I was listening to NPR a few days ago, and an interview on The Takeaway really caught my attention. The interview was with Larry Krasner, who is the progressive attorney who was elected to become the DA for Philadelphia a couple of years ago, and just won his primary challenge to get re-elected. His choices in directing what types of violations to prosecute have lead to a massive decline in drug possession related prosecutions, instead pushing folks towards rehabilitation.
Predictably, this has not lead to a massive spike in other crimes, so at least when it comes to pressing charges, he’s been helping the community with his unrelenting focus on reducing the crushing weight of mass incarceration. This has not been met with open arms by the local police as you might imagine.
The interviewer then started to ask about the massive 40% jump in homicides over the last year and change, and this is where the interview got really interesting. His comments (some parts paraphrased):
Philadelphians are pretty smart. They know that in the 10 largest cities in the last year, the homicide rate rose by 42%, so we’re about average, maybe a touch light when it comes to that. And in many of those cities where you’re getting higher rates of homicides where you have traditional prosecutors, where is the outrage about them from the police?” The most recent crisis which is national is a direct result of the pandemic.
There are things that all of us can do, there are things that we should have been doing all along. What we’ve seen during the pandemic is a complete stripping of prevention when it comes to young people, and it is young men who are killing young men, that’s what is happening here. Think about it for a second here. Your high school classroom is closed, we have seen the closing of all organized sports, in and out of school, the elimination of rec centers, swimming pools, summer camp, summer job programs, other types of economic opportunity including just normal jobs in a low dollar economy.
Everybody making less than 40 grand just got smashed by the pandemic and employment in that range got smashed. A lot of these kids parents became unemployed during this time period, and even the normal things that they might have done during this time, going to movie theaters, things like that were all eliminated. We have this very anomalous situation where crime, all over the country and in Philly is down, even violent crime is way down, but you have this incredibly sharp spike in homicides. The stripping away of prevention is far worse than we could have ever imagined.
The answer here is prevention, and the pandemic has made that obvious. Serious investment in prevention, which we have never done here in Philly.
It’s also heartening that he looks at those carrying guns in a few different ways. Those who are linked to violence, with prior felony convictions, he goes after hard. But those “kid who legally purchased” and are carrying because they’re scared, and it would be legal to do anywhere else in the state without a permit, he’s diverting from the criminal justice system because in his words, that would push them more towards criminality, not away from it.
So what’s the takeaway here? Progressive prosecutors are also realizing that root cause mitigation is the path forward to reducing violence. Those systems that have been ravaged by the pandemic show how much of an impact our even broken systems have on reducing violence. It’s part of the infrastructure that can either help this country reduce violence or massively increase it and lead to even more mass incarceration.
Support systems and infrastructure are where all of our efforts should be turned. Let’s drop the culture wars and let’s make an actual difference.