Rampant looting in Philadelphia, other cities reignites crime as a campaign issue

Widespread looting in Philadelphia, some of it coordinated by thieves live-streaming their break-ins on social media, has become a campaign issue for Republicans who say it’s another byproduct of Democrats’ soft-on-crime policies. 

GOP Senate and House candidates in Pennsylvania are blaming liberal Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner for failing to make property crimes a priority, and Democratic lawmakers for supporting “defund the police” efforts.

Two nights of sacking and vandalism of dozens of businesses ranging from Lululemon to liquor stores continued into Thursday in the city. There have been at least 52 arrests in what police blamed on “criminal opportunists” who used the exoneration of a former cop in the fatal shooting of a Black man as a pretext to loot.

The crime wave had its own Instagram and TikTok influencer, a 22-year-old woman who calls herself “Meatball” and allegedly urged her 185,000 followers in real-time videos to sack various locations in the city.

“Free iPhones! Free iPhones!” the woman, identified as Dayja Blackwell, shouted in one video. “Tell the police they’re either gonna lock me up tonight, or it’s gonna get lit, it’s gonna be a movie.”

Police tracked her movements via social media and stopped her car, whereupon she told an officer, “We don’t got nothin’ to do with this!”
“Get out of the car,” the officer replied.

She was charged with burglary, riot with the intent to commit a felony, criminal use of a communication facility and other offenses. On Thursday, she posted $25,000 bail.

The looting was so out of control that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board closed indefinitely all 48 of its “Fine Wine & Good Spirits” stores in the city on Wednesday. About 20 of the stores had been targeted by looters.

Even some city retailers that weren’t looted decided to curtail their business hours due to concerns about theft and employee safety.
The city has reported 13,300 incidents of retail theft this year, a 30% increase from the same time last year.

But Mr. Krasner’s office has reported just 424 retail theft charges so far this year, compared with more than 1,500 by the same date in 2017, the year before he took office, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Republican congressional candidates say the latest crime spree is a result of lenient policies by Mr. Krasner, who was backed by billionaire donor George Soros and is blamed for looking the other way on property crime. Last year, the Republican-led Pennsylvania state House voted to impeach Mr. Krasner for failure to prosecute various crimes, but the legislature hasn’t obtained the two-thirds majority needed to remove him.

Republican Senate candidate David McCormick, who hopes to square off next year against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, accused Mr. Casey and Mr. Krasner of encouraging lawlessness. 

“Soft on crime Democrats like Bob Casey and Philly DA Larry Krasner are enabling crime to run rampant in our cities,” Mr. McCormick said on social media. “Philadelphia business owners and residents deserve to feel safe in their communities. It’s time for our leaders to step it up.”

Casey campaign manager Tiernan Donohue said in response, “Bob Casey has fought for programs that have delivered hundreds of millions to support law enforcement in Pennsylvania and has worked alongside law enforcement across the state to keep Pennsylvanians safe from crime, while David McCormick was in Connecticut getting rich by selling out Pennsylvanians.” 

Mr. McCormick is a former hedge fund manager.

Ryan Mackenzie, a Republican candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat in the Lehigh Valley north of Philadelphia, criticized Democratic Rep. Susan Wild and Mr. Krasner for putting “leniency towards criminals ahead of protecting law-abiding citizens are directly responsible for the madness that we see in Philadelphia, and all across America.”

“Regular people live in fear every day because repeat criminals roam their streets, allowed to terrorize communities with impunity,” Mr. Mackenzie said. “These criminals are destructive but they are not stupid. They know perfectly well that politicians like Krasner and Wild will let them continue to get away with their crimes and suffer no real penalty or punishment.”

The Washington Times reached out to Ms. Wild’s campaign and Mr. Krasner’s office for comment. 

Earlier this year, Mr. Krasner put the problem on the doorstep of the police department, saying understaffing is a culprit for lower prosecution of property crimes, rather than his de-prioritizing certain crimes.

“It’s happening all over the country with police,” he said while discussing retail theft. “They’re trying to put out fires as much as possible. And this ain’t the biggest fire.”

Republican mayoral candidate David Oh, a longshot running against Democrat Cherelle Parker in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, said peaceful protest is a constitutional right but “looting is a crime.”

“As mayor, I will ensure that police are fully deployed to prevent criminal violations before they occur and that all laws are strictly enforced,” he said.

Ms. Parker also criticized the looters, saying that about 40% of the city’s revenue comes from a wage tax and a business income and receipts tax.

“You can’t just do what you want to do to businesses in our city and not expect to be held accountable,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Former U.S. attorney Bill McSwain of Philadelphia said of the looters that Mr. Krasner “is more likely to give them a public service award than prosecute them.”

Retail theft is rising nationwide. The National Retail Federation said its latest security survey of roughly 177 retailers found that inventory loss reached an average rate of 1.6% last year, representing $112.1 billion in losses. That’s an increase from an estimated $94 billion in 2021.

Target announced this week that it’s closing nine stores in five major cities — none in Philadelphia — due to retail theft losses. Nordstroms and Dick’s Sporting Goods are among other retailers citing an increase in theft.

Philadelphia Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford has insisted the looting is not connected to protests over a judge’s dismissal this week of all charges against former police officer Mark Dial, who shot and killed a knife-wielding city resident, Eddie Irizarry, last month. He said the break-ins were coordinated on social media by young people who were “taking advantage of a situation” and trying “to destroy our city.”

After the judge’s ruling, the Inquirer reported, young people started making their plans on social media.

“WHAT TIME WE GOING SHOPPING???” one Philadelphian posted.

“We looting or not??!!” another one asked.

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