Home > Uncategorized > In Philadelphia, Voters Decided Enough Was Enough… and Change is Happening

In Philadelphia, Voters Decided Enough Was Enough… and Change is Happening

As a former Philadelphian who has bemoaned the decline of funding for public schools in that city and the incarceration of young black men across the country, and one who also holds a strong belief that democracy, while being beaten back by the oligarchs is still the best hope for the future, I am heartened to read that voters in Philadelphia are pushing back against the dominant neoliberal paradigm.

Late last month I read an Intercept article by firebrand journalist Sean King describing how recently elected DA  Larry Krasner is overhauling the entire department in an effort to keep his pledge to transform the office he was elected to. Sean King writes:

In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. “Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” his spokesperson said at the time. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda.”

Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled…

All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. While the document appears to have been sent to the staff of the Philadelphia DA’s office on February 15, 2018, it only became public a week ago.

The Intercept article offers a copy of the entire memo, and Mr. King elaborates on its key points, which are summarized in bullet form below:

  • end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing
  • stop charging sex workers that have fewer than three convictions with any crime and drop all current cases against sex workers who also fit that description
  • avoid convictions if possible and guide cases for diversion programs instead of jail and prison
  • stop the wide-ranging practice of beginning plea deals with the highest possible sentencing and instead, begin those plea deals at the bottom end of the available range of time that can be served. And when less than 24 months is available as a sentence for a crime, house arrest or diversion programs should be used instead of incarceration.
  • add up and justify the exact costs of every single person sentenced to a crime in Philadelphia, where is costs $42,000 per year to incarcerate an individual, more than the average income of a city resident
  • people either be given no probation after incarceration or no more than a 12-month probationary period, given the reality that Philadelphia now has 44,000 people on probation, “…an impossible number to manage”  which leads to a situation where “More serious cases end up being harder to track and follow”

None of this should be a surprise to any voter in Philadelphia, because this is the platform Mr. Krasner ran on, a far different platform than that of one of his predecessors, Arlen Spector, who ran on a law-and-order platform in the 1960s. MAYBE this is a harbinger of an attitudinal shift in the nation: one based on common sense and the desire to save taxpayers money.

Meanwhile, the voters who supported Krasner for DA also rallied to boot out the “School Reform Commission” that decimated funding for the public schools while promoting the ideas of school choice. An article by Greg Windle in Notebook, the publication of Our City Our Schools Coalition in Philadelphia, describes the Coalition’s effort to get the city to suspend PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements in place with the city’s colleges, universities, businesses, and developers. Thanks to some hard nosed analysis by Coalition members, the group issued a report that identified “…four main sources of revenue, which would total $191 million annually“- the most obvious of which was the PILOT agreements which account for $95,000,000 of the $191,000,000 in lost revenue for schools. The article details how the $191,000,000 figure was calculated, and if those revenue sources were tapped the city would receive over $890,000 per school,

“That’s enough to purchase one counselor, one librarian, five teachers, and two secretaries at every single school,” (activist Jessica) Way said. “We don’t need another computer program that makes things more efficient for our teachers; we need people!”

The report went on to note that if property values were updated to match fair market value, that could drive the revenue as high as $301 million annually…. and with 214 public schools in the city that additional $110,000,000 would provide an additional $514,000+ for each school.

Our City Our School has experienced success in its effort to restore control of its public schools to city residents. Given the election of Larry Krasner who ran on a TRUE reform agenda, it is entirely possible that they will succeed in achieving TRUE education reform, which can only occur when the revenues based on taxes are restored, which means those businesses, colleges and universities who take advantage of the infrastructure of the city pay their fair share of taxes and those who moved into gentrified neighborhoods do the same. A city can only be called “livable” if it provides a decent education for ALL the children who live there and it treats ALL of its citizens with respect. It appears that Philadelphia is living up to its old motto: it is becoming a City of Brotherly Love.

 

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