Across the country, Republicans have decided to make “Law-and-Order” an issue they are pushing in the upcoming mid-term elections. In Pennsylvania and states across the country, Republican candidates are making the claim that their Democratic opponents are “soft and crime” and that a “tougher” approach is needed. (One cannot overlook the irony that this is the same political party that has insisted the January 6 attack on the Capitol was not an attempted coup). However, Republican legislators in Pennsylvania have chosen to go after an official who is not up for election, Philadelphia District Attorney (DA) Larry Krasner, and hold hearings to impeach him for the city’s rampant gun violence.
There is no disagreement that the city’s gun violence has reached levels not seen in two decades. As of September 25, there have been 397 homicides and 1395 non-fatal shootings this year. And all are tragic. Just this week a 14-year-old boy was killed and four others wounded, as they were leaving a football field after a scrimmage. Other such incidents have occurred at bus stations and numerous street corners. Some of the shootings have appeared to be targeted attacks, while others have just seemed random, injuring or killing innocent bystanders. DA Larry Krasner, along with the Mayor, City Council, the Police Department, and numerous community organizations have met repeatedly to address the underlying causes of the violence. Millions of dollars have been allocated by the city to fund organizations seeking to mitigate those causes. So, for the state legislators to impugn one official for all this carnage smacks of political opportunism and nothing more.
Moreover, the voters of Philadelphia have overwhelmingly elected Krasner twice to be their D.A. He has been willing to challenge traditional approaches to crime prevention by supporting restorative justice organizations and choosing to not prosecute low-level offenses such as small amounts of illegal drug possession and prostitution. He has boldly challenged police misconduct by prosecuting officers for the violent and wonton abuse of their power in the arrest of would-be offenders. He has advocated for the elimination of cash bail for routine offenses and supported government-supported drug injection sites where those who struggle with addiction can get medical and mental health support rather than being arrested. All these actions run counter to the Law-and-Order approach traditionally followed by DAs and supported by most Republicans and have led to strong reactions to those who hold more traditional views of how to address crime. Krasner and those who support him (I count myself in this group), view many individuals involved in gun violence as young persons in need of hope, direction, and treatment for mental health issues, not just incarceration. For these reasons, Krasner and other progressive DAs across the country have come under fire from their Republican counterparts.
The hypocrisy of the Pennsylvania Republican effort is not in their Law-and-Order position because it is a legitimate ideological alternative to Krasner’s approach. The hypocrisy is found in the Republican legislators pinning the blame for the rise in gun violence, solely on Krasner. The responsibility for curbing the violence falls on all public officials, including the legislature. For over a decade various Philadelphia Mayors and City Council members have passed laws restricting the number and types of guns that can be sold in the city. Even Lynn Abraham, one of the most Law-and Order DAs in Philly’s history pushed for those laws to be instituted.
But every time, the Republican-controlled legislature has struck down these laws down on the basis that such laws could only be enacted by the state government and not at the local level. Just this week Mayor Jim Kenney ordered that no guns should be allowed in community centers and now he is being sued by the Gun Owners of America, a national gun rights advocacy group that financially supports the Republicans. To date the PA legislature has not passed any legislation that make access to firearms more difficult or banned the deadliest of guns, often used in violent crimes. If anything, they have made access to such firearms easier not less.
If the legislature really cared about Philly’s gun violence problem, they would look first at their role in allowing the violence to go unabated. For over a decade gun violence prevention advocacy organizations like Ceasefire PA and Heeding God’s Call have been calling for commonsense gun regulations, such as laws restricting sales to one gun a month, laws requiring lost and stolen guns are reported to the police, and closing loopholes at gun shows which don’t require a background check. Instead, Republicans have repeatedly blocked the passage of such bills.
Instead of wasting its time in political theater by seeking to impeach Larry Krasner, the legislature ought to look at what it can do to help keep firearms out of the hands of those who are participating in the deadly violence in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. Krasner has resisted the subpoenas calling for him to be questioned by the committee but has stated he is willing to be interviewed if it can be done in a public forum and not a closed-door interrogation. He is willing to openly share his views on how law enforcement should operate and how officials can work together to address the deadly violence on our streets. Such a public forum would allow people to hear for themselves what Krasner does and does not believe. And it might challenge Republican legislators to answer for their failure to help cities like Philadelphia address the problems of violence they face.
There may be ways that Larry Krasner needs to change his approach. The same goes for the Republican-led legislature. Instead of wasting time blaming one official, the PA legislature should stop their hypocritical charade, and instead bring together all those who have the power and means to address the problems of gun violence that threaten us all.