Angry families of murder victims protest DA Larry Krasner | Helen Ubiñas
“I just want him to listen to us, to hear us, and consider that we are actually sentenced to life when we lose our children.”
That’s what I thought earlier this week, when I saw families of homicide victims protesting outside the Philadelphia office of the district attorney.
It was an outburst of anger and frustration that had been building from the moment, just a few days into Larry Krasner’s new gig, when families were shocked to learn that he had fired 31 staffers, including prosecutors, compounding their grief with cuts that delayed some of their cases.
Forget the Krasner Spin Machine™, which disingenuously paints legitimate criticism as politically motivated or “fake news” — when it is not demanding blind loyalty to his agenda. What worried these families, and what should have worried anyone who voted for Krasner in 2017, was the move’s tone-deafness.
And yet, upset and confused as these families were, they were also mostly respectful, still willing to give him a chance. How smart would it be, many confided, to antagonize lawyers they thought were their allies, an office they desperately wanted to believe was on their side.
Until they realized that too often, his actions seemed to erase their pain and side with victims on only one side of the criminal justice system.
Outside the office Tuesday, Terrez McLeary, cofounder of Moms Bonded by Grief, stood with her granddaughter. McLeary, whose daughter was killed in 2009, brought concerns about the lack of communication and lenient sentences to Krasner last year, she told me, and he insisted that he is one of the most communicative DAs.
“We’re still hearing the same complaints,” McCleary said. “I just want him to listen to us, to hear us, and consider that we are actually sentenced to life when we lose our children.”
For all the exonerations of wrongly convicted — 10 so far under Krasner — a move that should be celebrated and routinely is by the very newspaper that Team Krasner insists is against it, there have also been instances of crime victims or family members of homicide victims feeling blindsided or bullied into lenient sentences and plea deals.
Some made the news. Others didn’t.
His office’s decision to seek manslaughter instead of murder charges in the fatal stabbing of Sean Schellenger near Rittenhouse Square last year has made lots of headlines, for many reasons including that Sean, a white real estate developer, was stabbed by a black college student working as a bike courier in one of the wealthiest parts of the city.
“I wanted to trust the system,” said Schellenger’s mother, Linda, as she stood with about two dozen people holding signs that read “End Victim Blaming,” a reference to the claims that White acted in self-defense.
“But we have no representation. It’s an insult to the people of Philadelphia. It should have been up to a jury to decide.”
Many friends and family of Schellenger made it clear they were not only there for Schellenger but for all the families who felt disrespected by Krasner. Families who Schellenger said had opened their arms to her when she lost her son and families she now stood side by side with, calling on Krasner to do better.
“We need to come together as a city to say we’re not going to take that anymore.”
I’ve often said that Philadelphia’s victims of crime, families of homicide victims, are a potential powerhouse, a voting bloc to be reckoned with if they would only unite like other groups.
I saw them wield some of that power recently — when several of the same people who stood outside the DA’s Office brought their anger and frustration to police headquarters over this city’s penchant for letting killers roam free, despite its mounting number of unsolved murders.
The acting police commissioner found her way outside to talk to the loved ones looking for answers and promised more communication, as did the captain of the homicide unit, who invited mothers inside to get an update on their cases.
Only time will tell if the talk will actually lead to more action. But it was a lot harder for them to ignore these families when they were at their doorstep.
No one from the District Attorney’s Office found his or her way outside Tuesday.
But a couple of days later, while many were in a nearby courtroom for the opening statements in the case of the man accused of killing Schellenger, Rosalind Pichardo, a community activist who’d lost both her brother and boyfriend, headed back to the DA’s Office with her signs.
Before she officially set up for the day, Pichardo spotted Krasner leaving the building from the coffee shop next door. She banged on the window and scrambled to hold up a placard that read: “Only victims and their families get a life sentence in Philly.”
“He saw it,” she said. “I know he did.”