A group of demonstrators on Friday disrupted state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s appearance at a national political conference for progressives in Center City, criticizing him as being out of step with the movement to reform the criminal justice system.

In particular, the protesters at the Netroots Nation conference questioned Shapiro over a bill signed into law last week giving his office equal jurisdiction to District Attorney Larry Krasner in prosecuting certain gun-related cases in the city.

“Yes or no! Yes or no!” protesters chanted while asking Shapiro whether he’d use his expanded authority to prosecute cases instead of allowing Krasner’s office to do so.

The dustup represents the latest fallout from the measure that some Democrats, including Krasner, have since said is a troubling effort to strip the district attorney of his authority.

Protesters at the Convention Center demanded to know if the attorney general would use the new powers afforded to his office.

“I didn’t ask for this law, I don’t want this law, if the legislature wants to repeal this law, that’s certainly fine with me," Shapiro said, later adding: “It’s not an authority I intend to use."

Demonstrator Nikki Grant, 33, said afterward that she was “skeptical” of Shapiro’s claim that he had not lobbied for the bill. “We’ll have to see his commitment” to not pursuing cases over Krasner, said Grant, of the Amistad Law Project, a West Philadelphia-based advocacy group.

Rick Krajewski, 28, a criminal justice organizer with the group Reclaim Philadelphia, said he wished Shapiro would have been more forceful and direct in his initial answers, but said: “I am hopeful that this is the last time we have this conversation with him.”

District Attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, speaks on the panel of What it Takes: What 2020 Candidates Can Learn From Local Struggles to End Mass Incarceration at Netroots Nation Conference in the Convention Center.
ANTHONY PEZZOTTI / Staff Photographer
District Attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, speaks on the panel of What it Takes: What 2020 Candidates Can Learn From Local Struggles to End Mass Incarceration at Netroots Nation Conference in the Convention Center.

Demonstrators weren’t the only ones commenting on the bill Friday. Earlier in the day and on a separate panel, Krasner criticized Pennsylvania lawmakers for passing it, and portrayed Shapiro as having backtracked on his initial support of it.

“The big picture for me is how quickly it U-turned, how quickly this power grab turned into denial that it was a power grab, and a denial that any of the power would be used," Krasner said.

The district attorney described the law as “straight-up an effort at making Philadelphia a colony," in which people who don’t live there work to strip powers away from those who do.

Still, Krasner said he ultimately believes the move might have backfired.

“I think the story here might be that state grabs for power away from progressive district attorneys didn’t work in Philadelphia, didn’t work in Pennsylvania, and if you try it, you better be prepared to pay a price at the ballot box,” he said.

The demonstration during Shapiro’s panel ended peacefully, and he left afterward without commenting further.