A prosecutor shouldn’t get our support

October 19, 2018

Paul D’Amato comments on an SW article about Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner.

I WOULD like to express some thoughts concerning an article published by SW on October 1, “Larry Krasner and the fight to break the cages,” by Lauren Fleer about Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

The article is well-written and offers a fascinating look at Krasner’s campaign and his time in office. The article, however, equivocates at best, and at worst gives the impression that we should offer political support for Krasner.

A fundamental principle of the Marxist movement has been to offer no political support for candidates from bourgeois parties. In the U.S., those are the Democratic and Republican Parties, both of whom are backed and funded by big business, and support capitalism and U.S. dominance around the globe.

It is also a fundamental position of our movement to offer no support to state officials whose job is to run aspects of the state’s administration of repression and control. Though we, of course, welcome policies that reduce incarceration, decriminalize marijuana and sex work, and so on, we cannot place ourselves in the position of supporting state officials whose job it is to run a racist system whose function is to subjugate the working class, the poor and all of the oppressed.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

The article presents a balance sheet of Krasner’s record — some of his policies that have partially alleviated some of the most egregious aspects of the criminal justice system, as well as some of his actions that should be harshly criticized — followed by a description of the campaign to elect him, and continuing efforts from movements to pressure him.

On the negative side, Krasner, the article explains, opposes a new trial for Mumia, and even appointed to his transition team of Ronald Castille who, the article states:

was an assistant DA during the original [Mumia] trial, and when he became the head prosecutor in 1986, he fought to uphold the death sentence throughout direct appeals. Castille was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1998, where he ruled on and denied Abu-Jamal’s subsequent post-conviction appeals.

By itself, this should be enough for us to refuse to offer Krasner any support. Otherwise, what would prevent us from supporting a candidate — or, more to the point, someone in an administrative or executive position — who was for expanding Medicaid, but sent troops to conquer another country or police to break up a strike? This method seems to be involved when the author follows up with the comment: “On the other hand, Krasner recommends parole for the MOVE 9.”

But the list of his negative actions goes beyond this example. The article notes Krasner’s prosecution of a youth in a murder trial as an adult and his willingness to use the death penalty as a threat to achieve plea bargains — which amounts to supporting the death penalty.

AS A district attorney in one of the country’s most racist cities, Krasner is in charge of prosecuting and incarcerating predominantly poor, Black and Latinx men and women. No amount of judicial reforms can alter this picture.

Some of Krasner’s reforms, moreover, reflect changes that are happening in other cities. For example, 1,500 prisoners were released from Cook County Jail in 2017, dropping its incarceration rate to its lowest level on record (at times, it exceeded 10,000). This happened under Sherriff Tom Dart, by no stretch of imagination a progressive like Krasner.

Decriminalization of marijuana is part of a growing national trend. This year, San Francisco’s DA George Gascón decriminalized sex work and has thrown thousands of pot cases out of court. On the other hand, he has declined to charge any of the cops involved in several shootings — predominantly of people of color — in the city.

The article fails to clarify what position socialists should take on Krasner: Should we offer political support to him or to similar campaigns, or do we apply mass pressure without offering any political support? (This is the correct position, in my estimation.)

If anything, the article appears to offer support for Krasner. I say “appears” because it is written in a manner that doesn’t make clear what the author thinks, but instead expresses views that are attributed to others in such a way as to give the impression that the author is sympathetic with those views. For example, the article concludes:

To them [i.e., those who campaigned for him], electing Larry Krasner was a tactical move to bring thousands of people home from jail and prevent thousands more from being railroaded.

Despite Krasner’s limitations, this goal has been at least partly met. Marijuana possession and sex work have been effectively decriminalized. Juvenile lifers are getting parole eligibility. People will not be imprisoned while awaiting trial just because they’re broke. The Conviction Integrity Unit will investigate wrongful convictions and reduce sentences.

These reforms directly impact thousands of lives, disproportionately Black and brown. Simply put, these lives matter. Reforms that set people free ought to not be dismissed because they are “merely reforms” that fall short of total prison abolition.

I wholeheartedly agree that socialists should never dismiss reforms that alleviate the burden of the exploited and oppressed. This, however, doesn’t necessitate offering political support for Krasner as a candidate or as a state official in charge of the criminal justice system in Philadelphia.

Moreover, if we accept these arguments, what should stop us from supporting any politician who promises to implement, or implements, reforms that alleviate the conditions of workers and the poor?

To my knowledge, this is the only article that Socialist Worker has published about Larry Krasner. If the apparent opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the editorial position of SW, then it would make sense for Socialist Worker to publish something on this question that clarifies its position.

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