“Since taking office in January 2018, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has worked to reduce excessive jail and supervision so we can shift those resources to achieve more effective crime prevention and a just society.” This quote proudly appears on the Philadelphia district attorney’s website, right above the claim that the number of years of incarcerations in Philadelphia dropped by 18,100 when compared to the period of 2014 to 2017, due to the Krasner administration’s focus on making sure criminals spend less time in jail .
Interestingly, as the district attorney celebrates reducing incarceration, the Philadelphia Police Department reports that homicides continue to spike at an alarming rate:
- 2014: 248
- 2015: 280
- 2016: 277
- 2017: 315
- 2018: 353
- 2019: 356
- 2020: 499
The DA boasts on his website that he “uses data to tell a true story that has not been told about crime, about public safety, about our people, and about our city.” A brief look at just a few of those Philadelphia homicides, however, tells a harrowing tale about the effects of Krasner’s rush to reduce incarcerations.
Take Hassan Elliott, for example, arrested by police on June 8, 2017, for illegal possession of a firearm and narcotics after he threatened a neighbor with a gun. On January 24, 2018, the Krasner administration negotiated a guilty plea for the firearms charge but dropped the narcotics charge, freeing Elliott to be paroled the next day. After Krasner updated his website tally of the reduced number of incarcerations, Elliott murdered Tyree Tyrone on March 1, 2019, with an illegal firearm. When Philadelphia police Corporal James O’Connor attempted to arrest Elliott on March 13, 2020, Elliott murdered the 23-year-old police veteran and married father of two, again with an illegal firearm. I am sure Krasner’s reduced incarceration tally and vision of a “just society” does not comfort the family of Tyree Tyrone or Corporal O’Connor.
Similarly, I wonder if the family of seven-year-old Zamar Jones, who was murdered on August 1, 2020, with an illegal firearm by career criminal Michael Banks, finds comfort in Krasner’s reduced incarceration statistics. Police had previously arrested Banks on October 23, 2018, for felony and misdemeanor crimes related to illegal firearms, but on February 13, 2019, Krasner dropped the felony charges, resulting in a drastic reduction in incarceration time and putting Banks back on the streets immediately. Perhaps little Zamar would still be alive today if Krasner had not been so eager to add to the city’s reduced incarceration statistics.
I wonder if the family of seven-year-old Zamar Jones, who was murdered on August 1, 2020, with an illegal firearm by career criminal Michael Banks, finds comfort in Krasner’s reduced incarceration statistics.
Maybe Krasner should instead track criminals arrested on illegal firearms offenses who got sweetheart deals and then went back to the streets, only to murder Philadelphians with more, you guessed it, illegal firearms. That would be a statistic that tells a terrifying tale and puts the bragging about reduced incarceration in a different light.
The list goes on. Career criminal Jerome Martin, who received house arrest from Krasner’s office rather than incarceration for his illegal firearm crimes, left his house on August 8, 2019, to murder Jeffrey Sandine, father of a newborn son. Similarly, Krasner dropped all serious charges against Timothy Sherfield, who Philadelphia police arrested on March 27, 2017, for aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, and possession of an illegal firearm, resulting in a sentence of less than one year. After being released, he wasted no time in murdering Izeem Hunter.
The DA also made sure to drop most of the charges against Shabazz Sweets after his March 2, 2018, arrest, so that he received only probation, freeing him up to murder 56 year-old grandfather Michael Gleba, who owned an auto repair shop. And finally, another violent criminal who favors illegal firearms, Tariq Gant, received probation on February 5, 2018, after Krasner’s office negotiated a sweetheart plea deal. Later that same year, on September 6, Gant committed murder.
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U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain spoke out publicly about the Krasner effect. “Krasner’s policies coddle and embolden violent criminals, create a culture of lawlessness, and have inevitable consequences—one of which is a murder rate in Philadelphia that is the highest it has been in several decades.” On December 10, 2020, McSwain, understandably not trusting the Krasner Administration to prioritize justice over its decarceration fascination, announced an indictment against Hassan Elliott and his co-conspirators for the murder of Corporal O’Connor.
In attempting to counteract Krasner’s deadly policies, McSwain speaks for both the victims and the City of Philadelphia. Each homicide victim leaves behind grief-stricken families and friends whose loved ones’ deaths could have been prevented if Krasner recognized that freeing violent criminals makes all Philadelphians less safe.
In 2020, Lee Fierro, the actress who played the mother of shark victim Alex Kinter in the 1975 horror film “Jaws” died at the age of 91. Movie fans will recall the memorable scene when Fierro, dressed in funeral black, confronts Chief Brody after her son’s death: “I just found out that a girl got killed here last week. And you knew it. You knew there was a shark out there. You knew it was dangerous. But you let people go swimming anyway. You knew all those things. But still my boy is dead now. And there is nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.”
That character speaks for Philadelphia homicide victims and their survivors, as well as Philadelphia citizens subjected to living in a violent city. Krasner knows that the dangerous criminals he prematurely releases back to the streets will only commit more crimes, and in too many cases, murder. His policies are the shark in the water. He cannot do anything about the skyrocketing murders that already occurred under his watch, but maybe he will rethink his decarceration obsession in 2021, and in doing so save at least some Philadelphia families the pain of losing a loved one at the hands of a career criminal who belongs in prison, not on Philadelphia’s streets.
Linda A. Kerns is an attorney and a co-founder of Broad + Liberty. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. @lindakernslaw