- Larry Krasner, the progressive District Attorney of Philadelphia, told Insider that more than half of the arrests made in the city since Saturday have been police citations and not criminal charges.
- That ratio shows him that the city has turned a corner on how it responds to protest activity, he said.
- He compared the protests to the 2000 National Republican Convention, when more than 400 demonstrators were arrested and harshly prosecuted.
- “It means that Philadelphia is no longer trying to be as draconian as possible, and Philadelphia is more in line with many other cities,” Krasner said of the response to recent demonstrations.
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In the summer of 2000, more than 400 people protesting against the death penalty were arrested during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors went after the cases “hammer and tong” on “frankly bogus high charges,” Philadelphia’s District Attorney Larry Krasner, an outspoken progressive and former civil rights attorney, told Insider this week.
For four years, the district attorney at the time aggressively pursued charges against demonstrators, and almost all of them resulted in no jail time.
“There were acquittals and dismissals of about 98% of all defendants and about 99% per cent of all the charges,” Krasner said. “It was such a beat down that basically none of the people… ended up doing a day in jail beyond what they had done waiting for someone to pay their bail.”
Fast forward 20 years and Philadelphia, like the rest of the nation, is facing another found of protests. This time, they’re in opposition to systemic racism and police brutality.
Between Saturday at noon and Wednesday evening, 544 individuals had been arrested in Philadelphia. About three-fourths of them were charged with commercial burglary and trespassing. Almost twice that number of people were issued “CVNs,” or police-issued citations that don’t result in formal charges from the district attorney’s office, Krasner said.
With citations, police write individuals up for “whatever they think you’ve done” and they are released from custody within a few hours, Krasner said. It’s a shift from how the city used to handle protesters.
“It is significant, it is important, that there are probably twice as many CVNs as there are misdemeanour and felony charges because that is not how it used to be,” Krasner said. “That is a positive thing. It means that Philadelphia is no longer trying to be as draconian as possible and Philadelphia is more in line with many other cities.”
The criminal cases – many of them related to looting – will be prosecuted, Krasner said
Krasner is of the most progressive district attorneys in the US. As a civil rights attorney, he had sued the police more than 75 times for abuse allegations. Now that he’s Philadelphia’s top prosecutor, many were left wondering how he would handle arrests related to police brutality protest activities in his city.
Krasner though, said his office won’t see a majority of arrests related to protest activities – like missed curfews or allegations of public disturbances – because they are handled through the police department. The arrests and charges that are coming into his office are primarily looting-related and will be prosecuted, he said.
Of the 558 criminal cases – involving 544 people – processed by Krasner’s office by Wednesday, three-fourths were related to commercial burglary or tress passing in the area of the protests, he said.
The other quarter was a mix of cases that involved gun charges, and other cases that Krasner considers “opportunistic” and unrelated to the protests.
For example, there were efforts to use quarter sticks of dynamite to blow up between 40 and 50 ATMs on one night, Krasner said.
The office has also had to reject some cases filed by police because of a lack of evidence or holding delays, and because of rules requiring that juveniles be arraigned within six hours of their arrest.
“We’ve had some cases that we’ve had to decline, meaning we won’t charge at this time, because there was very substantial and legally excessive delays in the period of time juveniles were being held,” Krasner said.
“We have seen a few cases, as we always do, where the evidence doesn’t support the charges,” he added.
Krasner said that his office has a large team of prosecutors evaluating each case to make sure that evidence supports the charges people face.
“We are obviously still being very, very serious about going after these crimes of opportunity. Looting is serious. I see no contradiction there,” Krasner said. “We should support free speech, we should support protest, and we should go after opportunistic crime, and we are.”
Even with hundreds of arrests, Krasner expects only a small percentage of the defendants to be held in jail
The anti-racism demonstrations fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many worry that the increase in arrests during this time will lead to virus outbreaks inside jails.
Jails around the country have worked to reduce their populations, and police made fewer arrests in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus behind bars.
Krasner, whose campaign platform was focused on putting an end to mass incarceration, said that he expects few of the men and women arrested on charges related to “opportunistic crimes” this week to end up held in jail.
That’s, in part, because the average profile of a defendant charged in the last week is between 18 and 24 with little to no criminal record. About 43% had no prior arrests, and there has been a “relatively small increase in the jail population,” Krasner said.
“We’re going to go in for fat bails on ATM cases and … We’ve gone in for fat bails on gun possession cases,” he said. “But with many of these other cases, regardless of what we recommend, we are seeing they are able to pay bail quickly or don’t have to pay any bail.”
As of June 3, there were 3,977 people in the county jails. During the coronavirus crisis, the population was as low as 3,700. Before COVID-19, there were about 4,800, he said.
“It’s a complicated situation, but I am heartened, pleased, happy, that the justice system is not at war with anybody and everybody who was out there peacefully protesting, as they were in 2000,” he said. “I think it’s good to see Philadelphia shift in that direction, so were not this punitive outlier when it comes to protest activity.”
Krasner called out armed vigilantes patrolling Philadelphia streets
Days after the city put a 6 p.m. curfew in place, “armed vigilantes” patrolled the Fishtown neighbourhood carrying baseball bats and long guns with the goal of protecting police.
Krasner said he responded to Fishtown to witness the group’s actions, which he previously called “disgusting” in a statement. There were reports that some of the men had been yelling racist slurs and a public radio reporter claimed to be assaulted by the group.
I got called out for recording them and they beat the shit out of me and pushed my girlfriend pic.twitter.com/JMeR4SJ7y9
— Jon Ehrens (@jwehrens) June 2, 2020
“By marching through Fishtown armed under the guise of protecting police – who have already armed themselves with guns, shields, helmets, and other weapons – from people who just want to be heard, those men further reinforced the idea that people cannot peacefully question authority without meeting violence,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Krasner told Insider that the office received more than 40 calls about the group’s presence in Fishtown, including the reports of two beatings and a threat of arson.
Without getting into the details of any active investigations related to misconduct during this week’s demonstrations, Krasner said that his office is pursuing these reports.
“We’re going to pursue that whether the suspect is a civilian, whether that person thinks they’re a vigilante, or whether it is someone who is law enforcement,” he said.
While there are efforts to divide the city, Krasner also noted the widespread participation in an event celebrating the removal of a statue of Frank Rizzo, the former mayor and police commissioner accused of police abuses in the 1960s and ’70s, and who famously told the city to “vote white.” Community leaders and clergy members took a knee as the statue was hauled away.
The statue had been scheduled to be removed next year – but the demonstrations, which included attempts to pull it down with a rope and light it on fire – prompted its early removal.
“It’s an exciting day when you see the Frank Rizzo statue, which is basically our confederate general, go away,” Krasner told Insider. “Peace, unity, everybody coming together. No more white supremacist provocation, thank you very much.”
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