A group of civic and religious leaders came together in support of embattled Philadelphia District Attorney to send a message to Pennsylvania legislators hoping to impeach him: ‘Not on our watch!’
ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
By Denise Clay-Murray
In a way, it made a lot of sense that supporters of embattled Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner were gathered at the Mother Bethel AME Church in South Philadelphia Wednesday night.
Mother Bethel was founded in 1787 after Black people who had been worshipping at St. George’s Church in Philadelphia were pushed out of the sanctuary due to segregation and told they had no standing at the church, despite regularly paying tithes.
When the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to hold Krasner in contempt for not responding to a subpoena for records from the Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, it felt kind of familiar, said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, Mother Bethel’s pastor. Through the contempt vote, this group of mostly white men was telling this city filled with Black and Brown people that it reserved the right to negate their electoral choices.
You know you’ve said that to the wrong city, right?
“Let me tell you,” Tyler said. “Those who know me know I’ve had a few issues with the mayor. But if an attempt was made [to impeach] even our current mayor by someone outside of the city that voted for him, I would open the doors of Mother Bethel. We won’t let anybody in Washington County or Schuylkill County decide who governs us. Democracy started in this city. We won’t let it die on our watch.”
By a 162-38, mostly party-line vote — 10 Philadelphia area Democrats joined the Republicans — the House of Representatives voted for the contempt resolution, which is connected to impeachment proceedings that Republicans on the Select Committee to Restore Law and Order have been trying to launch against Krasner. They blame his reform-minded policies for the uptick in gun violence in Philadelphia.
But the civic and religious leaders, politicians and voting rights advocates gathered at Mother Bethel saw this as the latest attempt to negate the will of voters who have been in the crosshairs of Republicans since they helped make Joe Biden president of the United States in 2020.
While many of them weren’t present at the rally, many organizations dedicated to protecting voting rights made their voices heard. The Committee of Seventy, led by former City Commissioner Al Schmidt, issued a statement saying that the voters have spoken and to refuse to honor what they’ve said is an affront to democracy.
“Our representative democracy is built on the foundation that the people should elect who represents them in government. That means honoring the results of a free and fair election is a sacred responsibility, especially for those who may have preferred a different outcome,” according to the statement. “There is no doubt that Larry Krasner was elected District Attorney by the voters of Philadelphia. Any effort to remove him from that elected position is at odds with the will of the voters.”
To Kadida Kenner, executive director of the New Pennsylvania Project, what’s going on with Krasner is an example of the things that make people decide that voting isn’t worth the effort. As someone trying to get the 1.7 million Pennsylvanians who are eligible to vote, but aren’t registered to do so, beating back this attempt on our democracy is important.
“This is the exact thing that keeps these folks out of the electorate,” she said. “Our freedom to vote and have our voices heard, our freedom to make life changing medical decisions for ourselves, and even the independence of our judges, and court system all hang at a knife’s edge. We will not allow them to suppress our votes and disenfranchise us. We’ve worked too hard for these rights and freedoms.”
While Larry Krasner is the name on the subpoena’s paperwork, Philadelphians know what this is all about, said Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER Interfaith.
And they’re not going to tolerate it.
“It’s not just about our District Attorney,” Royster said. “It is about Black and Brown folks having control of the economy in the City of Philadelphia. And if you want to know the truth about the economy of the state of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania can’t survive without Philadelphia, but Philadelphia can survive without Pennsylvania.”
“We are not going to let those that have the audacity to be elected offices, as state reps and state senators in places far on the other side of the state have a damn thing to say about what happens here in the City of Philadelphia,” Royster continued. “And oh, by the way, y’all don’t know, Philadelphians do know how to travel. We’ll come out there and let you know just how we feel.”
But one of the most important voices heard during the gathering was that of the seat tonight was that of Michelle Parker.
On June 19, 2021, her 23-year-old son and the man to whom he was selling his car were gunned down in front of her home. It has been tough for her and her family, but she praised Krasner’s office for what they’ve done for her and her family.
She also echoed the sentiments of many in the audience despite being a member of the demographic Krasner’s opponents claim to want to help by getting rid of him.
“The Philadelphia Cares program, which is a part of the DA’s office was instrumental in helping us to get through the process,” she said. “There’s still been no arrests in my son’s murder. I’ve been voting since I was 18 years old. I am 51 years old today. I still continue to vote, and I will be damned, excuse me Lord, if I allow anybody outside of Philadelphia to let us know how we need to vote. It ain’t happening.”
When Krasner came to the microphone, he thanked the audience for showing him their support, but also reminded them that the bottom line of this impeachment attempt is less about whether or not he’s doing his job well, it’s about what motivates him to do it.
It’s not necessarily him that’s on the hot seat — it’s the idea of criminal justice reform, Krasner said.
“The only impeachment efforts that have ever occurred at the Pennsylvania legislature to my knowledge and at the federal level have been because people have committed crimes,” he said.
“Where have you ever heard anyone say that I or any DA officer has committed a crime? They know we haven’t. And yet, for some reason, all of a sudden, they’re going to try to impeach somebody who disagrees with their policies, even after the two consecutive landslide wins this administration represents.”
“So, I really want to start by saying thank you to everybody who has come out tonight,” he said. “And thank you to all of these community leaders, activists. I want to thank you for everything that you do every day, and everything that we are going to continue to do together to fight this nonsense, but also to bring reform to the criminal justice system. That battle needs it. And that can only get better with the support that you are providing.”
While the contempt resolution against Krasner was passed, any action enforcing it would require another vote from the state House of Representatives. The House, which is currently Republican-controlled, could pass articles of impeachment by a majority vote, but to successfully impeach Krasner would require a two-thirds vote.
There is no word on when the Commonwealth Court will make a decision on the status of Krasner’s motion to quash the House’s subpoena. But no matter what the court decides, it will most likely be appealed.