Aja’s Story

I am a registered Independent, survivor of violence, and support Beth Grossman for District Attorney of Philadelphia.

 

Since 2008, I’ve worked on social justice issues. Just a few have been; supporting crime victims and their families, projects to assist the incarcerated, supporting conviction review, and ending the death penalty. This is why, when I started working as one of the Deputy Campaign Managers for Beth Grossman for District Attorney in Philadelphia, some people reached out to ask me how this happened.

 

It was only last year that I went through the criminal justice system as the victim of a crime. According to Women Against Abuse, there are over 100,000 emergency calls about domestic abuse in Philadelphia every year. Mine was one of them. In 2001, my cousin Deirdre was murdered in a domestic violence incident in Vermont. The repercussions of domestic violence run deep in my family. Many people do not know how to assist victims and their family members when violence touches their lives and their communities, it is not a job just anyone can perform. I am blessed to have received a lot of support to get divorced and move on with my life. That support came in the form of loved ones, my community, self determination, and services the Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney’s Office provided and connected me with.

 

…there are over 100,000 emergency calls about domestic abuse in Philadelphia every year.

 

Throughout my case the Assistant District Attorney assigned to it was kind, helpful and communicative. Despite being overworked, she made her best effort to be engaged and direct me to services. She connected me with a victim/witness coordinator that communicated with me frequently. For trials, they had a victim advocate in the court room. All of these; the ADA, victim coordinator, and victim advocate, discussed with me what to expect, helped to ensure I got to and from trials safely, and advocated for what was best for me. They also advocated for the rehabilitation of the person that assaulted me. That is because all good District Attorney’s Offices help victims find justice to become whole while working to ensure assailants have the best chance at a positive reentry into society.

 

 

District Attorneys’ Offices prosecute crimes. Real and significant crimes, involving real and significant people.  The mission of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office starts like this: “The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office provides a voice for victims of crime and protects the community through zealous, ethical and effective investigations and prosecutions.”

 

 

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has as many as 23 diversion programs for offenders. My ex-husband received diversion, an alternative to probation. If a person completes diversion, which includes therapy sessions, they can avoid having a permanent record. Whenever my ex-husband violated the terms of his diversion by trying to contact me or standing in front of my residence, I could reach out to advocates and coordinators at the District Attorney’s Office and local police department for help. He has already finished his diversion program. I can still call the District Attorney’s Office, even now that the case has been closed, when he tries to contact me, and they help me seek out options to protect myself and my family.

 

 

I try to think outside of any party affiliation and have always been a registered Independent. We all know how difficult it is to think outside of party politics, especially right now, but I always try to be a discerning voter. During the primary race, I was wary of the Democratic front runner, Larry Krasner, an experienced defense attorney, because of my personal experiences in the justice system. There are four pillars of his campaign; end mass incarceration, focus on serious crime, stand up for rights and liberties, resist the Trump administration. Those pillars do not reflect the  primary mission of the District Attorney’s Office: being a voice for victims of crime and protecting the community. In fact, only briefly on the Democratic candidate’s site does he mention what he will do for victims of crime. Buried within the pillars of his campaign, there is a single sentence about victims with six words. It says that they will be treated with ‘respect and sensitivity.’

 

Victims coming forward, people who have been assaulted, murder victims’ family members, they deserve better than the bare minimum of ‘respect and sensitivity,’ they deserve to have a voice and they deserve justice.

 

The Democratic nominee’s position not only does a disservice to victims, it denies the tremendous work organizations have done in the city helping victims of crime for many years.

 

Deeper into the site, he briefly expands on the position by making claims that the District Attorney’s Office fails victims, that the city does not effectively utilize trauma informed care. This bothered me, because Philadelphia is known to be “at the forefront of understanding trauma and it’s connection to health, education, and social and emotional well being” for over a decade, using practices that have “drawn national recognition,” and an extensive coalition of victims services working together throughout the city. The Democratic nominee’s position not only does a disservice to victims, it denies the tremendous work organizations have done in the city helping victims of crime for many years. There is always room for improvement, but there is no need to completely omit the tireless work conducted by those who have committed their lives to the service of victims and safety of our city.

 

When I went to the ‘Policy and Positions’ at Beth’s website, the first position listed is ‘Victims and Survivors Rights.’ It goes beyond a single sentence about how victims of crime can expect to be treated by the office; it lists the laws related to serving Victims and Survivors. She recognizes the “tireless work of the numerous Victim-Witness service providers who assist victims and witnesses” enabling them to navigate the criminal justice system.

 

Beth also has other policies I agree with. She is committed to diversion for juvenile offenders. She believes in treating the heroin and opioid crisis as a public health issue for those suffering from addiction, while knowing how to prosecute large scale narcotic traffickers locally. Beth is against illegal gun sellers and those that possess guns illegally. She is for effectively and safely reducing the prison population by supporting re-entry and deterrence programs, and utilizing the Conviction Review Unit to review claims of innocence in previously tried cases.

 

Victims…deserve better than the bare minimum of ‘respect and sensitivity,’ they deserve to have a voice and they deserve justice.

 

She is used to the volume of cases, she knows what teams to turn to when there could be evidence of innocence for a person on death row, she knows who to delegate cases to, she will understand how to speak, with empathy, to a family who has just experienced the murder of a loved one and help them to navigate the criminal justice system, because she has experience doing those things. These are all parts of her policies and why I support her. She is simply the most qualified candidate for the job.

 

Every District Attorney’s Office should keep in mind those they prosecute and do their job within ethical standards they agreed to uphold. Those who commit crimes have resources within the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office that many prosecutors worked hard to ensure in an effort to move towards increased fairness and justice. Those who commit crimes also have their defense attorneys for support, even court appointed over worked defense attorneys. Crime victims have city services, which are in tremendous need of support, that are directly associated with the District Attorney’s Office. The office of a District Attorney in any city should always be putting victims’ services at the forefront of their work. It is the most important quality I look for in any candidate for District Attorney. Only one candidate is putting victims’ rights first, and I support her.

 

Aja Beech

Author, Deputy Campaign Manager, Concerned Resident of Philadelphia

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