To the citizens of Philadelphia: November 7th, 2017 is a critically important day. After Seth Williams’ very public fall from grace, the city will be electing its next District Attorney. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently described the job of the district attorney as being obligated to prosecute crime. While not untrue, it is a narrow view and speaks more to the adversarial nature of our criminal justice system. Traditionalists would have the public believe that the top job of a prosecutor is to secure convictions against the guilty. Non-traditionalists propose that a prosecutor’s job is to secure justice. a very important distinction. This is why November 7th is so important. We have seen the results of decades of malicious prosecutions that have made vigorous attempts to use incarceration as a means of resolving the problem of crime in the city. At its worst it has resulted in the continued prosecution of innocent lives. Some of these innocent souls, like Shaurn Thomas, Anthony Wright, and Donte Rollins will be present and accounted for when it comes time to cast their vote. Unfortunately there still so many whose voices will not be heard at the ballot box.
The two candidates vying for the office both have their pros and cons. Both candidates have solid plans to implement justice reforms ranging from declining prosecution of small amounts of marijuana to limited petitions for capital punishment. But one candidate is familiar with the office and its protocols while the other is coming in as an outsider—and this makes all the difference.
The District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia has embedded in its DNA a systemic way of thinking that is as infectious as it is detrimental to the administration of justice. For too long prosecutors have violated the due process rights of the accused by infringing on their right to remain silent, soliciting perjured testimony, and withholding evidence that could prove an defendant’s innocence…..
The indoctrination of its officers to win at all costs is subtle and pervasive. And in this they have violated their own ethics, the victims they purport to represent, and the community.
If a change is possible it won’t happen from within. Applying the same methods or employing the same actors and hoping to get a different result is an exercise in futility. If a change is going to happen then the office’s genetic code needs to be reprogrammed by an outsider who doesn’t care about the legends of Arlen Spector, Ed Rendell, Ron Castille or Lynne Abraham as much as he cares about their record of abusive tactics that persist to this day. We all want to live in a safe society and we all want offenders to be held accountable—but not at the expense of constitutional rights that are meant to protect the innocent and to guarantee us all life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Change is on the horizon. The question is will The Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia change back to the bully days of the 70s, 80s, and 90s or will we see a new progressive administration that treats addiction as a mental illness more fit for a hospital rather than a prison; will we see the elimination of cash bail so that working citizens can report back to work and defend themselves properly rather than be held hostage in a county jail cell, losing their jobs and families and feeling compelled to take a guilty plea—even if they’re innocent; will we see a Conviction Review Unit that welcomes qualified opinions from outside the office in the pursuit of justice for the wrongfully convicted rather than the façade of integrity that closes its doors to outsiders so that no one knows exactly what is going on? The word is spreading, and on November 7th the vote will reveal what people have heard and what they believe. Join them. Join Shaurn, Anthony, and Donte and be present and accounted for.