Larry Krasner and the Limits of "Law and Order"Roundup
tags: crime, Midterm Elections, Law and Order
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. She is the Leon Forrest Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of several books, including Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, which was a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for history.
In the days before the midterm elections, Joe Biden delivered a speech imploring Americans to “stand up for our democracy.” In it, he cited several examples of the ways that Republicans have fomented attacks on basic democratic norms—undermining access to voting, questioning the fairness of elections, and inciting mob violence when the outcome hasn’t been to their liking, as was the case on January 6, 2021. Biden argued that we are in “a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself. Make no mistake—democracy is on the ballot for us all.” He could have added to this list of assaults the efforts of the Pennsylvania Republican Party to remove the duly elected district attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner. Republicans blame Krasner for the spike in violent crimes in the city since 2020, and claim that his refusal to prosecute to the fullest extent allowed by law is the reason why. After the recall of Chesa Boudin, then the district attorney of San Francisco, following a campaign that was bankrolled by a few wealthy activist donors—the more typical affront to democracy—Pennsylvania Republican Party officials seek to abuse their power and simply remove Krasner from office themselves. On Wednesday, remarkably, lawmakers began that process, voting for his impeachment.
Just as the national Republican Party’s latest round of crime hysteria was not really about crime, the Pennsylvania G.O.P.’s impeachment stunt is not really about Krasner. In fact, the state’s Republican Party launched the attack on Krasner to rally its base to the polls, in hopes of beating the vulnerable Democrat John Fetterman for a seat in the U.S. Senate and solidifying Republican control of the State Assembly. This did not work out as planned. Not only did Fetterman and Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, win their elections, but Democrats may be on the verge of taking control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the first time since 2010—a stunning turn of events. In its final days, the lame-duck Republican majority in the House has voted to impeach Krasner, in what is likely the last act of a failed strategy. Krasner will now be tried in the state Senate, where Republicans do not hold the two-thirds majority that would be required for conviction and removal from office.
Republicans igniting a crime panic is hardly a new ploy. The G.O.P. is reaching for a playbook that it has used for more than fifty years, since Richard Nixon called for law and order in the midst of the late sixties’ Black insurgency. Nixon, wielding the new technology of the day, authorized a run of campaign ads on TV which warned of the U.S. becoming, as he put it in one speech, “an armed camp of two hundred million Americans living in fear.” Those two hundred million Americans were, of course, white Americans. No longer deploying the rough and racist language of Southern Democrats, a prominent 1968 Nixon ad featured idyllic pictures of families and individuals, almost all of them white, as a narrator intoned: “The next President must unite America. He must calm its angers, ease its terrible frictions, bring its people together once again in peace and mutual respect. This requires leadership that believes in law and has the courage to enforce it.” In the 1972 Presidential race, Nixon praised another law-and-order ad, saying that it “hits it right on the nose. It’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.”
Then as now, Republican descriptions of an urban crisis of crime and disorder played on the fears of the white electorate. Also, reminiscent of the backlash against the rebellions of the sixties, Republicans described the movement for Black lives and protests against police abuse and violence as lawless and criminal. This midterm season’s political ads, featuring grainy surveillance-camera images of Black individuals firing guns in chaotic urban settings, would make the G.O.P.’s Willie Horton ads of the late eighties look like they were produced by the National Urban League. Blake Masters, a Republican who lost his race to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate, left no doubt as to what the strategy is: “We do have a gun-violence problem in this country, and it’s gang violence. . . . It’s people in Chicago, St. Louis, shooting each other—very often, you know, Black people, frankly. And the Democrats don’t want to do anything about that.”
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