The first time Larry Krasner ran for Philadelphia district attorney, Terrez McCleary voted for him. When he ran for a second term, she refrained from voting at all.
“I don’t agree with a lot of things that his office does, I’m not a fan of his,” said McCleary, who founded Mothers Bonded By Grief after the shooting death of her daughter. “However,” she added, “I do not hold him accountable for a lot of the outcomes of these cases, and a lack of arrests.”
Articles of impeachment filed last week by Republican legislators in the Pa. House do hold the Democratic DA personally accountable for those outcomes.
The formal impeachment resolution came from Philly Rep. Martina White, not the House panel that for months has been investigating the district attorney. At the press conference announcing her legislation, she said his progressive policies have “tipped the scales of justice in favor of criminals.”
Seeking justice for victims has long been cited as one of the panel’s grounding motivations. “I’m here to represent the victims of violent crime, my neighbors, and my family and friends in the City of Philadelphia,” Amen Brown, one of two Philly Democrats on the investigatory committee, said at a public hearing in September.
It’s unclear how much residents impacted by gun violence approve of this effort in their name.
Kimberly Kamara, like McCleary, is a mother who lost a child to gun violence. She founded the nonprofit Never-Ending E-Motion to support grieving parents.
“We did not have as big of an influx in crime at one point,” Kamara suggested, adding that people she knows felt safer pre-Krasner.
Homicides in Philly have been on the rise since 2013, five years before Krasner’s election. They skyrocketed two years after he was elected, in 2020. During that year of a global pandemic and national disruption and unrest, violent crime across the U.S. rose by 5.6% — including the highest one-year jump in killings, both murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, in 60 years.
Krasner and his supporters have argued that not only is the district attorney not responsible for this spike, but that his removal would violate the constitutional rights of everyone who voted for him in 2021.
Kamara’s not concerned with that part. “I really feel like [state legislators] need to go ahead, if they can,” she said. For her, the ideal DA would “get along with other stakeholders,” like the mayor and police chief. “Right now everybody’s on their own page, and they’re working against one another.”
McCleary is also hoping for better coordination between law enforcement agencies in the city, she said. “You cannot get someone arrested, charged, and brought to trial for your son or daughter’s murder if the police don’t pick them up.”
Carl Day, a North Philly pastor, who works extensively with Black teenage boys and young men impacted by and at risk of gun violence, agrees officials are working at cross purposes, but isn’t sure any of them are on the mark.
Having voted for Krasner twice, he said he isn’t an avid supporter but believes the impeachment proceedings are emblematic of a tendency to avoid the root issues of crime and violence.
Those issues include a lack of opportunity, years of disinvestment in education and recreation, being priced out of one’s neighborhood, and Philly’s “very, very deep racism problem,” Day said.
“If anybody’s really tapping into the inner city and the culture of the Black community right now, there are far greater influences that have direct correlation to why you are really engaging in violence and even pursuing violence.”
Pastor: People on the street ‘don’t even know’ who Krasner is
McCleary, of Mothers Bonded By Grief, thinks the choice to remove Krasner should be “left to the taxpayers” of Philadelphia. “Each department has to play their part, so I can’t say that he’s the primary cause [of violence],” she said of the district attorney.
She does find fault with Krasner when people recently out on bail or cleared of prior charges go on to harm others — like in the case of Jahmir Harris.
Harris was exonerated of a 2012 murder conviction after the DAO discovered prosecutorial misconduct in the trial, and was released after serving eight years in prison. Harris went on to murder a city resident in September.
Jane Roh, a DAO spokesperson, noted that due to instances of “police and prosecutor misconduct,” the “commonwealth conceded at the time his conviction was overturned and vacated that he [Harris] was likely innocent of the 2012 murder,” demonstrating the office’s emphasis on conviction integrity, a tenet of Krasner’s tenure.
McCleary meets with other bereaved moms on a weekly basis, and the DAO is a constant point of conversation — and frustration.
“For instance, the [assistant district attorney] decides that they want to take a plea agreement. They’ll just tell the victim’s next of kin that’s what they’re doing. But you can’t object to say, ‘Well, no, I think you should just take this to trial, I’ll roll my dice that way.'”
Accepting plea deals is a daily practice in courts nationwide, and while victims are notified of a prosecutor’s intention to accept or deny an agreement they don’t have the power to compel a trial if that’s what they seek.
“The message that I receive from my parents a lot is that he’s [Krasner] not doing enough as far as listening to parents, when it comes to the prosecution of the defendants and their case,” said McCleary.
Based on relationships formed through his ministry and community engagement, Pastor Day believes many common narratives about crime in the city fall flat.
He finds it laughable to allege Krasner is the “proximate cause” of violence in the city, as the articles of impeachment state. “To say he’s the reason — as if we haven’t been losing over 300 people a year on average for the last three decades — I think that’s ridiculous,” Day said.
The leniency that Krasner supposedly represents isn’t even a factor on the street, in his experience.
As part of his “Beat the Block” program he works with 15 to 20 young Black men for four-month intervals, where he asks them about Krasner.
“They’ll tell you, I’ve asked three cohorts in the past year, ‘What’s the current district attorney’s name?'” Day said. “They don’t even know who Larry Krasner is, they really don’t. And that’s the truth.”