Councilmember Cindy Bass is a unicorn. She did something none of the elected officials or Democratic candidates have had the guts to do as directly: she said publicly what they all do privately and she challenged Larry Krasner on his lies.
The occasion was Krasner’s budget testimony during which he requested an additional $7 million dollars to help his office fight crime. You read that correctly. His request brings to mind a line from the Tom Hanks movie the Money Pit;
“Just because they showed up to collect the money is no guarantee that they’ll show up to do the work…”
From Krasner’s own dashboard of statistics the District Attorney’s Office is approving and prosecuting approximately 50 percent of the total cases per year that it did during my tenure.
Krasner has not been doing the work yet, to quote one of my favorite Judges, the late Tamara Myers Clark; “he has the nerve, the audacity, the temerity” to ask for MORE money! More money to prosecute retail theft and carjacking specifically, when it is his own policy to downgrade retail theft and not charge misdemeanors or felonies for anything less than $500. This, coupled with his political decision to not want to prosecute the illegal possession of firearms, has resulted in the geometric increase in carjackings.
This is the same guy that during a training for his Assistant District Attorneys had them instructed that people that carry guns illegally should NEVER get jail time.
His policy to NOT hold people accountable is directly responsible for the dramatic increase in retail thefts, that led to our local CVS and corner stores resembling Ft. Knox when you want shaving gel and deodorant and ultimately causing many to board up and shut down.
In writing this piece I searched through history and anecdotes for an accurate analogy to illustrate the absurdity of Krasner’s conduct. But in the end I concluded that there is no adequate metaphor for the obscenity of his behavior: a man sworn with the duty to protect the public and enforce the law who has implemented policies that have directly contributed to rampant theft, violence and mayhem, now coming to the City Council asking for millions of dollars more to fight the barrage of increased theft, violence, and mayhem he helped create.
If you missed the exchange between Emperor Krasner and Councilmember Bass you can see it here at minute 3:04:
The exchange epitomizes the divide between the transcendental world of theoretical justice where Krasner lives and the real world of shuttered businesses and dead sons and daughters where Bass lives. Here we have on video for all the world to see our white progressive prosecutor wokesplaining to a black woman from North Philadelphia why the District Attorney has no responsibility for crime and violence in our city.
In a rational world, Krasner’s detached, lawyerly arrogance is no match for Councilmember Bass’ common-sense questions. Yet, unlike Bass, most of the city council, the candidates for Mayor and the current Mayor refuse to tell the emperor he has no clothes.
Let me paraphrase the Councilmember’s basic questions, which I think captured what most of us want to know. Do you, Mr. Krasner, think everything is ok? Are the people who say it is not ok making it up? If things are not ok, is any of that your fault?
The Councilwoman was initially focused in her questioning on retail theft, following up on questions from Councilman Harrity who lives in Kensington where retail businesses are an endangered species. She was likely struck, as I was, by Councilman Harrity’s agonizing plea on behalf of senior citizens who have to ride the bus to a different neighborhood to fill their prescriptions because all of the pharmacies in Kensington have closed down due to rampant theft.
Why, asked Harrity, do repeat offenders keep offending with no consequences? Krasner was asking for more money and justifying it in part by saying it is needed to prosecute retail theft. Unreconciled by Krasner was the fact that it is his own practice of downgrading retail theft to a summary and rarely, if ever, charge misdemeanors or felonies for anything less than $500 that essentially decriminalized retail theft in the city. (Raise your hand if you ever spent more than $500 in Walgreens). We aren’t talking about a hungry person snagging a bag of chips. We are talking about folks with duffel bags stealing an entire shelf of stuff.
Bass was justifiably offended by Krasner’s patronizing dismissal of Harrity’s measured but powerful inquiry. Not just because Krasner is generally offensive, but because she knows he is lying when he claims his office is doing its job in prosecuting retail theft. Bass has read his policies;
- Charge and dispose of Retail Theft cases as summary offenses unless the value of the item (s) stolen in a particular case exceeds $500.00 or where the defendant has a very long history of theft and retail theft convictions.
- You must seek supervisory approval to charge and dispose of retail theft cases at misdemeanor or felony levels.
- Remember, that a summary conviction permits a sentence of 90 days incarceration, fines of up to $250, and full restitution. These penalties are sufficient to hold a retail thief accountable.
They sound good unless you understand what they mean in practice. Councilwoman Bass has talked to the people who have seen this practice, not the policy.
Let’s start with item one. The phrase “long history” is not defined but in practice it is very long indeed. Sources within the police department report that thieves with more than a dozen summary theft charges in the past continue to get a pass from Krasner. His office’s intentional incompetence ensures that it is hard to get a long history of convictions so the real policy is that theft under $500 is almost always a summary, if anything at all.
Next, paragraph two – the requirement for supervisor approval. Given Krasner’s demeanor and reputation for petty retaliation (he fired 31 DAs he didn’t like his first week on the job), how many junior DAs do you think tell their supervisor they want to upgrade a retail theft charge? Answer: zero, because if you read paragraph three, Krasner makes it clear he thinks a $250 fine (that is never paid) and a 90 day jail sentence (that is never imposed) is “sufficient.” And all of this equals what Bass is hearing and the store owners are experiencing – theft is legal.
The other reason Krasner was asking for more money was to combat carjacking. Again, left unsaid was his philosophical contribution to the carjacking epidemic. Remember his infamous claim that “we do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings.”
Is there anyone that does not think this policy contributes to more people carrying guns and committing more crimes including carjacking using guns?
When she questioned Krasner, Councilwoman Bass broadened the inquiry beyond retail theft to include crime in general and Krasner’s treatment of victims and their families. She cites the murder of a 15-year-old on his way to school and the uncharged murder of a city officials’ son.
Krasner’s response consisted of a series of lies and distractions. If lying were a sport there would be an entire wing in the Lying Hall of Fame dedicated to Krasner. He is a spectacular liar. First he criticized Councilwoman Bass or as she said threw “shade” about who attended more meetings. He then announced in a literal checking of the box that he sent a staffer to the 15-year old’s funeral.
The one thing he does not do is answer her questions. So let me see if I can answer for him.
Everything is NOT ok. We have had over 500 murders each of the past two years and murders have been on a steady increase ever since Krasner took office. Businesses are fleeing the city because stealing less than $500 of stuff has been decriminalized.
The victims of crime and violence, children, families and the businesses that they rely on for food and medication, none of them are making this up. This is not coming from the same people who say elections are stolen or that Elvis or Tupac are still alive. It is reality.
Shootings in Center City, children killed at football practice or walking to school, chain stores pulling out of the city, robberies and beatings in Rittenhouse Square, shootings at the Clothespin and on the subway, a destructive mob of teenagers rampaging through the Fashion District, and a 62-year-old woman shot in Tioga-Nicetown, These things are really happening and they are destroying our city.
As I always say, it is not the severity of punishment that changes behavior it is the CERTAINTY. In Philadelphia thieves and illegal gun possessors know there is no punishment. Krasner’s decriminalization and mass decarceration are just as reckless — and bad for public safety, justice and the rule of law — as mass incarceration.
Yes, some of it is Krasner’s fault. Not ALL of it. No one questions that as Krasner stated the causes of crime are complex. But Larry’s job is not complex. I know I did the job as an Assistant DA for over ten years and as the DA for over seven. The job is straightforward, charge the right people with crime, prosecute crime, and seek justice for victims of crime. That is not complex and that is what Krasner is failing to do.
In closing, cue the attacks on me from the Krasnerites: “How dare he have an opinion. He resigned, he was indicted. He went to jail…etc.” As I have said before, I don’t enjoy the attacks from his defenders following my published opinion. But it is a small price to pay to speak out against this new kind of injustice.
Krasner’s version of criminal justice reform is really a woke deviancy that camouflages the suffering of our citizens by dressing up irrational policies as acts of fairness, reparation and reconciliation. It is difficult to confront someone who in defense of his failed policies, dons the armor of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other authentic leaders. It is a task that most are not willing to take on. Because I have nothing to lose in terms of the level of acrimony and condemnation that will come from speaking out, I am uniquely situated and liberated to do so. And for that reason I will continue, regardless of who it offends.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales told for Children, swindlers posing as weavers supply the emperor with clothes that are supposedly invisible to those that are stupid or incompetent. The people did not tell the emperor that he had no clothes because they were afraid to criticize him, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the emperor was wearing nothing at all. The people then realized that everyone had been fooled. Although startled, the emperor continues walking even more proudly than ever.
Well, in Philadelphia in 2023 the violence is no fairy tale it is real. We are averaging almost seven shootings a day now. In 2022, there were 2,225 shooting victims of which 472 were homicides. Of the fatal shooting victims, 76 percent were black men. Carjackings have quadrupled since 2017. People are allowed to steal up to $500 worth of stuff. Yet the DA keeps parading like everyone else is wrong.
If Krasner sincerely wants to reduce retail theft, if he honestly wants to protect consumers and business owners, if he really wants to be “progressive” at his next weekly press conference, he can stand before the cameras and microphones and say: “Beginning today, my office will ENFORCE THE LAW.” Now that would be radical.
So thank you, Councilmember Bass, for asking those questions. Please keep asking them until your colleagues and folks that can make a difference really wake up and recognize that our DA is wearing no clothes, is an incompetent liar, and all the money in the world can’t change that.
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.