By Austin Nolen
A group of activists gathered yesterday outside the offices of the Philadelphia District Attorney to issue their demands for “transformative policies” which they want DA-elect Larry Krasner to implement in his first 100 days in office.
The group, known as the Coalition for a Just District Attorney, said it was neutral in the DA’s race. But Krasner was the candidate closest to their goals. Yesterday organizer Rick Krajewski framed the demands as “a commitment to fight alongside Krasner” to hold him to his promises.
Those demands, which the Coalition laid out in detail in a pamphlet, include an end to cash bail, an end to any cooperation with federal immigration authorities, even unrelated to immigration detainer requests, and increased transparency about prosecution decisions.
Josh Glenn, a co-founder of the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project, spoke about his personal experiences with being held in pre-trial detention and why he opposes requiring the payment of money as a condition of pre-trial release.
“At the age of 16, I was charged as an adult and held in adult jail for 18 months before my charges were eventually dismissed,” he said. “During that time I witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of people being held solely because they could not afford to pay bail.”
Erika Almiron, the executive director of Juntos, an immigrants’ rights organization, called on Krasner to “insure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not colluding with the DA’s Office” on criminal investigations “so that people can actually heal their trauma through the system instead of being afraid of deportation.”
The current City policy is to collaborate with ICE in investigations of and to share information on undocumented immigrants suspected of crimes, but not to share information about victims or witnesses. Almiron called for all such collaboration to be shut down.
The associate director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Sara Mullen, called for Krasner to overhaul the transparency policies of the Office, describing the DA as “operating behind a veil of secrecy.”
“Up until now,” she said, “it has been nearly impossible to evaluate the actions of the Office. There can be no accountability without transparency. That’s why we demand full transparency with the quarterly release of data on a public website, as well as the release of all DA policies.”
Krasner’s transition team did not return a request for comment on whether he supports all of the policies called for by the Coalition and whether he sees roadblocks to their speedy implementation
But speaking to supporters at Philly for Change, a local progressive organization, shortly before the election, Krasner warned that some of those changes could not be implemented quickly.
He contrasted ending the use of the death penalty with implementation of cash bail. With the death penalty, he noted that even while the law remains on the books, District Attorneys have complete discretion not to seek it, and he promised to immediately stop requesting it.
On the other hand, Philadelphia’s bail system is more complicated, with release decisions controlled by the state constitution, state law and state court regulations.
Krasner has called for a bail system where those defendants assessed to pose no public safety risk are released without monetary conditions, but where defendants deemed risky are held without bail.
Unlike the federal constitution, however, which does not require that anyone be released on bail but only that any bail granted not be “excessive,” Pennsylvania’s state constitution creates a right to be released on bail except for very serious offenses.
A defendant held in jail under Krasner’s plan could conceivably demand release with cash bail under that constitutional provision. And other parts of Krasner’s plan could require state legislators and the state Supreme Court justices to amend existing laws and regulations
Transparency, another one of the demands issued by the Coalition, is also a subject that Krasner has a lot of leeway on. But with regards to further restricting cooperation with ICE, the DA’s Office could quickly run afoul of the law.
A federal judge recently said that, despite challenges by the Trump administration, Philadelphia officials are largely complying with federal laws which specify when local authorities must cooperate in immigration matters.
But that opinion, voiced by U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, was premised on cooperation and information sharing about immigrants alleged to have committed crimes. Restricting that sort of cooperation could land the City in trouble.
Anticipating these difficulties, some Krasner supporters are already promising to protest him if necessary to keep him true to his promises.