When District Attorney Larry Krasner met with West Philly residents Wednesday night, he watched several people cry.
One woman shed tears while speaking about her son, who she said has been incarcerated for two years and has yet to face a trial. The thought of him living out his life in a windowless cell no bigger than a bathroom with three fellow inmates brings her to tears every time, she said.
Another cried thinking about her clients. She runs a West Philly job-training program for people who have criminal backgrounds, she told Krasner, and she often sees people left with no good options for feeding their families other than participating in some kind of crime.
These residents and more had the chance to speak directly to to Philly’s new DA during his first community listening session, held at Mt. Pisgah AME Church in West Powelton.
More than 100 Philadelphians packed the church on 41st Street near Spring Garden — so many that staff members had to continue setting up folding chairs in the aisles after the meeting had already started.
Once the floor was opened up, people lined up to ask a wide variety of questions. Queries included how to contact the DAO’s conviction review unit, how Krasner would respond to the opioid epidemic and whether he would release the office’s recently-uncovered list of 26 suspect police officers.
Krasner told the crowd he intends to release a version of the list in the next 10 days, likely after his office omits some officers’ names and their private information (like their payroll numbers).
“That has been a priority from the time we discovered [the list],” Krasner told the crowd. “We’ve got to make sure that if there’s legitimate information…that it gets out there.”
Several residents brought up specific convictions that they felt were unjust — many of which involved their family members or neighbors. Krasner maintained he couldn’t comment on specific cases, but he encouraged residents to send documentation of wrongdoings to the conviction review unit.
Many of those Krasner couldn’t answer directly were helped by the dozens of DAO representatives in attendance. The staffers helped facilitate the Q&A session, and pulled residents aside to get more information about their concerns.
Denise Carey, a 44th ward committeeperson and an employee at West Mill Creek Recreation Center on 51st and Poplar, said the meeting was a refreshing opportunity to speak directly to a city politician.
But Carey wishes the opportunity came around more often. She said she wants more politicians to organize community outreach like this. Many of her neighbors have questions that go beyond the duties of the District Attorney’s Office, and Carey wants their questions answered, too.
“In this area,” Carey said, “we don’t usually get our voices heard.”
Wednesday night’s event was the first in a series, according to DAO comms director Ben Waxman, designed to “build a robust civic engagement operation” and get direct feedback from the public. Over the course of a year, he told Billy Penn, Krasner plans to schedule a dozen listening sessions (about one per month). The next hasn’t yet been nailed down, but it will likely be in Point Breeze, Graduate Hospital or Grays Ferry, Waxman said.
Teresa Johnson, 62, said she attended Wednesday night’s meeting to get to know Krasner in person. She thought this outreach from the District Attorney’s Office was beneficial for her neighborhood — and long overdue.
“The city is overwhelmed with crime and wrongdoings,” Johnson said.
“We needed this. We needed the one-on-one. He needs to be able to hear what’s happening from us, because we’re the people.”