The parents of a 7-year-old boy gunned down in Philadelphia last year are speaking out about District Attorney Larry Krasner’s policies, including a plea deal that may have allowed one of the alleged killers to be out on the streets and able to take their son’s life.
“My son was only seven and he was on the porch playing with his toys,” Jennifer Lee said about Zamar.
Now she’s voicing criticism of a plea deal given in 2019 to one of the men awaiting trial.
“I feel like my son — my son shoulda still been here,” Jennifer Lee told Delaware Valley Journal.
On August 1, 2020, the young boy was caught in a crossfire of bullets in a shootout between two groups of men in his West Philadelphia neighborhood. Zamar was shot in the head and died two days later.
Police arrested Christopher Linder, 27. Michael Banks, 30, and Damar Bashier Jones, 27, later turned themselves in.
Not long after Zamar died, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William “Bill” McSwain said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner shared in the blame.
“Here’s what the media won’t tell you about the murder of Zamar Jones,” McSwain tweeted. “The alleged shooter, Michael Banks, would have likely been off the streets had the DA’s office not reduced a felony gun charge against him to a misdemeanor in 2019.”
“By reducing the lead gun charge against Banks for no reason, the DA’s office could then plead it out to nothing, and Banks was immediately released — and the rest is history,” McSwain wrote. “The reason for the carnage is not hard to figure out.”
Lee said it was painful to learn of the plea deal that likely kept Banks on the street.
“I feel like my son — my son shoulda still been here. Like he would’ve been here if [Banks] was still behind bars because the man was unstable.”
As for Krasner’s overall philosophy of implementing criminal justice reform aimed at helping minority communities, Lee was still critical.
“I mean, it’s okay to help the community of color, but you also have to look at their backgrounds. I feel as though it should have been more — he should have looked into the background more, then to just released him like that.”
Banks had several previous arrests.
Court records indicate he was arrested in 2011 and was given probation for a range of felony charges that included aggravated assault and making threats of injury as part of a robbery.
In 2017, he was arrested in Delaware County for conspiracy in a retail theft.
Then in February 2019, he made the plea deal to a firearm charge that dated back to October 2018.
“Banks also had prior convictions, and yet in February 2019, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office gave him a plea deal in which the felony gun charge was dismissed, and he received only 3-9 months of incarceration for a misdemeanor gun charge and immediately went back out on the street,” McSwain’s office said in a different statement on the U.S. Attorney website.
In September, about 5 weeks after Zamar’s murder, McSwain announced he was adding federal charges to two other men in crimes unrelated to the Jones shooting, saying that the cases were “mishandled” by Krasner’s office.
He also listed out 10 other cases in which he felt lenient plea bargains from the Krasner office had caused further injustice, including the Jones murder.
Zamar’s father, Rasheen McDonald was critical of how Krasner handled the Banks decision.
“I don’t wish bad on anyone, but right is right and wrong is wrong,” Rasheen told Delaware Valley Journal.
“I have done things in my past. I have done time for the things that I have done. And it had made me a better man, though,” Rasheen Jones said.
He did add, however, that he was supportive of some elements of criminal justice reform.
“Someone can have a petty crime — I don’t [think] that because they have a drug case they need to get 20 years. But when someone’s out killing people and doing things like this, I’m like, ‘They didn’t care about no one else’.”
A request for comment to Krasner’s office was not returned.
Krasner is often hailed as one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country and ran on a reform platform. He is one of several progressive DAs who were aided by massive campaign spending from billionaire and political activist George Soros.
In 2019, Philadelphia was plagued by a surge of violent crime, especially murders and gun crimes.
After homicides in the city hit lows of 246 and 248 for 2013 and 2014 respectively, murders have been steadily climbing upward, reaching 499 last year, according to the Philadelphia Police Department website.
- 2013: 246
- 2014: 248
- 2015: 280
- 2016: 277
- 2017: 315
- 2018: 353
- 2019: 356
- 2020: 499
Homicides had largely hovered in the low 300s from 2008-2012.
Krasner was elected in 2017 and took over in 2018. Critics like McSwain have often blamed the rise in homicides as a result of his reform methods, and have frequently put him at odds with cops in the Philly Police Department.
Coincidentally, Zamar Jones frequently told friends and family he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.
“He was wonderful. He was very bright. He brought joy to everybody,” Lee said. “He wanted to be a police officer since he was little, when he first started talking, always say he wanted to be a police officer.”