Last week, this Editorial Board called attention to the disturbing fact that since Jan. 2, not a day has gone by without someone in Philadelphia being struck by a bullet.
Yet when Mayor Jim Kenney or District Attorney Larry Krasner talk about the city’s epidemic of gun violence, it’s difficult not to come away with the impression that they believe they are the greatest victims of this crisis.
Both men have form when it comes to recasting the narrative around violence in the city to place themselves at the center. When Mayor Kenney held a news conference earlier this month along with acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, he faced questions about his temperament, as many observers described him as visibly annoyed. Whenever Philadelphians have demanded answers on promised programs — such as increased street sweeping, repainting driving lanes on Washington Avenue, or hiring unarmed traffic enforcement officers — the Kenney administration attributes any stalled progress to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For his part, Krasner appears to lack a working relationship with practically every other major figure in law enforcement. Whether it is conservatives like former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, moderates like the state’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro, or even fellow progressives like Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Krasner seems either incapable or unwilling to forge even the kind of rudimentary ties that ease interagency cooperation and foster a spirit of public service. Too often, it seems, Krasner casts what are apparently good-faith policy disagreements as indictments of another party’s character.
Given Kenney’s and Krasner’s propensity to make things about themselves, it is no wonder that Council President Darrell L. Clarke chose not to invite either man to his recent listening session in Chester. Chester officials had a lot to say about their city’s collaborative approach to gun violence, which they credit with a 50% reduction in shootings, and which, incidentally, that city has managed to pull off during the same pandemic that Kenney’s administration says has largely paralyzed recent efforts in Philadelphia. While this program might have many lessons to offer the city when it comes to reducing our own gun violence rates, neither Kenney nor Krasner has a reputation for an ability to listen or willingness to change course. With that in mind, Clarke’s decision to visit Chester only accompanied by his fellow councilmembers might have been the correct one. The session was likely far more productive as a result.
As we said last week, Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis is multilayered. The city faces a series of extraordinary challenges as it works to find a way to address a stunning uptick in killings. And it is important to note that the city’s efforts have not been without their share of incremental successes. Under Krasner, the wrongful conviction unit has done excellent work in restoring liberty to those jailed through coerced confessions. The Kenney administration is devoting an unprecedented amount of money and oversight to violence prevention programs. But these initiatives are largely undermined by the degree to which Philadelphia’s chief executive and its chief prosecutor have prioritized their own egos over finding solutions that can help prevent 2022 from setting an even grimmer milestone than 2021.