PHILADELPHIA- On September 29, 2022, protesters from across Philadelphia gathered outside a small building at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to tell a group of Republicans and Democrats that they would not let them steal their vote via impeachment. “We see through this circus they don’t care about us, our pain; this is about pushing their far-right agenda and protecting the police that has been killing our people,” said Rikeyah Lindsay, a community organizer in Philadelphia.
State Republicans neither have the authority, constitutionally justifiable cause, nor the votes in the State Senate to remove District Attorney Larry Krasner if it gets that far but appear undeterred in their effort to impose their will on Philadelphians.
“That won’t stop them from using our struggles and pain to harass the District Attorney that we voted for in overwhelming numbers while doing nothing to help us with the root causes of these struggles,” said Movita Johnson-Harrell, a former State Representative and co-victim of gun violence. “They’ll also ignore the inconvenient fact that crime is rising across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, including in Republican-held states and districts.”
Pennsylvania State House Republicans formed the so-called Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order two months after Philadelphians reelected Larry Krasner in a landslide victory.
The Select Committee’s opening salvo is very telling, and the fact that they were unwilling to wait for the courts to decide on the merits of Larry Krasner’s objections to their Subpoena is equally telling.
“Republicans aren’t operating in good faith; their motivations are less about protecting Philadelphians than protecting the police, ensuring more of our black and brown neighbors get sucked into the system and cycle of incarceration,” said Senator Nikil Saval. “This is about taking Philadelphians’ ability to decide who and how we are represented.”
“I can hardly imagine anything more anti-democratic, more authoritarian than people who do not even live in Philly throwing out Philadelphia’s elected officials after a free and fair election,” said Krasner.
How do we know the select committee’s aims are political rather than about protecting Philadelphians?
They’ve told us so in an article in the far-right National Review titled “Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Must Go,” where four select committee members lay out their reasoning, using Anti-Semitic troupes to emphasize their points. Referring to other District Attorneys as Soros-Funded progressives, the billionaire George Soros is often used to insinuate Jews are to blame.
State Rep. Josh Kail (R), Torren Ecker (R), Tim O’Neal (R), Martina White (D), and the rest of the Select committee disagree with the criminal justice reform platform Philadelphians elected Larry Krasner on. Since “Pennsylvania has no recall provision,” they will weaponize impeachment to force their right-wing extremist vision of justice on Philadelphians, even if it means stripping us of our right to choose.
To Justify this weaponization of the impeachment process, Republicans point to a memo laying out Krasner’s policy priorities. Policies intended to end mass incarceration and focus resources on violent crime. Policies like not prosecuting marijuana possession, paraphernalia, or purchase and not prosecuting or diverting to the DAWN court prostitution charges, charging retail theft less than 500 dollars as a summary offense if the offender doesn’t have a long history of theft, opens up more resources to prosecute violent crimes.
None of the policies mentioned in the memo apply to violent crimes, including reforms to the bail system, which the select committee says it is concerned. None of these policies seriously impact public safety.
The memo then states the cost to the taxpayers per year for incarcerating and supervising low-level offenders and the impact on already overburdened carceral and supervisory systems. It requires Assistant District Attorneys to state on the record their reasoning for the sentence being recommended.
State House Republicans and select committee members focus almost exclusively on issues facing Philadelphia, ignoring increases in violent crimes and murder rates across the state, including in red counties. For example, in Washington County, represented by Rep. O’Neal, there has been an 800 percent increase in the murder rate. A 300 and 250 percent increase in the murder rates of Adams and Beaver counties, respectively, each represented by members of the select committee.
Compare this to the 58 percent increase in the murder rate in Philadelphia during the same period.
In its quest to manufacture a reason to impeach Krasner, the committee ignores the District Attorney Office’s homicide conviction rate. A conviction rate comparable to its predecessors at nearly 90 percent. According to A Comprehensive Study of Violations of Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, Philadelphia has a high average prison sentence for gun possession crimes than other Pennsylvania counties.
The hypocrisy of this committee’s targeting of Krasner and focus on Philadelphia is glaringly apparent. “None of them have proposed solutions to address the public health crisis of gun violence,” State Rep. Chris Rabb. “These hearings aren’t about solutions; they’re about scoring political points in red districts.”
Within a month of Krasner’s overwhelming electoral victory in Philadelphia, House Republicans were circulating a memo calling for the impeachment of the Progressive district Attorney.
They drafted HR216 to exclusively investigate Philadelphia and Philadelphia’s District Attorney, despite not having an impeachable offense. While District Attorneys in other counties had committed such offenses as sexual assault and obstruction of justice, the select committee can’t investigate them or the rise in violent crime across the state.
The Subpoena issued by the select committee is particularly disturbing in its apparent political inclination, over-broad nature, its infringement on a host of privileges granted to the executive branch. Still, perhaps the most problematic is that it requires Krasner’s office to break multiple laws themselves to comply.
The instructions in the Subpoena require that Krasner’s office turn over documents relating to grand jury investigations, including the complete case file and grand jury documents in the ongoing prosecution of Ryan Pownall for the shooting death of David Jones in 2017. The grand jury information is protected under the Pennsylvania legal Code, requiring a judge to release them only in extreme circumstances.
Rather than wait for the court to decide on the merits of District Attorney Krasner’s objections to the Subpoena, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt for Krasner has argued was upholding Pennsylvania law.
“Even if the Court were inclined to preemptively address Petitioners’ claims, the claims fail as a matter of law because the Select Committee is empowered to conduct investigations, including investigating civil offices and officials such as the District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney Krasner, and, under separation of powers principles, a court should not interfere with such investigations,” the committee wrote in a Thursday filing.
“Therein lies the ultimate irony in this investigation and Rep. Lawrence’s Subpoena to the District Attorney Office: ‘The Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order’ is engaged in an investigation that violates the law and legal principles at every turn,” writes Krasner.
The final insult in this political stunt came during the hearings at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Republican-led committee had the co-victims of gun violence in our city come to testify about their grief and frustration, hoping they would blame Krasner for not getting the justice their loved one deserved.
“It is time that (Krasner) pays attention to what the people of Philadelphia want. They want criminals held accountable, and they want it to start now,” said State Rep. Martina White.
“Impeachment cannot be a political weapon just because it’s the people you don’t like,” said Chris Kimmenez, executive director of Healing Communities PA.
Co-victims also spoke outside during the protests. The overwhelming sentiment from both groups is the police investigating crimes weren’t taking violent crime seriously in black and brown communities. Jennifer Meleski said that she had to “go around and collect video evidence” of her 24-year-old son’s murder because “the police refused to do it.” Others spoke to the lack of communication between investigators and victims’ families. At the same time, still, others testified to their dismay at the failure of the police to catch the perpetrators of gun violence.
“I again request that the Select Committee allow me, the target of their inquiry, the opportunity to speak and answer their questions in a fully public and accessible forum,” said Krasner in response to the first hearing.
Republicans in Harrisburg have blocked various pieces of criminal justice reform and gun control legislation. They have proposed no legislation of their own on either of these issues.