Republican Prosecutor Seeks to Beat Civil Rights Lawyer in Race for Philadelphia District Attorney

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our coverage of the Philadelphia district attorney’s race with Republican nominee Beth Grossman. She’s a prosecutor with more than 20 years’ experience serving in every unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. She is a fourth-generation Philadelphian who says she is committed to seeking justice and improving the quality of life for all Philadelphians. From 2007 to 2015, she led the city’s Public Nuisance Task Force, which handled civil asset forfeiture. The controversial practice enables district attorneys to seize people’s property and cash even if they are not convicted of a crime.

Grossman was previously registered as a Democrat but changed party affiliations over, she says, disgust with the excessive corruption by Democratic party officials. In March, then-incumbent Democratic District Attorney Seth Williams was indicted on corruption and bribery-related charges. He is set to go on trial later this month.

This is part of an ad released by Beth Grossman’s campaign.

BETH GROSSMAN: So, based on that and my need and my want to bring integrity and ethics back to the District Attorney’s Office, that’s why I decided to run as a Republican in the District Attorney’s Office race. I needed a change, and I think the city needs a change, as well. It has been 65 years of a Democratic city, and having a one-party city creates an absolute political imbalance.

AMY GOODMAN: Beth Grossman now faces a tough battle in the upcoming November election against Democratic rival Larry Krasner for the district attorney seat. Philadelphia has been a staunchly Democratic city for more than 60 years. However, Grossman’s campaign notes Donald Trump received over 100,000 votes in Philadelphia during the presidential election, and District Attorney candidates typically need only tens of thousands of votes to win.

Well, for more, we’re going to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by Beth Grossman, longtime Philadelphia prosecutor.

Beth Grossman, welcome to Democracy Now! Why are you running for district attorney?

BETH GROSSMAN: I’m running for several reasons. First of all, as you earlier played for your audience—and, first, thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here. But I am running, first, to restore integrity and public trust to the DA’s Office. As mentioned, our current district attorney, Seth Williams, is under federal indictment and is set to go to trial in a few weeks.

That being said, I am also running to ensure that people have, are entitled to, a good quality of life and a high level of public safety in all neighborhoods throughout the city, and, as well, to ensure that the law, which the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through the DA’s Office, when we enforce it, is done so fairly, appropriately and justly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Beth Grossman, I wanted to ask you—we mentioned in the lede the period of time that you handled the unit that also dealt with civil forfeiture. There’s been a lot of criticisms of civil rights violations as a result of that forfeiture program. I’m wondering if you could respond to those claims?

BETH GROSSMAN: Well, I’m not going to concede that there were civil rights violations, because we followed the law as set statutorily, and as well as case law through the court. But that being said, I am happy, should I be elected as district attorney, to re-evaluate the practice, perhaps focusing on those who are convicted of crime, as well as I think the important thing is really to focus on prevention, so we don’t have those that are dealing drugs or have drug properties. I think maybe that’s the way we should start looking at it now.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the other issues that you think are critical right now?

BETH GROSSMAN: Well, we’re having a spike in crime in Philadelphia, which is always one of the—which is the critical issue. Recently, several weekends ago, nine people were shot, including a 1-year-old sitting on a porch. We had two people found shot execution-style in a car a couple days ago. And one of our own City Council people was stabbed in front of his own home coming home from work. So I think at this point it’s really to focus on decreasing violent crimes in Philadelphia. We have a long, hot summer ahead of us, and it really gives me concern as to what that is going to bring.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wondering on your perspective on the war on drugs. Clearly, that’s been a big focal point of prosecutors across the nation for decades now and has driven the mass incarceration rate. Your concern about how the war on drugs has been—has been carried out by law enforcement?

BETH GROSSMAN: I will say I think it has failed. I think I do agree with you on that point. I think, as you said, it has led to an enormous amount of mass incarceration. And I think, you know, it is—criminal law is almost like a pendulum. And I think we’re beginning to see, and have been, that, first of all, addiction is not a crime. So there are really those out there who are suffering from addiction, who need treatment. We also need to get education and prevention out there for kids in school to make sure that they are educated about things such as pills. We need to focus on those who are prescribing pills recklessly—that could be done through legislation and investigation—and then, for lower-level drug dealers, you know, are there types of things like diversionary programs that we can focus upon.

AMY GOODMAN: Your position on the death penalty?

BETH GROSSMAN: In Pennsylvania, it is—it just makes no sense economically. The last person who was involuntarily executed in Pennsylvania was in 1962. The last one who voluntarily waived all of his appellate rights was in 1999. So, it really, except in extreme, extreme cases, if we have an example of terrorism and a first responder is killed, or the case like the gentleman who went in—not the gentleman, but the individual went in and shot nine people in a church down south, those are the examples I would consider. But for the most part, I think utilizing the death penalty in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is not economically sound.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about some of the—

BETH GROSSMAN: There are just too many—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Go ahead. Go ahead.

BETH GROSSMAN: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Oh, no, go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about some of the things that Donald Trump has said about our cities. When he was running for the campaign, he basically said the cities were out of control, when actually the crime rate has been dropping in most American cities now for years. Your sense of the Trump administration’s policy toward crime in the cities?

BETH GROSSMAN: I’m not—I am focused on, in this race and as I have been for two decades, in what happens in the city and county of Philadelphia. That’s what concerns me, and focusing upon that. And yes, crime has gone down, but in the past couple weeks it’s also gone up. So, that is really what my concern and focus is, and what preventative measures can we utilize and use to make sure that it does not peak and that it continues to go down. That is where my focus and concern is.

AMY GOODMAN: Beth Grossman, I wanted to ask you about a piece in Mother Jones that was headlined “Philadelphia Cops Shoot and Kill People at 6 Times the Rate of the NYPD.” And it says, “In a city where blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population, almost 60 percent of the officers involved in shootings between 2007 and 2013 were white, while 81 percent of suspects involved were black.” So, that was from a DOJ report, but the headline from Mother Jones, “Philadelphia Cops Shoot and Kill People at 6 Times the Rate of the NYPD.” Your response?

BETH GROSSMAN: Well, I certainly haven’t seen that article or the numbers, so I don’t know what that response—you know, what a detailed response I can offer. What I can say is that shootings in Philadelphia by police have decreased enormously.

AMY GOODMAN: What I was reading to you, though, was from a DOJ report from 2015.

BETH GROSSMAN: OK. And my response is, hopefully, that number will continue to go down and that shootings in Philadelphia by police officers to any individual in Philadelphia will hopefully continue to decrease. And we have to work to prevent that through crime prevention strategies, to community policing, to building trust within the community, between the community and with the Philadelphia Police Department.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I also wanted to ask you about stop-and-frisk, which has been obviously a big issue here in New York City, but in many other cities across the country, as well as in Philadelphia, in terms of disparate impact on the African-American and Latino communities of stop-and-frisk. I’m wondering your view of how it’s been implemented in Philadelphia and what you would hope would be changed by law enforcement if you became district attorney.

BETH GROSSMAN: Well, as the latest report from—or the numbers from the Philadelphia Police Department is that stop-and-frisk is going down. So, I think that must continue to go down. And I just hope—again, as I said before, I think, with those members going down, when there is stop-and-frisk, I think only in 2 percent of the cases is anything found. It’s a very, very low percentage. So I think those numbers must continue to decrease. And with that, I think you will gain, you know, more trust between and more cooperation between the community and the Philadelphia Police Department. And I think when there’s that trust, in a lot of ways, I think it builds stronger relationships, and people can join in and help—want to participate in anything that will lower crime within his or her neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: You were a Democrat for a long time, then you switched party affiliation to run. But as a Democrat or a Republican, what are your views on President Trump?

BETH GROSSMAN: I am running this race to be the district attorney of Philadelphia. So what my views are of the president are irrelevant to this race, quite honestly. What concerns me is the quality of life and public safety for all Philadelphians, whether they are Republican, whether they are Democrat, whether they are independent or they belong to any other party. That is what my concern is.

AMY GOODMAN: Beth Grossman, we want to thank you for being with us, longtime Philadelphia prosecutor, Republican nominee for district attorney for Philadelphia.

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