Based on recent media coverage, and a shocking endorsement of Beth Grossman by the Philadelphia Inquirer, we can safely assume that many Philadelphians left their homes this morning looking up at the clouds in fear. Surely the sky was falling after Larry Krasner’s decisive win in the race for District Attorney of Philadelphia. After all, hadn’t things been going swimmingly all these years? Why in the world would we want to upset the apple cart by electing a bomb-throwing radical like Krasner, when there was a perfectly good candidate like Beth Grossman to vote for?
So let’s take these issues one at a time. It helps to remember that Chicken Little believed disaster to be imminent because an acorn fell on his head; those in a panic over this election are suffering from a similar hysteria. Krasner’s positions – ending the death penalty, working to eliminate cash bail, opposing mass incarceration through fair rather than maximum sentences – are hardly sky-falling. Death sentences are at an all-time low, cash bail has been shown to unnecessarily incarcerate the indigent at taxpayer expense, and even conservatives are now re-examining the criminal justice policies that have led to mass incarceration. In short, Krasner’s election isn’t even a falling acorn.
Have things been going so well in the Philadelphia justice system that we should have wished to keep the status quo? Hardly. Philadelphia has seen videotapes of leading prosecutors teaching young assistants how to keep poor blacks off juries, dozens of convictions reversed based on prosecutorial misconduct of all stripes, and its most recent District Attorney sent to prison. Indeed, Philadelphia stood out like a sore thumb in the Northeast, which had almost entirely rejected the death penalty and began instituting real justice reforms years before Krasner even decided to run. Keeping the status quo would have been the equivalent of selecting a district attorney by standing still while everyone else took a step backwards. We are better than that, and Krasner is a giant stride forward from the career prosecutors who have occupied that office in the past.
Finally, was Beth Grossman the better choice, as the Fraternal Order of Police advocated? Certainly she had years of experience, having worked under the regressive Lynne Abraham and the convicted Seth Williams. She ran the civil forfeiture unit, a controversial wing of the office that was routinely accused of seizing assets from people who were not complicit in any way with crimes.
The main complaint leveled against Larry Krasner, a Stanford law graduate with years of experience fighting police abuse and other civil rights violations, is that he has no experience being a prosecutor. Given the history of Philadelphia’s justice system, some fresh eyes seem very welcome right now.