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Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner on Mumia Abu-Jamal, Police Corruption & Reexamining Old Cases

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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has made addressing police corruption a cornerstone of his time in office, and he says it affects many criminal cases, including that of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has always maintained his innocence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer for which he has spent four decades behind bars. Within weeks of the end of the trial, a third of the police involved in his case were jailed for systematically tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in cases across the city, and at least one police officer in the case, James Forbes, lied on the stand, saying he had properly handled guns. “It is a microcosm of the realities of what progressive prosecutors face now when they’re trying to go back in time and do justice,” Krasner says of efforts to rectify police abuses steeped in “a culture that used to shred and used to hide and used to destroy.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go, I wanted to ask you about Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of the most recognized cases in Philadelphia history. One of the least-known facts of the case is that Mumia was nearly beaten to death at the crime scene. Within weeks of the end of the trial, a third of the police involved in his case were jailed for systematically tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in cases across Philadelphia. At least one police officer in the case, James Forbes, lied on the stand, saying he had properly handled guns. What are the recourses for addressing police corruption, both in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case and that of so many others in which police were jailed for wrongdoing but the victims remained in jail? Some say Philadelphia has a history of cases like this. I asked you about Mumia Abu-Jamal when you were running for DA. You’re now in for three years. What’s happening in his case?

LARRY KRASNER: So, in terms of the broader question about corruption, one of the things that my office has done is we’ve established a police misconduct database — you might call it a list, but it’s really a lot better than that — in which we have, consistent with our constitutional obligation to give the defense all the information they’re entitled to, including information that may be used by the defense to try to defeat our case as prosecutors. What happens is, we keep data, we keep information, whether it is findings by police of lying or brutality, or it’s a police officer having been charged with a crime in a different county, or it may even be a judge having made a decision that a particular police officer lied, or it could be, you know, postings on Facebook that show bias towards any particular group. We keep all of that information. And because it’s a database, as soon as a new case comes into the system involving that officer, the information automatically is connected to the case and is then appropriately provided to the defense. That’s never been done in Philadelphia before. It is a relatively high-tech and, we think, kind of excellent solution.

And it’s also fair to the police, because they are notified that they’re on this database. They’re given the opportunity to come in and explain why it may be biased. And the truth is, sometimes it is, because Internal Affairs is as political and as biased as anything else at certain times, in certain cases. So, you know, that’s part of what we’ve done.

We have exonerated, at this point, 14 people. And we’ve been in office for about 26 months. It is a sea change from everything that came before. And included on our police misconduct database, there are certain individuals who are categorized as ordinarily people we will not call, we will not call to testify, because we do not trust their integrity. There are other people who are in a less difficult situation.

As for Mumia Abu-Jamal, that is in about the 40th year of its litigation. We have some things going on very actively in that case. We take that case no more and no less seriously than every other case, because of the notoriety about it. One of the things that I’ve certainly seen in our work around exoneration and conviction integrity is I have seen that often the unfamous people get a whole lot less attention than the famous people. But what I can say in that regard is it is pending. There are certain restrictions on what we should appropriately say at this time. But it does — you know, it is a microcosm of the realities of what progressive prosecutors face now when they’re trying to go back in time and do justice, when they’re trying to do justice moving forward, when they’re trying to comply with their obligations to give exculpatory information, in a culture that used to shred and used to hide and used to destroy, a culture that I experienced for almost 30 years as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Krasner, I want to thank you for being with us, district attorney of Philadelphia.

Next, we go to Chicago, where Trump is saying he’s sending a “surge” of federal agents. We’ll look at how protesters are demanding justice after police officers punched out the teeth of an 18-year-old activist named Miracle Boyd. Stay with us.

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