When Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s liberal district attorney, was asked this month about the city’s crime surge that includes an unprecedented 550 homicides this year, he responded: “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness. We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence.” Krasner, who is white, has been an ally of Black leaders pushing for changes to the criminal justice system, but Michael Nutter, a former Philadelphia mayor who is African American, accused Krasner of dismissing the pain of Black residents who suffer from the violence while purporting to support them. Turbulence within the Democratic party and the progressive movement has appeared, as those pushing a message of racial equity sometimes do so with a tone that fails to resonate with portions of the Black or Latino communities, the Washington Post reports. Krasner said his approach — including less jail time and a public-health view of drug use — is widely embraced in Philadelphia’s Black community. He rejected the notion that, as Nutter suggests, he sees himself as a woke White savior riding to the rescue of embattled Black people.
The Krasner-Nutter exchange represents a broader national dynamic, as the rise in homicides threatens to halt efforts to make policing less aggressive. In Philadelphia, activists have asked the city to implement a system that identifies problem officers and to pair officers with behavioral health specialists when they respond to incidents involving those with mental health issues. Colliding strategies for fighting violent crime have bedeviled cities like Philadelphia for decades. The landscape was further complicated by the pandemic, said Aaron Chalfin, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Gun sales in Pennsylvania hit an all-time high last year, he said, reflecting fears amid the turbulence and putting additional weapons in circulation. “It’s like a perfect storm — schools close, community centers close, there’s all this hardship and stress and uncertainty,” Chalfin said. He added that scandals about police brutality, especially those that go viral, can make officers more tentative and less willing to take proactive steps.