The City of Philadelphia, which I love, was founded all the way back in 1682. That’s 337 years ago. And in 337 years, the city has never elected a woman as sheriff – until Tuesday – when Philadelphia not only elected a Black woman as sheriff – she’s a grassroots activist – a leader in the NAACP – and is ready to transform the entire Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office from the inside out.
Philadelphia’s not perfect, no city is, but today I’ll tell you why I think no city in the nation is doing better at ending mass incarceration than Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
In the United States we have nearly 8,000 jails and prisons. We have over a million police officers. We have 2,500 district attorneys – but they oversee tens of thousands of prosecutors.
And all of that to oversee the 11 million people who go in and out of America’s jails and prisons every single year. On any given day, we have about 2.5 million people in jail and prison, but we have over 11 million people incarcerated in this country per year. In addition to the millions in jail and prison, we have at least 5 million people currently on probation and parole.
You’ll hear me say this a lot – and it’s because I need you to get it – our systems of mass incarceration – they aren’t broken. They are firing on all cylinders. They are working just the way the people who designed and built them intended them to function.
It took hundreds of years to build these systems. And in order for us to abolish them – in order for us to tear them down and put something much more redemptive in their place, we have many options, but one of the best ways for us to change the game, is to take the systems over ourselves. And I don’t just mean Black folk, because we have some horrible Black DA’s and Police Chiefs across the country, but I mean philosophy and worldview. What do you stand for and what do you stand against?
And right, pound for pound, no city is doing that better than Philadelphia. Which is strange to say, because if podcasts were a thing 40 years ago, 30 years ago, even 20 years ago – I’d be telling you that Philadelphia has perhaps the worst, most racist, most punitive and destructive justice system of any large city in the nation, but over the past few years – the whole game has changed in Philly.
And last night, with the city electing Rochelle Bilal as the new Sheriff, Philadelphia continued to demonstrate for the rest of the nation how change happens.
We need Rochelle Bilal’s all over the country. We need women like her, whose values are rock solid, who won’t compromise, to come in and change these systems from the inside out. See – Rochelle is a retired police officer, but she was always woke. She was the head of the Black police union and regularly fought against racism and brutality in the department. She’s a civil rights leader and organizer and has serious respect and love from the community.
And the same is true of one of my favorite people in the world – Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner. Now that last sentence might not have sounded radical or revolutionary to you, but I have loathed DA’s my entire life. To this day most of them are heartless villains. But three years ago, when Larry Krasner, who wasn’t even a prosecutor, but a life long civil rights attorney, two years ago when he decided to step up and run for office, he changed all the rules. He ran on the message of radical reform. He ran on the promise of completely reinventing the office. He ran on the message of holding police and corrupt prosecutors accountable.
And he hasn’t disappointed. He has made sweeping changes from the top down. He’s fired the worst prosecutors. He published a public list of corrupt cops that he will not allow to testify that the city refuses to fire. He has changed dozens of policies.
And it hasn’t been easy, because the people who need mass incarceration, who need the power, money, and control that it provides, they’ll fight for it tooth and nail, but in two years in office, Larry Krasner has done more to abolish mass incarceration in one city than any other single person has in any city in the same time.
And we can do that in your city. We can do that your hometown – no matter how big or small. If it can be done in Philly – it can be done anywhere. I truly believe that.
But here’s the thing, and I’ll close with this, we have to pay attention to a lot more than presidential elections for that to be possible. This election of a Black woman sheriff in Philly – that took place in the middle of May – and from now until November – primaries are happening just like that all over the country – of sheriffs, of District Attorneys, of school board leaders, and so much more.