Following widespread arrests during protests over the death of George Floyd, Philadelphia’s district attorney says his office is trying to balance “vigorous prosecution” with the possibility of dropping some cases during “a moment of national pain."
“In a moment of national pain, we need to think long and hard and very carefully, and look closely at every single case about how we can do what is best for all of society, including those store owners, including the communities that have in certain instances been left without available pharmacies and without available grocery stores,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said, alluding to widespread looting in the protests’ early stages.
This week, his office will assemble a task force to figure out “how we are going to avoid the disaster that was the handling of cases during the Repubican National Convention, which lasted four years and resulted in 99% acquittals on the charges and 98% acquittals of the defendants,” he said.
As a former defense attorney, Krasner himself represented many of the people arrested during the convention.
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From the time the Floyd demonstrations started and through 4 a.m. Thursday, 1,007 felony and misdemeanor cases had been arraigned, mostly for commercial and residential burglaries, Krasner said. In addition, about 1,000 code violations were issued for people who ignored citywide curfews.
The 1,007 felony and misdemeanor cases over a roughly 10-day stretch is about the same as the number of cases during non-pandemic times, which presents a challenge at a time when there is already a backlog “in a burdened court system,” the district attorney said.
Of those arrested during the period of protests, 39% had no prior arrests and an “overwhelming” number of them were between 18 and 24 years old, he said.
Because a large number of people who were arrested were so young and had no prior criminal record, prosecutors will have to figure out which of those can only be held accountable through convictions and which of those can be held accountable “in other ways,” Krasner said.
Some of the recent cases handled by the DA’s office, however, have been “very serious,” including that of a woman accused of running over a police officer, a group of men burglarizing a gun shop and a spate of ATM explosions, Krasner said.
That has led to challenges including keeping both civilians and police accountable, Krasner said, referencing the case against Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna, who was caught on video allegedly beating a Temple University student with a baton.
“We highly value people’s constitutional rights, including their right of free expression and protest and to assemble …. We also take our obligation to keep the city safe extremely seriously,” he said.