Politics

Black Lives Matter Just Scored a Massive Victory

May 17th 2017

By:
Thor Benson

Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney and relative political outsider, won the Philadelphia primary election to become the city's Democratic nominee for attorney general on Tuesday. As NPR reported, Krasner is expected to win the general election in November, as Democrats have a 7-1 registration advantage in the city. 

larry krasner

Krasner's win is a major victory for Black Lives Matter, as the civil rights attorney has not only defended the group, pro bono, on multiple occasions but has also campaigned on a platform that dovetails with the group's aims. As Philadelphia Magazine reported, during the campaign, Krasner promised to "never to seek the death penalty, to work to eliminate cash bail, and to take other actions aimed at lowering the city’s sky-high incarceration rate."

Krasner received 38 percent of the vote, beating former U.S. Attorney Joe Khan, who received 20 percent of the vote. 

Referred to as the "most progressive" candidate in the race, Krasner built a legacy lending legal counsel to ACT UP activists, Occupy Wall Street protesters and, as The Intercept noted, by suing the Philadelphia Police Department "at least 75 times." 

"Who represented the RNC protesters in 2000 when it mattered? Who represented Occupy when it mattered? Who represented clergy fighting against gun violence? Who represents Black Lives Matter now?" Kranser said during his campaign. "I have represented reformers."

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If elected, Krasner's stated intentions to lower the city's incarceration rate carry larger implications. As Vox pointed out, the United States' mass incarceration phenomenon is largely due to what happens at the state and local level as nearly 90 percent of inmates are in state prisons. From Vox:

"Prosecutors are enormously powerful in the US criminal justice system, in large part because they are given so much discretion to do whatever they want. For example, in 2014 Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced that he will no longer enforce low-level marijuana arrests. Think about how this works: Pot is still very much illegal in New York, but the district attorney flat-out said that he will ignore an aspect of the law — and it's completely within his discretion to do so."

During his campaign, Krasner said that he won't target nonviolent drug offenders and will try to reform the prison system to reduce recidivism. If elected, his policies will be in opposition to the agenda of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who aims to increase prison sentences for drug offenders. As we've previously reported, Sessions wants those convicted of "the most serious" drug-related crimes to receive the maximum sentences possible.

Krasner's campaign video featured Occupy protesters and Black Lives Matter activists who spoke in favor of his policies.

Nicole B. Porter, the advocacy director for The Sentencing Project, explained to ATTN: why Krasner's win will be a victory for Black Lives Matters if he sticks to his promises.

"The question will be, once he gets into office, how he uses the authority of his office as a district attorney to prosecute," Porter said. "Elected district attorneys have a wide range of discretion around charging decisions and sentencing decisions, and that will be what's important from a local perspective, including where Black Lives Matter fits into it or other local grassroots groups that are interested in the practices of the Philadelphia district attorney's office." 

Porter also said that Krasner's victory could show other cities that a candidate can win an election by focusing on how to reduce incarceration levels. She said Krasner could "demonstrate that politically it's possible for prosecutors to center their public safety priorities in ways that are different than the status quo."

As we've reported before, local elections can have a major impact for groups like Black Lives Matter, since many of the reforms they seek are determined at the local level.

Earlier this year, Black Lives Matter called for the resignation of Philadelphia's current District Attorney Seth Williams after he was indicted on corruption charges. But while Williams did not resign, the likely ascent of Krasner to the position may be result in an even broader victory.