As President Trump announces a “surge” of federal agents into major U.S. cities to confront protesters, we speak with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who warns he will arrest and charge Trump’s police forces if they violate the rights of residents in his city. “The law applies to the president of the United States, even though he doesn’t think so. The law applies to law enforcement. The law applies to civilians. It is real simple,” says Krasner. He also discusses the importance of releasing incarcerated people during the pandemic, and tackling police corruption, such as in the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has announced Wednesday he’s sending a “surge” of federal agents into Chicago, Albuquerque and other Democrat-run cities to crack down on Black Lives Matter protests, claiming the move is necessary to combat a rise in crime. This is Trump speaking this week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the president faces increasing criticism for deploying paramilitary-style units to Portland, Oregon, where unidentified federal officers have attacked antiracist protesters and even snatched activists off the streets in unmarked vans. On Wednesday night, federal forces fired tear gas at protesters in Portland once again. Among those hit was Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as Portland’s police commissioner. Portland’s City Council voted to end cooperation between local police and federal law enforcement. And the American Civil Liberties Union is now suing the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service, as well as the city of Portland, for attacking medics while they cared for injured protesters.
Trump has responded by saying federal agents are doing a “fantastic job,” and is now threatening to deploy them across the country. Now, in a remarkable statement, the Philadelphia district attorney has warned Trump’s police forces that he will criminally charge them if they bring these same tactics to Philadelphia. DA Larry Krasner issued the statement Wednesday that, quote, “My dad volunteered and served in World War II to fight fascism, like most of my uncles, so we would not have an American president brutalizing and kidnapping Americans for exercising their constitutional rights and trying to make America a better place, which is what patriots do. Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”
Again, the words of Larry Krasner, the district attorney of Philadelphia, who joins us now from Philadelphia for more.
DA Larry Krasner, thank you for joining us. Can you explain how exactly you plan to arrest federal agents? And what actions do you feel would warrant that?
LARRY KRASNER: Good morning.
Well, first of all, we do not plan to arrest anyone. We plan for people to obey the law. So, if any federal authorities were to come to Philadelphia and follow the law and follow the Constitution, the issue will not present, which is certainly what we all hope.
But it’s real simple. The law applies to the president of the United States, even though he doesn’t think so. The law applies to law enforcement. The law applies to civilians. I mean, it is real simple. We have to be even-handed.
So, if people are going to come to Philadelphia, and, in uniform, they’re going to fracture the skulls of protesters with rubber bullets, they’re going to jump out of rental vans and drag people into those vans without probable cause, they are committing crimes under the Pennsylvania statutes. These are Pennsylvania offenses over which the district attorney in Philly has jurisdiction over that area, and we can bring those charges. The law is very clear. We can proceed with those charges in state court. Under certain circumstances, they might end up being processed in federal court. But, initially, we can bring those charges. We can pursue them. And as much as possible, we can put those individuals in front of a Philadelphia jury, who might have something to say about those tactics.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I mean, the question is: Does the president even have the legal authority to deploy federal officers on the streets of Philadelphia, irrespective of what they do? Cornell University constitutional law professor Michael Dorf said that federal authorities coming into states like this without the cooperation of state and local authorities is, quote, “extraordinary outside the context of a civil war.” Larry Krasner, your response?
LARRY KRASNER: So, you know, there are certain kinds of overlapping jurisdiction. A couple of classic ones are over drug offenses, over gun offenses. And there are collaborations between state and federal law enforcement that go on all the time. In fact, they are happening in my office right now in many different investigations. But there is also a long-standing sort of protocol to this, in which you inform each other of what you’re doing. Some of the time, you know, one of the prosecutorial entities or police entities gets out of the way, so as to not trip over it. That’s not what we’re seeing here. What we are seeing here is, A, who knows what, because it’s Donald Trump — who knows what entity is going to show up, in what uniforms, to do what? And what we are seeing is absolutely no interest in collaboration.
But I think it’s very important not to overstate what’s really happening here. When, you know, the president talks about how he’s going to take over cities — really? Is that what you’re going to do? In Chicago, there are 12,500 active police officers. The last number I heard coming from the president was he was going to send 150 federal agents of some sort. Really? Wow! That’s 1%. That is 1% of the normal police force in Chicago.
So we should not lose sight of the reality that what Donald Trump always does is he’s got some shiny object that he’s shining over here, and he wants us to pay attention to it because he’s doing some dirt in some other location. Here, he obviously is doing a pretty effective job of trying to distract from his incredible failures, including his failures with the pandemic and with the economy at this point.
So, it remains to be seen what exactly he’ll do, if anything, in Philadelphia. It remains to be seen to what extent this is all fluff. Obviously, there have been some pretty terrible things that have happened in Portland, that appear — without perfect information, because I don’t have perfect information, but they appear to be illegal, and blatantly so. All I can say is, if federal authorities want to come to Philadelphia and break the law, then they will face the law like everyone else.
AMY GOODMAN: DA Krasner, can you talk about your family’s history? And would you say that President Trump’s move, calling for a “surge” of these federal agents throughout the country, particularly in Democratic cities — would you call President Trump fascist?
LARRY KRASNER: I would say President Trump is definitely a wannabe fascist. I’m not sure he can spell the word, but he definitely is someone who’s in love with dictators. He’s in love with authoritarianism, brutality, racism, division, hate.
His playbook is essentially the same playbook as the white supremacist playbook, which is, you know, as we see with the Proud Boys, the “boogaloo” movement, all this kind of stuff, we see that they are trying to take advantage of the peaceful protests, which is the vast majority of what it is, around George Floyd to become agent provocateurs, to get into it and to cause violence that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. So, once they have caused it, they can say, “Look at these people. Look at what these Black people do. Or look at what these left-wing people do.” Well, they’re not doing it. The Proud Boys are doing it. The “boogaloo” crew are doing it, because, as they have repeatedly stated, they’re looking to have a second civil war, as absurd as that may all sound.
It’s the same tactic that we’re seeing with Donald Trump right now. We have cities that have not had unrest, that have not had an uprising for weeks. The only thing that’s been happening in Philly for weeks has been a moderate amount of peaceful protest. And yet the president is announcing to the nation that Philadelphia is out of control. No, it’s not. I’m here. I live here. The police commissioner is here. We all see what’s going on. There is no problem. There is no crisis that would in any way require federal intervention. But, once again, if he sends troops of some sort, federal agents of some sort, in here to stir things up, to requisition people, to beat people up, if he sends it in, he’s going to cause unrest. So, what I’m saying is, he is acting as an agent provocateur by using his authority to send people in.
And what is the real purpose of this, from his perspective? It’s probably not a second civil war. He’s much more shortsighted and narcissistic than that. His real purpose is to distract from his dismal record, the fact that his campaign is dropping like a stone.
In terms of my family history, you know, I mean, it’s just — we have a lot of people — or they’re almost all passed now, but we have a lot of people in the family who were of an age that they volunteered and they served in World War II. My dad served in the Pacific on a Pacific island at an airbase. I had an uncle who was in Germany. He was an artillery spotter, which is one lousy job to have, because you’re in between both sides watching the shells that have been fired from both sides, and hopefully they don’t land on you. That’s a tough thing to do. I had another one who lost most of his hearing serving on a Navy vessel.
And going a little further than that, if you look to my wife’s side of the family, her father was career military. He was not in World War II, but he flew planes in a couple different wars and eventually ended up being a pilot for an ambassador to Afghanistan, which is where my wife lived when she was a young child.
So, we go way back when it comes to this. That’s not to say we’re any different or any better. But we have someone here who avoided military service, not because he was a conscientious objector, but because he’s entitled, privileged, cowardly and lazy. We have this person pretending to be some kind of wannabe fascist. And it is intolerable. This is nothing that we can accept in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Krasner, I want to ask you about the people still locked up in Philadelphia’s jails despite the higher risk of contracting COVID. Most of them are waiting for their day in court, which has been disrupted due to the spread of the virus. Many are bail-eligible. The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund has been actively bailing people out during this time. Some activists have focused in particular on young people who are still imprisoned. This is a member of the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project named Briyanna describing what it was like when her juvenile son was recently incarcerated during COVID.
BRIYANNA: I worried. I worried about my son. Is he eating? Is he safe? Is he cold? I also couldn’t see my son because of COVID-19, which made it even worse. So there was 14 days that I only had a phone conversation with my son. There were no hugs. There were no kisses.
AMY GOODMAN: DA Larry Krasner, do you think there are people locked up right now who should not be, given the health risks? What is your office doing to release more people from what have been called death traps? I’m looking at an ad by the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. They said, “DA Larry Krasner, drop the charges, not your knee.” They said charged more than 400 people in the last two days of protests — this was in the last weeks — kept over a hundred Black youth in detention during COVID, incarcerated thousands of Black Philadelphians in cages at risk of death during COVID. Can you respond to these accusations or criticisms against you?
LARRY KRASNER: Well, you know, the problem with a lot of these criticisms is they’re completely out of context, and, frankly, cynically out of context. When we came into office, we were coming off of a city that had 10,000 people in county custody. We started with 6,500. We knocked it down to about 5,000 within a year and a half, which was the quickest progress towards decarceration, essentially, in the history of the city. And we are currently at 4,000. This is the lowest rate of incarceration in Philadelphia since about 1985. 1985. And we have gotten there through a lot of extremely diligent and careful work.
But, you know, I would be misleading you if I told you I thought that people who were accused of murdering four people should be out of custody. They should not. They should be in custody before they kill five people. And I’m not making that up. We have someone sitting there who literally was a contract killer and who is associated with four different murders. We have someone else associated with five.
Once again, you know, let’s talk about the juveniles. When we came in, there were about 650 juveniles in custody, which was lower than it had been in the past. There is now on the — it changes every day, of course, but there’s now something like 140. It is not enough simply to say that someone is a juvenile. If that juvenile has paralyzed another juvenile by shooting them in the back of the head behind a dumpster, there is a role that has to be played by the state in order to make sure that we do not have the slaughter of people on the street. So, I do not have any reservation about saying that there are some people who need to be in custody even under these circumstances.
But this office, working closely with the Public Defender’s Office, has done a remarkable job of diminishing the harm that could have come from Philadelphia’s jails becoming an epicenter. They have not become that. We have experienced — based on my limited information, we’ve experienced a total of two deaths among the inmate population, I believe, two deaths among the staff population. But as we compare that to national averages, a lot of the extremely hard work that we have done, and that we’re continuing to do, has paid off.
It’s a real problem. I mean, I’m not going to kid you. It’s a real problem, in a city where ordinarily you have a hundred new criminal cases a day, that there’s no easy exit door to the jail, because the courts are closed. And they’ve been closed for months, and it does not look like they’re going to open up quickly. But all things considered, when we are objective and fair about it, I think we’ve actually done an excellent job of keeping this population down, of being very surgical about which individuals need to be in custody at this time.
I also think it is fair to say that — and I’m not going to get specific with which bail fund, but, you know, there’s one of these bail funds that took a young man who had no prior record and was racking up one drug case after another in a very short period of time, in a way that anyone experienced in criminal justice would say signifies that this person needs to be held in custody, needs an intervention. But once again, the bail fund, you know, went charging in, paid that person’s bail. He came out and was killed on a corner shortly thereafter. He was on the corner, because the bail fund, even though this young man, who was only 18-and-a-half when it started, had collected six consecutive drug cases in a very short period of time, they ran and paid his bail and got him out the last time.
We’ve seen another case — it was a domestic violence case — where the defendant had viciously harmed his long-term partner in a number of different states, been convicted for it, and, over the objection of the DA’s Office, who were trying to protect her, bail fund looked at none of that, ran and paid it, and she then suffered a terrible sexual assault at the hands of the same person.
So, it is not the case that every single person should get out all of the time. It is not the case that simply saying, no matter what the offense, no matter what the record, and no matter what the circumstances, everyone should get out. The life of that woman mattered. The life of that young man whose bail was paid and died mattered. It all matters, and we have to be careful about these things.