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Philly DA Larry Krasner: I was ‘inarticulate’ to say the city is not experiencing a violence crisis

While suggesting that some of what he said had been “edited down to sound bites,” Krasner said it was nonetheless his responsibility to speak carefully, adding: “It is my obligation to do better.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner.  "It is my obligation to do better," he said in a statement.
District Attorney Larry Krasner. "It is my obligation to do better," he said in a statement.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Thursday said he was “inarticulate” and had offended people by saying earlier this week that the city faced no crime crisis.

In a statement released by his office, Krasner suggested that some of the remarks he made Monday — and that since drew national attention — had been “edited down to sound bites,” but that it was nonetheless his responsibility to speak carefully. “It is my obligation to do better,” he said.

The district attorney ignited a gusher of criticism when he declared: “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence” — even as murder in Philadelphia has soared to record levels.

His near-apology Thursday was an unusual about-face from the district attorney, who has regularly faced controversy as a leader among a new breed of prosecutors nationwide seeking to overhaul criminal justice.

Krasner has rarely shied away from defending himself, whether criticism has come from familiar conservative foes, such as the police union, or even from other liberal Democrats, such Mayor Jim Kenney. He also has not been afraid to go bluntly on the offense against politicians, Republican and Democratic, who have differed with him.

At his news conference Monday, Krasner pushed back on reporters’ questions suggesting the city was gripped by violent crime, pointing to an unusual phenomenon that’s been occurring in Philadelphia, as well as other big cities: Even as gun violence and homicides have reached record heights, crimes without firearms have been flat or falling.

His statistics were accurate, but the spirit of his remarks and his academic tone were swiftly derided as minimizing the city’s unprecedented spike in killings and shootings. With 524 slain this year, Philadelphia has already set a historic record for murder with several weeks remaining.

Critics pounced. Former Mayor Michael A. Nutter wrote a blistering op-ed article for The Inquirer, calling Krasner’s remarks “some of the worst, most ignorant, and most insulting comments I have ever heard spoken by an elected official.” Some community advocates said the portrait painted by Krasner was badly out of whack with their daily reality.

Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw gingerly waded into the fray Wednesday — declining to call out Krasner over his comments but emphasizing that they saw the city as undoubtedly in the midst of a gun violence crisis

Krasner, in his statement Thursday, said his office cared for and worked frequently with victims and survivors. He cited an emotional moment last month when he paused for several seconds, choked up, and spoke with a quivering voice while discussing the fatal shooting of a pregnant woman and her unborn child as the woman unloaded gifts from a baby shower.

“Those tears were real,” he said, “as are sleepless nights, and my frustration with a system that for decades has disregarded real solutions to our local and national gun violence crisis but consistently elevated generalized fear over the facts that point to real solutions.”

In his statement, Krasner again criticized “mass incarceration,” saying it had been financed “by closing libraries, closing public schools, and shutting down treatment and job training.”

“Nationally and locally, we stripped away prevention before and it made gun violence much worse, as this pandemic has proven all over the country,” he said.

He also reiterated a call for police to solve a higher share of gun crimes, in part by funding more forensics technology. And he said the path toward curbing shootings and killings must include “fairness that restores community faith in law enforcement, and a laser focus on the most serious crime, which gun violence is.”

At the same time, Krasner said that “real solutions” to the gun violence crisis “will never include the illegal stop-and-frisk of half a million young Black and brown people” — a reference to a controversial police practice that peaked under Nutter.

While Nutter initially embraced stops as an antiviolence tool, critics, led by the ACLU, said they were racially biased and often legally groundless, with officers lacking the required “reasonable suspicion” for the encounter. Detractors also said police rarely arrested those they stopped and patted down, and even less frequently found guns.

In the most intense year, 2009, police stopped 235,000 pedestrians. But under a consent decree reached by the ACLU with Nutter in 2011, that number of such stops has fallen year by year with the figure going into free fall during the pandemic. Police this year are on track to stop fewer than 15,000 people.

While Krasner remains adamantly opposed to the tactic, some criminologists point to a general retrenchment of police activity nationwide to explain the very trend that the district attorney talked about Monday — the disconnect between rising gun crime and the fall in other lawbreaking. These analysts contend that officers, responding to protests over police violence, have pulled back from the aggressive policing needed to persuade people to leave their guns at home.

In an interview Thursday, David Rudovsky, a lawyer who helped the ACLU bring its litigation over the issue, said he saw little solid evidence of any linkage between fewer police stops and more gun violence, pointing out that New York City had slashed street searches and seen homicides fall.

And, Rudovsky said, in Philadelphia the unchecked police stops had fueled the very grassroots dismay that had led to Krasner’s election and reelection.

As for Krasner’s remarks this week, Stanley Crawford, who cofounded the Families of Unsolved Murder Victims Project shortly after his son was killed in 2018, said the brouhaha — and Krasner’s walk-back — would bring “no relief when your loved one is in the ground.”

“Making statements and recanting statements and talking has not done anything to diminish the murders and shootings in our community,” he said. “I want to see some action from all of those that took an oath to protect and serve the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.