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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaking to Penn community members on Sept. 13. (Photo from Holly Anderson)

Penn Democrats hosted Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Monday for a discussion on the importance of increasing voter turnout and progressive criminal justice reform. 

More than 20 Penn and Philadelphia community members gathered outdoors at the intersection of Locust Walk and 40th Street to hear Krasner answer questions from the group regarding his work on criminal justice reform, his recent win in the Democratic primary in May, and the role of higher voter turnout in the primary election. 

Krasner, the incumbent candidate who took office in January 2018, beat challenger Carlos Vega, who is the first Latino homicide prosecutor in Pennsylvania, after receiving 64.9% of the vote. In April, Penn Democrats and Penn Justice Democrats endorsed Krasner for reelection, citing Krasner's commitment to criminal justice reform and his history of holding police officers accountable.

During the event, Krasner spoke about the high voter turnout in the May 18 primary election, during which each political party chooses its candidates to run for office during the general election. He credited the turnout rates to the relevancy of criminal justice reform in his campaign, and said there was a 21% turnout of eligible voters compared to the usual 9% to 12% turnout.

“When you put criminal justice reform on the ballot, people turn out who are unlikely voters,” Krasner said. “They are either people who are alienated by politics, or they are people who are most significantly affected by our criminal justice system. They are also often young people.”

This increase in voter turnout is needed to put more progressive district attorneys in office, Krasner said. He added that ever since the publication of "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, a book on the history of mass incarceration in the United States, more district attorneys have been pushing for criminal justice reform.

“Two years ago, 10% of the United States had a progressive prosecutor,” Krasner said at the event. “George Floyd happened in the last two years and everything around that occurred. You now have 20.1% of the United States that has elected and reelected in many instances a progressive prosecutor.” 

Grassroots social justice movements for reforming the criminal justice system are the cause of these increased elections, Krasner said. He predicted that more progressive district attorneys will take office as the effects of "The New Jim Crow" book and other social justice movements persist.

Krasner emphasized the need for more progressive Democratic officials as well. 

As the upcoming race for Pennsylvania's two U.S. Senate seats approaches, Krasner said it will be important for cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to have high voter turnout. 

“I hope the key takeaway [from today’s event] is that they register everybody. They get everybody who just turned the age of 18, and take them by the ear and show them how to vote, and they get everybody on the planet to vote in Pennsylvania,” Krasner told a Daily Pennsylvanian reporter at the event. 

Penn students who attended the event said they appreciated the opportunity to hear Krasner speak and ask him questions.

“It was really cool to hear from an incredibly smart, progressive district attorney from Philadelphia who we've helped to elect in the spring, and we're really excited to work with him,” Noah Lewine, Penn Dems political director and College sophomore, said.

For College first year and Penn Dems deputy board member Sophie Howery, it was shocking to receive the email from Penn Dems announcing Krasner would speak with students on campus.

“It was great getting a personal conversation with the district attorney, and getting answers to questions that you generally don't really have access to,” Howery said. 

College first year Jack Burgess said he learned a lot from the event, specifically about prosecution in Philadelphia and Krasner’s work to help end cash bail.

Similarly, Penn Dems political senior deputy and sophomore Lucy Kronenberg found the experience of speaking with Krasner very important.

“Most of us, in addition to being students here, are voting here, which means we're constituents of Larry Krasner as district attorney, and like all constituents anywhere, it's really important to be able to have contact with your representative, hear their views, and understand what they're doing," Kronenberg said. "I just think it's important to be informed voters and informed citizens."