I am living in Larry Krasner’s head.
Throughout the past several months, Krasner has used my name twice to respond to media scrutiny about his failures as a prosecutor. The first time was in February. When asked why the leader of a murderous carjacking ring was on the street instead of in prison, he replied, “Ask Seth Williams.” Then, at a community meeting on June 8, he was pressed about the lack of legal consequences for criminals and about the mass shooting on South Street. Krasner responded, “We hold people responsible from off the street to elected politicians like Seth Williams.”
I have made clear to anyone who will listen that I think Larry Krasner, through a dangerous mix of incompetence and ideology, has destroyed the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office and unleashed an atmosphere of lawlessness in our city. Ask anyone involved in the criminal justice system, including criminal defense lawyers, and they will tell you the District Attorney’s office is a mess. In a single year — 2021 — the office lost 130 lawyers, a nearly 50% attrition rate. The lawyers remaining are new, inexperienced and poorly trained. The homicide unit once staffed by some of the most experienced homicide prosecutors in the country is now staffed by lawyers prosecuting their third jury trial. There is almost no institutional knowledge in the office because Krasner either fired or drove out most of the talent. The experienced prosecutors that remain live day-to-day like dissidents behind the Iron Curtain; afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal.
READ MORE — R. Seth Williams: Krasner puts ideology over duty in pursuing phony innocence claims
Since the days of Richardson Dilworth, the elected Philadelphia District Attorney has recognized and respected the professionalism of the staff he or she inherited and with few exceptions retained the attorneys from the prior administration. Not Krasner. On his first day in office, he carried out an ideological purge by firing 31 longtime prosecutors. For Krasner, the operations of the office take a back seat to his personal vendettas. The local press captured the fired prosecutors leaving with their personal belongings in boxes, maximizing their humiliation.
Krasner didn’t limit his vendettas to firings. In what can only be described as a Stalinesque attempt to erase his enemies from history, Krasner took the extraordinary step of renaming the office’s Ray Harley Conference room. Harley, who I worked for as a young assistant DA, was universally respected and beloved, including most criminal defense lawyers. But Krasner could not tolerate anyone from prior administrations having a prominent place in an office he runs. Like the Grinch, he slithered around and removed any remnant of tribute to Harley. Gone are the plaques and sentimental photos of Ray that were dedicated at a ceremony attended by Ray’s family and generations of prosecutors. As a cover for his pettiness, he renamed the room after U.S. Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor — an admirable woman with zero connection to Philadelphia or the office.
Krasner and his inner circle of advisors engage in these petty exercises instead of doing their jobs as prosecutors.
“We hold people responsible.” Ask any cop who has arrested the same criminal multiple times for carrying a gun in a crime-plagued neighborhood only to see them back on the street the next day, and they will tell you this claim by Krasner is not true. Krasner’s office holds almost no one responsible when it comes to gun crime. Under Krasner, the conviction rate for illegal gun possession has plummeted from 71% in 2015 to 42% now. Despite Krasner’s nonsensical claims to the contrary, there is a direct connection between people who carry guns and people who shoot guns. If you don’t punish the former, you will have more of the latter. The absence of consequences for gun violence in Philadelphia is not a natural occurrence. It is the logical result of Krasner’s deliberate decisions to abandon proven and effective strategies that reduce crime.
Since the days of Richardson Dilworth, the elected Philadelphia District Attorney has recognized and respected the professionalism of the staff he or she inherited and with few exceptions retained the attorneys from the prior administration. Not Krasner.
In addition to eviscerating or silencing the experienced legal staff at the office, Krasner has ended geographic, community-based prosecution that promoted coordination between law enforcement agencies and community groups. He ended evidence-based strategies like Gunstat that prioritized gun offenses and violent offenders by police district. He is either unwilling or unable to support strategies like Focused Deterrence.
Despite being the chief law enforcement officer in Philadelphia, Krasner refuses to take any responsibility for the record level of homicide in the city. When confronted with these facts, he denies reality. Under Krasner, last year Philadelphia saw the most murders in its history; 562. In 2013, the city had the lowest number of murders in 45 years; 246. The following year, the total was 248. Since Krasner has taken office, there has been over a 50% increase in murders in Philadelphia.
According to Krasner, it was not anything he did or did not do. Instead, he blames me, the police, judges, lawmakers in Harrisburg and D.C., Nutter, Rizzo, Republicans, Donald Trump, and everyone else except the Phillie Phanatic. Nowhere in his long list of culprits do you find himself, anyone who works for him, or any mistake he has made or policy he has implemented.
READ MORE: Philly Democrats remain largely silent on Krasner non-prosecution stance for illegal guns
Now in his second term, he still has no idea how to reduce violent crime. When confronted with the effectiveness of past approaches, he lies. According to Krasner, the record low homicides 2013 and 2014 had nothing to do with the leadership of Michael Nutter and Chuck Ramsey. According to Krasner, murders were down everywhere in the country during those years. Like many of Krasner’s statements, that is true but misleading. Nationwide in 2013 compared to 2012, murder was down about four percent. In Philadelphia between 2012 and 2013, it was down 25%. There were many cities in 2013 in which murders were up. The people leading Philadelphia in 2013 and 2014 made a difference.
Krasner also lies about what’s happening now. According to Larry, the record murders in Philadelphia in 2021 are the result of Covid, poverty and racism, and they can’t be stopped because they are happening everywhere. Tell that to Dallas, Charlotte, St. Louis, Detroit, and other cities in which murders decreased in 2021. In each of those cities, police and prosecutors made a difference. Closer to home in Chester, there was an almost 40% drop in homicides in 2021. Coincidentally, Chester is employing the same strategies that were pioneered by police and prosecutors in Philadelphia in 2013 and 2014 (they even hired former Philadelphia prosecutors to lead the effort).
In Larry’s world, murder is like the weather: it comes and goes and there is nothing anyone can do about it. According to Larry, not doing his job doesn’t matter, because even DAs who do their job have no impact on violent crime.
Elected officials and most of the media repeatedly let Larry off the hook. Instead of confronting his lies they allow him to execute the “Krasner Two Step:” 1) make a false statement (“We hold people responsible,” “murders are up everywhere”), and 2) attack or blame someone else (“like Seth Williams,” “ask Seth Williams.”)
To put an end to this public spectacle, I offer the following open letter to the DA:
“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation, I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial!”
Those are the words of Shakespeare’s Cassio when Othello takes away his title as a lieutenant as punishment for drunken behavior. It captures Cassio’s painful realization that his image and his status are gone and that what remains is unrecognizable.
Five years ago this month, June 29, 2017, when I was 50 years old, I pleaded guilty to a federal crime and was sentenced to five years in prison. Like Cassio, I lost my title (as the elected District Attorney of the city of Philadelphia). I lost my license to practice law, my pension, my military career. I lost friends. I lost my house. I lost my reputation. I was stripped bare as a man, humiliated, unmoored and lost.
I have lived with the consequences of my actions since then. Most are personal and between my family, loved ones, myself and my God. But there is one consequence of my fall that is very public and one for which I have agonizing shame and guilt; you, Larry. You are in the District Attorney’s office because I am not. I own that. I understand I am an imperfect vessel. I also understand that every time I open my mouth to speak, I will be attacked by you, your paid social media minions, and others. I have tried to lead a private life focused on God, family and service but I cannot remain silent as you destroy the city I love.
My sins do not absolve you of your guilt. So rather than invoke my name when you are in a tight spot, take personal responsibility. Admit that your approach to guns and violent crime has failed. Ask for help and take the advice of police and prosecutors who have had success in fighting crime. I have known you since 1992. I know you hate police and prosecutors and take pleasure in demeaning their professions. But even knowing that, I still want you to wise up and succeed.
Stop measuring yourself by your own rhetoric and silly statistics (from your campaign website under “Promises Kept;” “The amount of time people will spend in prison has dropped by over 18,000 years”). Instead, measure yourself by the number of lives you can save by reducing shootings and murders.
You talk about ending poverty and improving education. Those are admirable goals that will help a future population of young men who would otherwise get caught up in the criminal justice system. But what about the current population of young men that is terrorizing the city by carrying guns? What are you doing about them? You say prosecuting illegal possession of guns criminalizes poverty. No, Larry. It criminalizes folks willing to kill Philadelphians. Criminals that carry and use guns against their neighbors don’t need library cards; they need jail cells. Until you can admit the difference and begin doing your job, the violence will continue.
Your ego is not more important than the truth. Stop lying. Start telling the truth or keep my name out your mouth.
R. Seth Williams
R. Seth Williams is the former district attorney for Philadelphia, and was the first African American elected as a district attorney anywhere in the commonwealth. Follow him on Twitter at @newsethwilliams.