2014 Inaugural Speech of District Attorney Seth Williams


Philadelphia, January 6, 2013:  I am honored to stand on this historic stage with this distinguished assembly of great Philadelphians, all of whom are here because they believe in the inherent greatness of our city and its people, and who have dedicated their lives and careers to seeing Philadelphia reach its full potential.

First, I wish to thank the organizers of this great event, and the dozens of people who’ve worked so hard behind the scenes, to make this possible. I want to thank all of the elected officials, dignitaries and members of the clergy that are present. And of course I want to thank my very good friend, State Senator Williams for his kind words.

I stand here because of the support and hard work of many people.  The Miller family, the Gonzalez family, the Browns, Colons, Palmieris, DeFinos, Weiss and Cummings families.  I cannot thank my friends and family enough for their support and patience through these past four years.  Most, importantly I must thank, my daughters, Alyssia, Taylor and Hope.  When you are privileged to take up the mantle of public office, it is these relationships which bear the responsibility as well. There are family gatherings that you can’t get to, school plays, soccer games, holidays, and those moments with family and friends that you once took for granted.  You have made it possible for me to carry out the duties of my office, you have allowed me to live my dream, you have my eternal gratitude and undying love.

It is a great honor to work in the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia.  I must thank the entire staff – starting with my First Assistant Ed McCann, the 600 men and women of the District Attorney’s Office…those prosecutors, investigators, and support staff who work tirelessly every day in the cause of justice. Without your wisdom, judgment, and expertise we could not have accomplished what we have – and I know I can count on you for four more years of hard work.

What a difference four years can make!

On the eve of my inauguration four years ago, the Inquirer, published a series of articles called “Justice delayed, denied, dismissed” for which they received numerous awards. The award winning series, uncovered entrenched problems in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, including an abysmal conviction rate, the lowest of the 40 largest urban areas in America.  The highest rate of gun related homicides.  Rampant witness intimidation and a massive number of fugitives. In an unprecedented statistical analysis for a large American city, the paper’s investigation and resulting series, detailed the dysfunction of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice System. The awards were well deserved, and the reporters told the truth, as ugly and painful as it was to read.

But what a difference four years can make! I said back then that we’d be Smart on crime, not just tough. That wasn’t just rhetoric or a campaign slogan.  It was a new paradigm of what it meant to be a prosecutor.  And we’ve done just that. Today, justice in Philadelphia is not delayed, justice is not denied, and justice is not dismissed.

We have tripled the number of prosecutors that work in our charging unit, ensuring that we only charge the right people and only with the right crimes.  We have gone from a 59 percent felony dismissal rate to an 81 percent felony conviction rate.  An unprecedented 43 percent of our misdemeanor cases are resolved now through diversionary programs, so first-time offenders are given the chance to redeem themselves, the chance to change the course of their lives and become productive members of society instead of falling into a cycle of unemployment and poverty due to a minor conviction.

I LOVE PHILADELPHIA, do you love Philadelphia?

I must thank Police Commissioner Ramsey, Judge Dembe, Judge Neifield, Everett Gillison, Ellen Greenlee, to name just a few.

The police, the courts, the mayor’s office, City Council and my office have joined forces instead of working against each other. We meet every month, and we understand that we are not rivals; we are partners – partners with a single goal of making the city we love a safer, more livable place.

Slowly, and by degrees, this monumental effort is paying dividends.  We have won national awards for our efforts in community engagement and innovative prosecutorial techniques. We now use empirical data to drive our decisions and are focusing our limited resources on those that are truly violent.  What a difference four years can make.  Once an example of utter dysfunction, we are now touted by the U.S. Attorney General, and the Department of Justice as an example of collaborative reform and best practices!  Our Community Based Prosecution and Zone Courts are now a model for other jurisdictions to replicate.  What a difference four years can make.

Our city’s homicide rate, once our great shame and embarrassment, is the lowest it’s been in 47 years!  Don’t get me wrong – I am not here to take sole credit for this achievement. That credit belongs to a great many people – the most important being all of you. Because our system of justice, in fact, no system of justice, can work without the will, validity and acceptance of the people.

People have to believe the system is fair, and that it works the same for everyone – regardless of color or ethnicity, income or zip code. Justice must be the same in North Philly as it is in Chestnut Hill; it must be the same from the lower end of Germantown Avenue to the upper end. And thanks to you, we are much closer to that goal than we were four years ago.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. There isn’t time to sit back and enjoy what we have been able to accomplish. There is still so much work to do.  We have to continue our efforts to reduce gun violence. Although the murder rate is dramatically decreased, even one murder on our streets is too many.

Over the next four years, I promise to continue to champion the victims of child sexual abuse. We will fervently protect the defenseless in the dawn of life. We will hold accountable the offenders, and the institutions that protect them. 

Over the next four years, I promise to increase our efforts to reduce truancy. We will work with Judge Dougherty and Commissioner Ambrose because we know that the one thing criminals have most in common is the lack of education. High School drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to state prison, then graduates and here in Philadelphia 20 times more likely to become a homicide victim. No child holds a book in one hand and a gun in the other.

We must change the culture of our city, so that residents and visitors alike feel secure walking our streets and enjoying our nightlife and cultural events. I can spout a boatload of statistics on dropping crime rates, but you and I both know that if you don’t feel safe, you aren’t safe.

My goal over the next four years is simple: to make Philadelphians feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods, and secure in the knowledge that justice will prevail over criminality, that light will prevail over darkness, and that we will prevail over the forces that divide us as a people.

I love Philadelphia, in the past four years, I have been able to travel to every corner of our city, I can tell you great places to eat in every neighborhood, just ask me.  I have also traveled the world, looking at how others far and near accomplish the goals we seek to accomplish, and I have been able to use that knowledge and those best practices to improve our lives here in Philadelphia.

I was privileged to travel to South Africa, where I met the esteemed Bishop Desmond Tutu, a world-renowned champion of justice. I was touched by his spirit of forgiveness and humanity, and how his sense of right and wrong were not hampered by that spirit, but enhanced by it.

While in South Africa, I noticed that many young men address their elders with the term, “Ubuntu.” They would bow their heads and say Ubuntu. Say it with me: UBUNTU.

It is more than just a term of respect or endearment – it is an acknowledgment of the elders’ role in shaping our view of the world. Loosely translated, it means, Dignity, respect…but the true meaning when a Zulu man says Ubuntu to an elder is…“I am who I am because of you. I am who I am because of who we all are.”

I thank you all for giving me this unique opportunity to help change our city for the better. Thank you for your support in making this city a better place to live, to work, and to raise our families.

I am who I am because of you. I am who I am because of who we all are.

Thank you, may God bless you, and may God bless the greatest city in the world, my Philadelphia.


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