Why the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Win Was So Important

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Why the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Win Was So Important

Larry Krasner has spent his entire career suing police departments who overstep their constitutional boundaries. He has no prosecutorial experience, and has spent his life defending cases against the state. Under America’s previous “tough on crime” stance, a man like this would be unthinkable to serve as the chief prosecutor in America’s 6th largest city—but that’s exactly what happened last night. Krasner beat out a crowded field, and in his victory speech, he laid out his agenda: “If you, like us, believe it’s time to end the death penalty…mass incarceration … cash bail …”

Philadelphia is ground zero for America’s fake tough guy attitude towards crime. Lynne Abraham served as District Attorney from 1991 to 2010, earning the nicknames “America’s Deadliest Prosecutor” and the “Queen of Death” thanks to her blind pursuit of executions in as many cases as she could muster. Of the ten largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia has the highest incarceration rate. The fact that there is most certainly a relation between its high poverty rate, its high crime rate and Philly having the lowest-rated public school system seemingly never occurred to Philly’s overzealous prosecutors. Krasner has changed how we look at Philadelphia’s justice system.

One look at how America disproportionately jails its minorities proves that Jim Crow never left, it just took a different form. Being “tough on crime” is a nice thought, but “crime” isn’t the universal boogeyman that a generation of fearful (white) Baby Boomers made it out to be. “Crime” is a single mother stealing baby formula while her husband sits in prison for a low-level drug offense. “Crime” is a kid selling some weed to pay for food that his drug-addicted parents can’t provide. So much of the “crime” we have decided to get tough on in the last twenty years is something that should not be solved with prisons and executions, but with community outreach and more economic investment in dilapidated areas so people have more job opportunities than standing on a corner all day.

What this country has done with criminal “justice” is the clearest proof that we are hypocrites when it comes to our stated goals. Here are some unassailable stats which paint a picture of a country that is anything but a beacon of freedom.

We comprise 4.4% of the world’s population, but house 22% of the world’s prisoners.

About half of our inmates are nonviolent drug offenders.

Despite the fact that all races sell drugs at the same rate, 3 out of 4 black men in our nation’s capital will serve time behind bars.

African Americans comprise 12% of drug users, but 40% those arrested for drug offenses.

80% of defendants cannot afford a lawyer.

All this madness costs taxpayers about $70 billion each year (which is $2 billion more than the 2016 budget for the Department of Education).

And finally, here is what our obsession with jailing low-level drug offenders looks like in chart form.

The bottom-line is that America is not the country it purports to be—especially for minorities. After spending much of the early 20th century combatting racist Jim Crow policies and its ilk across the nation, the “tough on crime” era provided a perfect opportunity to repackage America’s racist past into something more politically palatable. The result is (at least) a lost generation languishing behind bars. This is a stain on America’s moral conscience, and the fact that a man running against America’s inherent injustices can win the highest prosecutorial office in one of America’s major cities is proof that the tide is shifting against this moronic stance.

“Tough on crime” functionally translates to “jail more minorities,” and Larry Krasner’s success proves that people are sick of America’s evil hypocrisy. Krasner’s victory has provided a model for a wave of reforms to take root, and if he makes good on his campaign promises, the next few decades could be defined by the unwinding of America’s racist criminal justice system—which is specifically designed to ruin the lives of minorities.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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