POLS ON THE STREET: Political Philly Talks of Crime and Punishment

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THE PES Energy Solutions fire was the subject of an inquiry by State Sen. Anthony Williams and several colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Law School last week. Photo by Wendell Douglas

BY JOE SHAHEELI
Concern over crime – especially violent crime – tends to rise in the summer. Partly it is because people are out in public more, in the open; and crime in public spaces, or worries about it, inspire a different sort of fear than do home invasions or barroom brawls. In part, juveniles are less supervised when out of school and thus at more risk of getting into trouble.

Politicians are trained to follow the winds of public opinion. Summertime, then, is a time for political actions, political gestures, political charges and countercharges.

District attorneys are especially apt to enjoy – or not – their day in the sun in this season. Certainly this is true of our own, Larry Krasner, who has made waves by asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional.

STATE SEN. Tina Tartaglione and State Rep. Angel Cruz counseled constituents on how to obtain medical-marijuana authorizations at Tartaglione’s Kensington office. L-R, Robert Rudnitsky of Philadelphia National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Dr. Jan N. Widerman of Medically Assisted Recovery Services, Tartaglione and Cruz. Photo by Leona Dixon

This even as murder rates have climbed in Philadelphia during Krasner’s tenure despite a decline in other crimes. It’s a problem that more politicos than just Krasner are grappling with.

But Krasner first. Bill McSwain, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has targeted Krasner, a flamboyant liberal in the national eye, at every opportunity. He has weighed in on individual prosecution calls as well as policy decisions: U.S. Attorney William McSwain blames Krasner for the uptick, citing policies such as backing away from cash bail and seeking shorter prison sentences. In some areas, McSwain gets support from Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who wonders if miscreants are reacting to “consequences or lack thereof.”

But neither offered data linking any specific policy to a spike in shootings. Team Krasner fought back by calling in its scholastic data warriors.

TINY HOUSES will be built in Kensington to cope with the area’s homeless population. Breaking ground were Councilmembers Allan Domb, 3rd from L, and Mark Squilla, 2nd from R, along with anchorwoman Lucy Noland, members of Morris Animal Refuge, Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia and community members. Photo by Leona Dixon

Twenty-five professors from local universities slammed the Philadelphia Inquirer’s attempt at even-handed coverage of this political debate with an open letter charging that its “reporters have drawn a line from Krasner’s policies to gun violence with little factual support.”

They concluded, “Research has demonstrated that media coverage of criminal justice issues influences public opinion about punishment, fostering punitive public attitudes and political conditions that drive up needless incarceration. We know from decades of experience that these counterproductive policies destabilize entire communities and only perpetuate cycles of poverty and violence.

“Serving the public interest requires the Inquirer to demonstrate a more factual and responsible approach to reporting on crime, punishment, rehabilitation and safety.”

The academics come from crime and media studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova. Take that, McSwain! (And the Inquirer, in collateral damage.)

BRAVING long odds in a Democrat-rich city, the Donald Trump campaign is already training volunteers for fieldwork, starting last week at the historic United Republican Club in Kensington. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Most Philadelphia voters aren’t academics, however. They care about safety before scholarship – especially when school is out. But will they vote based on safety in November 2019? For whom? Not obvious. The murder rate going forward may influence the DA’s re-election in 2021 but that is far off.

Young progressives, on the other hand, probably will vote on this issue, this year and the next. It is a generational cause for them. If it turns them out, they may sway crucial races in Philly.

Guns at Rec Centers a No-no, per City Council

In the meantime, a mass shooting at a recreation center triggered a swift reaction from City Council.

URBAN FARMING received first-ever farm-bill package to support urban farmers and community gardens, announced State Sen. Sharif Street at Hansberry Garden in Germantown. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Council President Darrell Clarke (5th District), flanked by members of City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly, announced a joint legislative effort to prohibit firearms and other deadly weapons from being possessed at Philadelphia parks and recreation centers. This time, State legislators are part of the City’s efforts and promised similar efforts in Harrisburg.

“We cannot sit idly by as gunfire erupts and disrupts the safe havens that our city rec centers and playgrounds are,” Clarke said. “We’re taking legislative action in Philadelphia to prohibit guns and other deadly weapons at any recreation facility in our city, and our legislative delegation in Harrisburg is focused on similar action to enable our public safety efforts. We own and operate these rec centers and parks, and we have every right to set reasonable rules and regulations to protect our kids and adults from harm.”

THIS YEAR’S Jazz Legacy Awards were presented by State Sen. Vincent Hughes at the Clef Club. L-R were Hughes with awardees Bernard Purdie, Gloria Galante, Helen Haynes and Germaine Ingram. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Clarke was joined at the Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion by Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), chair of Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee, and by State legislators – State Reps. Donna Bullock (D-N. Phila.) and Movita Johnson-Harrell (W. Phila.) along with State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W.Phila.)

Bullock said her staff was planning to introduce legislation in Harrisburg this fall that will enable Philadelphia to prohibit firearms at recreation centers.

City Council and the Mayor’s Office approved legislation in 2013 that prohibited firearms at City recreation facilities, but there was no similar legislative step in Harrisburg, and the law was not enforced. Harrisburg support in the form of enabling legislation is essential as Philadelphia takes action to protect its citizens from gun violence.

Meanwhile, Meek Mill….

For some time this spring, Krasner was hammered from both left and right – but especially from the left that elected him – for not leaping swiftly and passionately enough to the defense of rap star Meek Mill, who had run afoul of a parole violation before Judge Genece Brinkley.

STATE REP. Jared Solomon presented a $10,000 donation to Legacy Youth Tennis at Max Myers Recreation Center in Lower Northeast Philadelphia. Solomon remarked, “Before taking office, I spent 10 years building a 500-person-strong community organization and partnering with organizations like Legacy Youth Tennis to bring much-needed supplemental educational youth programming to my community.” The organization provides programming to more than 3,500 children annually.

After a lawsuit by Robert Williams (Meek Mill’s real name) succeeded in Commonwealth Court to win him a new trial by a different judge, Krasner released a cautious statement:

“The District Attorney’s Office is pleased that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has validated our position that Robert Rihmeek Williams deserves a new trial before a court that has no appearance of partiality. The DAO … Krasner is currently reviewing the opinion … and will begin to review options. We have no further comment on this matter at this time.”

Pity Krasner. He can’t pick fights with his progressive champions. But neither can he, in order to be an effective prosecutor, pick fights with judges who are as well reputed among their peers as Brinkley. Hostile dog-whistles will only get you so far with the Philadelphia bench, which is well integrated and largely of progressive values.

Under unfair attack, judges, like everyone else, incline to close ranks in mutual defense. That’s the last thing any district attorney wants as he prepares cases for court.

Last Call for Indie Candidates!

Today is the last day for all municipal candidates to file for ballot position on the November general election.

Endorsed Democrats don’t care. But this is of paramount importance to dissident progressives who want a shot at knocking off the two at-large Republican City Council candidates.

Expect an all-out effort by city Republicans to challenge any at-large “independent” hopefuls. And while the RCC is lagging in voter registration, it still has talented election lawyers.

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