Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has joined prosecutors in Boston and San Francisco in developing what they call “truth, justice, and reconciliation commissions” — panels designed to examine flaws in each city’s criminal justice system, explain how those flaws have hurt residents, and provide potential remedies.

During a Zoom news conference Wednesday afternoon, Krasner said the justice system currently has “too few tools” to address years of problematic or illegal conduct by police and prosecutors, much of which has disproportionately impacted communities of color.

Speaking alongside San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Rachael Rollins, the district attorney for Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, Krasner said: “The bottom line is that something has to be rebuilt when it comes to justice for Black and brown people.” He said he hopes the commissions in his city and others can help guide the way.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, top right, speaks about developing a 'truth and reconciliation commission' to examine harm caused by the criminal justice system.
Screenshot / Chris Palmer
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, top right, speaks about developing a 'truth and reconciliation commission' to examine harm caused by the criminal justice system.

The news conference also featured remarks from author and activist Shaun King and civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who helped develop the idea for the commissions.

Details about the panels were scarce Wednesday. Krasner said two to four people in his office would likely be part of the planning. It was not immediately clear what additional funding, if any, the commissions might receive. Krasner said in an interview that he had not yet carved money out of his office’s budget specifically to support this initiative.

He also said some work by his office already has been focused on accountability for police and his prosecutorial predecessors, including charging officers with crimes — including a fatal shooting — and helping to exonerate 14 men of flawed convictions.

Krasner was emphatic that the commission would be led mostly by community members, whom he said he would reach out and listen to over the next few months. He said his office had begun researching similar panels conducted around the world, including in South Africa, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s examined human rights violations under apartheid, including by holding public hearings.

Krasner did not say how, or if, his effort might involve other city officials, or if it would intersect at all with a reconciliation steering committee announced last month by Mayor Jim Kenney, except to say the efforts were “separate.”

The district attorney, who faces reelection next year, estimated his commission could be formed and begin working in earnest by January.

Krasner was hesitant to predict what it might accomplish or when, saying community input would be key in determining outcomes — whether it be policy recommendations, analysis of harmful practices, or an examination of specific cases. “This is not, ‘The elected guy tells everyone what to do,‘” he said.

Rollins and Boudin each agreed the process would need to be inclusive and wide-reaching to be legitimate and have impact.

While recent protests across the country were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rollins said, the commissions could address broad and long-standing issues.

“This is about honoring a deeply felt pain,” she said.