Philly D.A.

For progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, getting elected was the easy part.


Philly D.A., an eight-part documentary series by Independent Lens on PBS, follows progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a former civil rights attorney who made a career out of suing the police, through his tumultuous first few years in office.

Krasner's was among the first and most significant victories in a well-funded campaign to elect civil libertarians to district attorney offices across the country, but he encountered political headwinds as violent crime in the city spiked.

For Krasner, getting elected was the easy part. Philly D.A. shows him facing fierce attacks for refusing to pursue the death penalty, for his support of supervised injection sites, and for his attempts to rein in the police. After his improbable victory, he immediately begins trying to ram reforms through a recalcitrant system. Impolitic and impatient, he fires dozens of line prosecutors and refuses to kowtow to police unions.

The costs of the chummy relationship between cops and his predecessors are clear. Early in the series, Krasner's staffers discover a secret list of Philadelphia cops who were considered too dirty to put on the stand. The file is labeled "Damaged Goods." Those "damaged goods" were still policing the citizens of Philadelphia. The series also shows people affected by the policies Krasner is trying to dismantle, such as a young man who spent eight months in jail because his family couldn't afford his $1,200 bail.

In May, Krasner shellacked his opponent, a police union–backed prosecutor he had fired, for reelection by a 66–33 margin. The documentary remains a well-rounded, thorough look at the levers of power in the justice system and who controls them.