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Independent district attorney candidate Leon Williams, hoping to beat incumbent Lynne Abraham, believes the job should focus on crime prevention, not enforcement. [Jenny Winston/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

For Independent Party candidate Leon Williams, a district attorney should be more of a crusader against crime than an attorney.

The Center City attorney will take on the seemingly indestructible incumbent Democrat Lynne Abraham, armed with his theory that crime wouldn't have to be prosecuted if it could be prevented.

"When asked what's the prime role of the district attorney, [Abraham] answers 'to prosecute criminals,'" Williams said. "I think it's to fight crime."

"You have to engage in prevention, be in the community, develop a crime fighting apparatus in the community, a rapport with young people and with community groups and residents," he said.

Williams has a history with Abraham, from losing to her in the 1997 district attorney primaries when he ran as a Democrat, to taking her on in court over police brutality and liability.

Despite his past failure, and the fact that most people think Abraham will glide to an easy re-election, Williams gives one reason as to why he has decided to try again -- he says the city has made no strides in crime prevention between 1997 and today.

For Williams,the post of district attorney is not about fighting criminals; it is about fighting what makes people turn into criminals, such as poor education in the public school system and a lack of mentors in communities.

"It's very important for the district attorney's office to work with public schools. That's the way you prevent people from going to jail," he said.

"[Abraham] responds by saying that what I want is to be a social worker. Well, social work should be a large part of the district attorney's office," Williams said. "I believe we can reduce crime if we think about the role and function of the district attorney in a different way."

According to Williams, the fault lies not only with Abraham on this issue, but also with Joseph Bongiovanni and Richard Ash, the Republican and Green Party candidates for district attorney, respectively.

"They don't understand either about bringing the district attorney's office to the community. Neither champion the notion of crime prevention," Williams said.

Williams wants to deputize citizens because he thinks the people who actually live with crime have a much better understanding of what needs to be done to stop it than the majority of police officers.

One of Williams' pet peeves about Abraham is the way she coddles law enforcement officials.

"She does not prosecute law enforcement officers," he said. "It's a political thing. She gets their endorsement, and the reward for them is that they don't have to worry about being prosecuted. Police should be subject to the same laws as citizens."

This difference in opinion has historically brought the two attorneys head to head, with Williams once battling Abraham over whether or not a private citizen had the right to file a complaint against an FBI agent accused of shooting an unarmed man.

Williams also criticized Abraham for the way she handled last summer's high profile police brutality case, when Tom Jones, an African-American male, was allegedly beaten publicly by Philadelphia Police officers.

"Some of those cops should have gone to jail, but she decided not to prosecute anyway," Williams noted.

In addition to getting communities involved in crime prevention, Williams' other main platform issue will be the war on drugs.

Williams disagrees with the war's current focus on putting the people who sell and use drugs in jail, and wants to concentrate on the people he says law enforcement never sees -- those bringing narcotics into the country. He said police and politicians turn their heads from the root of the problem.

"The drug war -- we're gonna fight it from the top down, and right now it's being fought from the bottom up," Williams said. "People in jail have little to do with the drugs being here. They have poor prospects, so we're going after the big drug dealers."

The war on drugs is also an issue of race to Williams, who is African American. "[The drug war is] essentially a war against people of color," he said. "That's who you find packing the jails, not the people bringing it into the country."

Williams said the same prejudices apply to capital punishment, a practice Williams staunchly opposes, unlike Abraham.

"The government has no right to kill. Under Pennsylvania law, the death penalty would be considered homicide because that's defined as the killing of a human being by another human being," he said. "The law considers it justifiable and I don't."

Abraham is notorious for her willingness to seek the death penalty as a sentence when compared to other Pennsylvania district attorneys.

"She does seem to be relentless with the use of the death penalty, and she certainly does seem to enjoy that reputation," Williams said.

"She has this notion that the role of the district attorney is to see that people get to be punished," he added. "Punishment doesn't have any role in law enforcement. Their role is to protect the public, and you can do so without putting someone to death, and you should be able to do it without putting someone to death."

And while some have called Abraham an outright racist, Williams thinks that is too harsh a term. "I wouldn't call her a racist, but I would call her insensitive to the racist aspects of her policies... and it's those impacts that she seems to not be concerned with."

The race issue will be, in Williams' own opinion, useful to his campaign, claiming he, and none of the other three candidates, can reach out to the African-American and Hispanic constituencies.

"The African-American community is almost unanimously opposed to Lynne Abraham, and people do vote race in Philadelphia," Williams said. "I expect to have a big chunk of the African-American and Hispanic vote, and hopefully that will be enough."

But even if Williams is unsuccessful once again in his bid for the district attorney's office, he will persevere as long as the city's problems with crime exist.

"My plan is to run every four years until I win, unless someone else comes along who can do the job," he said.

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