence is defined nar­row­ly in terms of peo­ple get­ting hurt on the street by being robbed, by being shot. It is also defined broad­ly in terms of the trau­ma that peo­ple suf­fer when they are poor, when they have no hope, etc. How is it relat­ed? We know that peo­ple who have been trau­ma­tized, peo­ple who have been neglect­ed, peo­ple who have moved 50 times dur­ing their child­hood because no one could ever afford the rent, tend to end up in jail. We have accept­ed a pre­ven­tion mod­el in pub­lic health a long time ago and we need to be will­ing to make that small shift and accept that in the realm of crim­i­nal justice.

You sued the Philadel­phia Police Depart­ment 75 times. As Dis­trict Attor­ney how will you hold police accountable? 

Num­ber one, you could stop treat­ing them as if they are enti­tled to dif­fer­ent treat­ment. It’s real­ly not that com­pli­cat­ed to treat rich peo­ple and poor peo­ple and famous peo­ple and unfa­mous peo­ple and peo­ple who wear uni­forms and peo­ple who don’t the same.

How will your office main­tain Philadel­phia as a sanc­tu­ary city?

Local law enforce­ment all over the coun­try is not going to do Don­ald Trump’s bid­ding. Hav­ing said that there are lim­its to what local law enforce­ment can do. One of the unfor­tu­nate side effects of the Oba­ma Administration’s efforts is we now have a fin­ger print sys­tem where at the moment of arrest fin­ger­prints go direct­ly from the police who take the prints to ICE. And ICE has a data­base of who has doc­u­men­ta­tion to be here and who does not. So, I don’t want to sug­gest that it nec­es­sar­i­ly means that ICE won’t be able to deport peo­ple, they will. They will just be deport­ing peo­ple accord­ing to their own resources rather than count­ing on local officials.

As a civ­il right attor­ney, you defend­ed Occu­py and Black Lives Mat­ter activists. What do you see is the rela­tion­ship between protests and law enforcement? 

Every sin­gle per­son who sits on a jury who is not a white man got there because of protests. Every sin­gle police offi­cer or mem­ber of law enforce­ment or fire­fight­er who’s not a white man, got there because of protests. There’s a direct con­nec­tion between the peo­ple that are enforc­ing the law and the peo­ple who are in pub­lic office pass­ing laws and protests. Polit­i­cal oppor­tunists are not so good at pol­i­tics. Activists and orga­niz­ers, it turns out are a lot bet­ter at pol­i­tics. That’s what I saw in this cam­paign and what we saw with the Bernie Sanders cam­paign and maybe even to some extent with the Trump cam­paign. We are going to see more protests, not less, dur­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. And we should. We are also going to see law enforce­ment able to draw a con­nec­tion between their best inter­ests and the best inter­ests of protest­ing free speech.

How will the DA’s office fight to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and the health of our children?

So obvi­ous­ly you have a pres­i­dent whose goal is the elim­i­na­tion of the EPA and that means there’s a lot of peo­ple in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment who have ded­i­cat­ed their careers to fight­ing pol­lu­tion and real­ly don’t want to be there any­more. You have a lot of Assis­tant Unit­ed States Attor­neys at the fed­er­al lev­el who used to do civ­il or crim­i­nal work in rela­tion to pol­lu­tion who are going to be shut down. That means that it will be incum­bent upon local pros­e­cu­tors and local law enforce­ment offi­cers to pick this up in the same way that they’re going to have to pick up white col­lar crime, which the pres­i­dent is not going to pros­e­cute either, in my opinion.

A lot of the nor­mal func­tions of fed­er­al gov­ern­ment are going to fall to local gov­ern­ment and it will be a strug­gle because local pros­e­cu­tors are not ordi­nar­i­ly equipped to do these things. But I’m also con­fi­dent that a lot of those peo­ple who work on these issues with­in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment or work in the non-prof­it com­mu­ni­ty are going to migrate to local dis­trict attorney’s offices to do the same kind of work at the local level.

Can you talk a bit about the push to treat drugs as a pub­lic health issue and the role of safe injec­tion sites?

We have a big phar­ma-gen­er­at­ed cri­sis unlike any I remem­ber in my life­time. We have seen a 400 per­cent increase in the avail­abil­i­ty of pills pro­duced by Amer­i­can phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that are opi­ates and opi­oids, and that almost inevitably lead to peo­ple who become addict­ed to them to hero­in and fentanyl.

And just as we’ve had a four-fold increase in pills we have had more or less a four-fold increase in over­dos­es from opi­ates, opi­oids and hero­in. We have to look at what’s real­ly caus­ing this cri­sis, which is big phar­ma. They need to stop and we need to hold them account­able. Some peo­ple in these com­pa­nies might need to go to jail and cer­tain­ly they might need to lose a lot of their prof­it because that’s why they’re doing this.

But we also have to deal with the real­i­ty that the cur­rent lev­el of addic­tion is absurd. We have to do what­ev­er we can not only to stop more peo­ple from start­ing but to try to reha­bil­i­tate peo­ple who are already addict­ed and to pre­vent some of the oth­er harms that come from this behav­ior. That includes things like dirty nee­dles caus­ing the spread of HIV/AIDS, Hepati­tis C and oth­er dis­eases. And there’s the vio­lence that goes along with hero­in trade and the sale of pills on the street.

One solu­tion is pro­vid­ing harm reduc­tion: places where clean nee­dles are avail­able and where dirty nee­dles are dis­posed. And per­haps most impor­tant­ly, places where there is an evan­ge­lism of reha­bil­i­ta­tion, where we can get peo­ple who are addict­ed into treat­ment so that they have a chance of reclaim­ing their lives. That’s what we have to do. It’s going to hap­pen whether gov­ern­ment does it or not.

What does your cam­paign mean nationally? 

On the one hand, this cam­paign is noth­ing more than an exten­sion and a con­tin­u­a­tion of sim­i­lar cam­paigns all over the coun­try, in Orlan­do, Chica­go, Hous­ton, Cor­pus Christi and oth­er places. So I think what’s hap­pen­ing here is real­ly just an exten­sion of nation­al trends. You have peo­ple on both the left and on the right, includ­ing the Koch broth­ers and Newt Gin­grich, who agree that mass incar­cer­a­tion is a dis­as­ter, who agree that civ­il for­fei­ture is unac­cept­able. You have a con­sen­sus form­ing and it is push­ing the elec­tion of pro­gres­sive dis­trict attor­neys across the country.

I think it’s fair to say that part of what’s going on is ani­mat­ed by the elec­tion of Trump because many peo­ple have seen it as a call to action. On the oth­er hand, we do have some­thing that’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent hap­pen­ing here and I think that’s very impor­tant. In this cam­paign, we made very clear that we weren’t going to pur­sue the death penal­ty. That was a posi­tion that every polit­i­cal oper­a­tive thought was fool­hardy and advised against. But it’s a posi­tion we took.

So I think our cam­paign is both an exten­sion of a nation­al move­ment but it’s an even more pro­gres­sive can­di­da­cy that is sup­port­ed in a dif­fer­ent way by hav­ing broad grass­roots sup­port that comes from activists and organizers.

This is a strong sig­nal. If this result is dupli­cat­ed around the coun­try, which I absolute­ly think it will be, you are going to see can­di­dates that are more pro­gres­sive and you’re going to see them win­ning up and down the slate. 

Nyle Fort is a min­is­ter, activist, and Phd stu­dent at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly orga­niz­ing with the New Jer­sey Poor People’s Campaign.
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