In the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that I enthusiastically support District Attorney Larry Krasner and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
When Krasner declared his candidacy, I endorsed him and described him as the “Blackest white guy I know.”
I meant it then and I mean it now because, just as he was a progressive civil rights attorney, he is now a progressive DA.
Despite that, I don’t agree with everything he’s done as the city’s top prosecutor. However, reasonable people can disagree on issues without being disagreeable. More about that later.
When Outlaw was announced as the new commissioner, I praised her and described her as a remarkably experienced police officer and police official who has an exceptionally “impressive bio.”
Despite that, I don’t agree with everything she’s done during her prior tenure as a police chief. However, reasonable people can disagree on issues without being disagreeable. More about that later.
But first, allow me to explain why I decided to write this column at this time. In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, federal, state and local law enforcement personnel had to make expeditious decisions regarding contamination-free safety precautions and allocation of limited resources. And here in Philadelphia, Krasner and Outlaw did just that.
Krasner is one of 31 elected county District Attorneys across the country who signed a statement on March 17 declaring that they have taken immediate steps to prevent or impede the spread of coronavirus in jails and courthouses.
That letter, as reported at theappeal.org., called for several urgently required hygienic actions, including the following top three. One — Adoption of “cite and release policies to keep [certain nonviolent] people out of jail.” Two — Release of certain nonviolent “people held pretrial [simply] because they cannot afford money bail.” Three — Discharge from jail of inmates “with six months or less left to serve and people who are considered high-risk for contracting the virus, including the elderly and ill.”
In connection with that bail issue, Krasner said his office would not seek “any amount of cash bail” for individuals accused of certain “non-violent” infractions because those “People... generally should not be added to the jail population at this time. Doing so would only increase risk of infection to police officers, guards..., detainees...” and others.
In addition to those top three actions, the letter also implores governors and wardens to “implement proper healthcare protocols in jails and prisons, eliminate medical co-pays for those confined, [and] avoid the use of solitary confinement to contain the virus.”
Even before Philly’s First Judicial District court administration announced its decision on the afternoon of March 16 to suspend all nonessential proceedings such as trials and hearings at least until April 1, Krasner earlier that day had already begun his attempt to work with police officers to revise their charging guidelines because, in his words, “The pandemic requires that.”
He went on to say that he is “hopeful that the Philadelphia police will change arrest patterns in order to ensure [that] only truly dangerous offenders are taken into custody and that the prison system is not stressed beyond what it can bear.”
Despite the fact that Krasner’s vital arrest revision proposal would obviously help protect the health and safety of police officers, the Trump-endorsing Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) continues to unjustly and irrationally bash him. In fact, as reported by the Inquirer on March 16, the FOP president “has criticized Krasner, saying his [general] policies led to the killing of James O’Connor,” a heroic officer who was shot to death on March 13.
In terms of unjust and irrational behavior, it gets even worse. The FOP president incredibly admitted that, again as reported by the Inquirer, FOP members and police officers on March 13 formed a human barricade to block Krasner from entering Temple University hospital when he tried to visit O’Connor’s family and extend his condolences.
WTF?! Who does that? Who, under such heart-wrenching and nonpolitical circumstances, acts like 5-year-old bullies with badges throwing a temper tantrum? And who brags about it afterward? Seriously, who does that?
By the way, instead of engaging in this type of an embarrassingly unprofessional outburst, the barricading bullies should form a human line entering the library and read about how, in 2018 after Krasner became DA, the total number of violent crimes was down 5% from the year before when an FOP-endorsed DA was in office.
They also should read about how Krasner prosecutes a higher percentage of gun cases than that same FOP-endorsed DA.
Although I enthusiastically support Krasner because of his progressive approach to prosecuting, I strenuously disagree with his initial (but recently reversed) opposition to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s renewed state Supreme Court appeal, with his unwarranted criminal homicide prosecution of Michael White, and with his unwarranted criminal homicide prosecution of my client LeToya Ramseure, a battered woman who shot and killed her abuser in self-defense (and who was later acquitted by a jury).
Despite all of that, Krasner’s a good man doing what he, in good faith, believes is needed to safeguard the residents of and visitors to Philadelphia. And, as I previously stated, reasonable people can disagree without being disagreeable.
Similar to Krasner’s early proposal in dealing with arrests for allegations of certain nonviolent crimes during this period of medical emergency, Commissioner Outlaw at a March 18 press conference — with Krasner and others standing behind her — officially announced a directive regarding the delaying of arrests for such nonviolent criminal allegations.
Instead of requiring that nonviolent criminal suspects go through the time-consuming and extended face-to-face procedure of being transported to a police station and being extensively processed, her directive orders that they will (unless the arresting officer feels compelled to do otherwise in extenuating circumstances) receive a citation on the scene and be required pursuant to a later warrant to appear in court.
During her press conference, Outlaw said, “Right now, quite frankly, this is triage.”
The good news is that the FOP publicly claims to support this Black woman’s directive.
But the bad news, as reported by the Metro on March 18, is that “Rumors began swirling Tuesday [March 17] that police would not be arresting people for certain crimes after an internal memo about the change leaked to several media outlets.”
The Metro added, “Outlaw was unhappy about the document’s release and said that it created ‘an undue fear, panic and alarm during a time of crisis... [and that it] was a huge distraction for our ability to continue to work around-the-clock.’”
It is quite understandable that the Commissioner was unhappy or even outraged. Only people inside the police department or with connections inside the department would have had access to that leaked internal memo. Is a current or retired cop in the FOP trying to sabotage the Commissioner? Check out the following and decide for yourself.
As indicated by a Twitter post, someone using the name Rob O’Donnell displayed a screenshot copy of that confidential internal memo on March 17 at 5:12 p.m.
As an aside, the photo, along with O’Donnell’s tweeted comments elaborating upon the memo, was published in rt.com on March 18 at 3:28 p.m. What’s rt.com? It’s a Russia government-funded media outlet formerly known as Russia Today. Wow! Who’s Rob O’Donnell? He’s described on his Twitter account as a retired New York City police detective.
And in a website connected with his account is a tweet from the Philadelphia Police Department highlighting deceased Cpl. James O’Connor and referring to Krasner as “poison.”
In light of Outlaw confidentially and internally conveying her new arrest policy memo exclusively to police officers and police officials on March 17 following Krasner’s new arrest proposal on March 16 and in light of the FOP having endorsed Russia-coddling Donald Trump, who do you think leaked that memo to sabotage her? And who do you think is trying to undermine the DA’s progressive prosecuting?
Although I enthusiastically support Commissioner Outlaw because of her extensively impressive law enforcement expertise — and also because she’s a thorough Black woman — I strenuously disagree with her authorization of excessively forceful police mistreatment of anti-fascist activists during a 2018 protest in Portland.
Despite that indefensible aberration, the Commissioner is a good woman doing what she, in good faith, believes is needed to safeguard the residents of and visitors to her city, wherever it is. And, as I previously stated, reasonable people can disagree without being disagreeable.
Both Krasner and Outlaw deserve respect from the FOP and its minions. But even in the absence of such respect from the FOP, you can be sure that Black folks, Brown folks, oppressed folks and progressive folks will continue to support and rally around both of them.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinions on phillytrib.com.