Pennsylvania’s Crime a Source of Heated Discussion in Oz-Fetterman Debate

Before the only scheduled debate between Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz, police prevented access to side streets in the usually quiet Harrisburg neighborhood where the event took place.

The heightened security presence was fitting in a high-stakes race where crime is a widely discussed issue.

The health of Fetterman, who continues to recover from a severe stroke he suffered in May just days before the primary, was a hot-button topic at the Oct. 25 forum. The economy, inflation, abortion, energy independence, and illegal immigration were also addressed.

Pennsylvania’s rampant crime, and Oz’s criticism of Fetterman for what he calls “progressive stances” on criminal justice reform, is a key subject in the race that expectedly found its way into the debate.

Oz immediately targeted Fetterman’s track record on crime in his opening statement.

“I’m running for the U.S. Senate because Washington keeps getting it wrong with extreme positions,” Oz said.

“John Fetterman takes everything to an extreme and those extreme positions hurt us all,” Oz said before adding that “John Fetterman during this crime wave has been trying to get as many murderers convicted and sentenced to life in prison out of jail as possible.”

(Left) Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate John Fetterman addresses supporters during a rally at Norris Park in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, 2022. (Right) Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz hosts a safer streets community discussion in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2022. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Oz mentioned that Maureen Faulkner, the widow of a Philadelphia police officer who was slain in 1981, accompanied him to the debate.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was given a life sentence for shooting and killing Danny Faulkner on Dec. 8, 1981, yet he has received support from leftists who are calling for his release.

As lieutenant governor, Fetterman heads the state’s Board of Pardons.

In January, he appointed Celeste Trusty to serve as secretary of the board. Trusty, who is Fetterman’s former campaign director, is a prison reform activist who has called to “disarm the police” and referred to Mumia Abu-Jamal as a “friend” and “my buddy.”

Faulkner is an outspoken opponent of Fetterman and has frequently shared her story with the media.

“I’m honored to have Maureen join me at tonight’s debate as we continue shedding light on the tragedies faced by too many Pennsylvania families while extremists like John Fetterman and (embattled Philadelphia Attorney General) Larry Krasner continue to push radical policies like releasing convicted murderers—putting criminals’ futures ahead of victims, their families, and communities,” Oz said in a statement before the debate.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is the right thing to do, and I appreciate Maureen’s willingness to continue sharing her story and speaking out.”

Increase in Pardons, Commutations

Pardons and commutations have increased since Fetterman became lieutenant governor and took over as chairman.

The Oz campaign placed a billboard ad near the gateway to Braddock, the tiny borough where Fetterman served as mayor for several years and still lives, calling him “soft on crime.”

Fetterman has called for eliminating cash bail, voted to pardon first-degree murderers, and said in November 2021 that, if he had a magic wand, he would end “life without parole in Pennsylvania.”

Multiple spots from the Oz campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the GOP-friendly Senate Leadership Fund have emphasized Fetterman’s progressive stance on crime.

In the late stages of the debate, co-moderator Dennis Owens of Harrisburg’s WHTM-TV asked Fetterman to respond to accusations that he is “soft on crime.”

“I believe that I run on my record on crime,” Fetterman said. “You know, I ran to be mayor back in 2005 in order to fight gun violence, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Epoch Times Photo
A billboard from Mehmet Oz’s campaign about John Fetterman stands at the entrance of Braddock, Pa., where Fetterman lives and served as mayor for several years. (Jeff Louderback/Epoch Times)

In late September, a Washington Free Beacon article reported how Fetterman touted connections in Braddock to the Crips street gang when he was running for mayor of the borough in 2005.

According to the article, Fetterman used the slogan “Vote John Mayor of Braddocc,” which reflected how local Crips gang members spelled the name of the town.

A 2006 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described how he claimed there were two Braddocks—one with the original spelling used by older residents who remember when the borough flourished, and the other “B-R-A-D-D-O-C-C,” which he said “acknowledges an allegiance that many of the younger residents there have with the Crips gang.”

2013 Incident

During the debate, Oz said that the Fraternal Order of Police from Braddock has endorsed him. Later in the evening, he brought up the 2013 incident when Fetterman chased a man and detained him until police arrived.

The police report indicated that the jogger was wearing running clothes and was unarmed. The sound of gunfire was fireworks. Two witnesses did say they thought they heard shots.

The jogger, Christopher Miyares, is black, though Fetterman told police he had no idea of the man’s race because of how he was dressed in the cold weather.

At the time, he was mayor of Braddock.

“There’s one person on this stage who has broken the law, we believe. John Fetterman took a shotgun chased an unarmed African American man and put the gun, apparently according to that man to his chest,” Oz said. “John, you weren’t pulled over by the police. They let you go. You were the mayor at the time. Why haven’t you apologized to that unarmed innocent black man who you put a shotgun to his chest?”

Fetterman responded that he had the “opportunity to defend our community as the chief law enforcement officer there” and explained that an “overwhelming majority of the community understood what happened,” including black residents.

Fetterman was not charged by police, and the event did little during the Democratic primary in May, which he won decisively.

Miyares is serving time in a Pennsylvania state prison for an unrelated crime. He says that Fetterman has “lied about everything that happened that day,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Miyares wrote a message to the Inquirer saying that “I hope he gets to be a Senator. Even with everything I said, it is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life.”

Gun Control Bill

Oz was asked how he would have voted on a gun control bill that was passed by Congress and supported by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, whom the two candidates are vying to replace.

Toomey has endorsed Oz.

“There are parts of that bill that I like a lot,” Oz said. “For example, I liked the fact that there are background checks that are being strengthened now so we can make sure that people who should not have guns don’t get guns. I also like the fact that there’s a lot of money invested for mental health, which is an important part of the equation.”

Epoch Times Photo
Guns are displayed in a store during the Rod of Iron Freedom Festival in Greeley, Pa. on Oct. 9, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Oz continued by saying that Democrats have taken away the police’s ability to do their job.

“John Fetterman has taken such a harsh position against them. He’s undermined them at every level, taken away some of their funding.”

Oz continued by saying that Fetterman has “argued that people should be let out of jail without any bail no matter what they did to get in there” and “he’s argued that at least one-third of all prisoners” should be released.

Oz did not directly answer the question about whether he would have voted for the gun control legislation.

Bolstered by millions of dollars from GOP-aligned organizations spent on ads focusing on the crime issue, Oz has erased what had been a comfortable lead in the polls for Fetterman over the summer.

Two weeks before the Nov. 8 Election Day, Fetterman entered the debate with a 2-point lead over Oz in the most recent poll. Published on Oct. 25, the survey from CBS News-You Gov showed Fetterman with 51 percent support compared to 49 percent for Oz.

Jeff Louderback

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Jeff Louderback is a national reporter for The Epoch Times who is based in Ohio and covers U.S. Senate, U.S. House and gubernatorial races in Ohio and surrounding states.

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