The Politics of Progressive Justice

If you were once an incarcerated felon, you would have qualified for free admission to a recent event in Portland, Ore., featuring progressive Florida prosecutor Aramis Ayala.

If you were the victim of a felon, you would have paid $10 to $40.

How’s that for progressive?

Put a smile on it. This is Portland.

Liberal billionaire George Soros has been financing the political campaigns of selected District Attorneys in the U.S., and Ayala is one of his success stories.

As State Attorney in Orlando, Fla. (equivalent to a District Attorney), Ayala made national news after she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases – even that of a fugitive who killed his ex-girlfriend and then killed a police officer.

“I am not the giver of life. Who am I to take it away?” she said.

Throughout her Portland event, she returned again and again to why she was opposed to the death penalty.

“I understand the value of life. … Every type of person at birth has some kind of hope. … At the end of the day, there is a human heartbeat (in every criminal defendant). … Killing is wrong.”

I listened to her and thought: She sounds like a spokesperson for the Right-to-Life movement.

Of course, that probably wouldn’t set too well with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, which invited Ayala to speak at a fundraiser for its Women’s Justice Project.

The Women’s Justice Project seems like a worthy cause. Some offenders make good use of their time in prison. They focus on the opportunities and classes the Department of Corrections offers and learn to make better choices. They need encouragement in forging new lives when they are released.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center goes beyond encouragement and assistance. This is a political organization that wants to level the playing field for criminal offenders so they are on an equal footing with victims.

Ayala is their idea of a good DA.

Her husband is a former felon who served time in prison for drug conspiracy and counterfeiting. Out of law school, Ayala worked briefly as a prosecutor, a job she said she loved, until she discovered a police officer being untruthful about obtaining proper consent to search a criminal defendant.

She described to her Portland audience how she stood by in court and knew the officer was lying – but did nothing.

“My innocence was taken from me. …. I wanted to do what was right, and I didn’t know how. I was intimidated…,” Ayala said. “I left and became a public defender.”

While that story may have been what her audience wanted to hear, it didn’t make sense. Did she not understand that some police officers will test a prosecutor and that she had flunked? She could have dismissed the charges. If she was intimidated by a police officer, how will she handle the lies of criminal defendants?

She didn’t share her experience in defending accused criminals. After several years as a public defender, the county’s State Attorney was caught in a scandal soliciting extra-marital affairs on the Ashley Madison website. Ayala ran against him and won.

She told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that her husband’s experience in the criminal justice system helped shape her perspectives.

“Victims are being used by the system to seek tougher sentences…,” she said in Portland. “Today’s defendant is tomorrow’s victim. … Every judge, defense attorney and prosecutor knows that.”

That’s a variation on a common theme now: Crime is mostly bad people being bad to each other. The white middle-class has nothing to worry about so stop sending criminal offenders to prison.

I looked around the audience of roughly 100 persons. Except for Ayala, I saw only a couple other black faces. There were several rows of young men and women – Portland State students?  And just as many rows of middle-aged and older women. Mothers of the incarcerated?

For whatever reason, Ayala didn’t think she was talking to people who could be crime victims.

Had she picked up a copy of PSU’s student newspaper, “Portland State Vanguard,” she might have noticed a regular feature called “Crime Blotter.” The crimes in this particular issue were mostly for offenses like thefts, burglaries and harassment. Presumably the victims reporting these crimes thought they were important. Perhaps they thought something might be done – an arrest or citation.

If nothing is done and there is no downside, what message does that send to thieves, burglars and harassers?

The subject never came up in Ayala’s talk, which was conducted as a conversation with Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. He steered her towards his organization’s opposition to minimum-mandatory sentences for violent crimes, the death penalty and treating juveniles charged with violent crimes as adults.

Singh noted that Ayala’s ability to look at the offender as a person and not a crime was a radical change.

“How do you look beyond the charge and see the person?” he asked.

“Change has to start somewhere…,” she said. “I have nearly 400 employees. … Some like speaking to the media. … There are some who will lose their jobs.”

Among the changes she has ordered is that when considering bail, prosecutors must look only at the prior criminal convictions of defendants and exclude the times they have been arrested but never convicted. The audience gave her loud applause.

Bobbin nudged her to talk about a new generation of DAs and prosecutors.

“What kind of support are you getting?” he asked.

Ayala suggested there was a new generation, but she added it’s a matter of understanding different roles. Or staying in your own lane, as she put it. The goal of police is safety. The goal of prosecutors is justice and enforcing the law.

“The minute you politicize it … there is no justice,” she said.

Ayala veered back and forth between telling Bobbin what his group wanted to hear. At one point in a discussion about juveniles, to gasps from the audience, she mentioned that kids as young as 5 to 10 years old had been prosecuted in her county.

Later, when an audience member asked what a 5-year-old could possibly do to get prosecuted, she wavered.

“I don’t know … technically they probably are not going to be prosecuted. They are arrested when the school can’t deal with them. … Officers take the child away, but they aren’t prosecuted.”

This is how rumors lead to bad laws pushed by organizations with a political agenda. Before it’s over, someone will propose a law prohibiting juveniles from being charged with adult crimes.

Ayala didn’t always stay on Singh’s script.

“Juveniles can be the most dangerous with weapons … for a person to be on the other side of that firearm, that is a scary place to be…,” she said. “There has to be a level of accountability.’’

That’s the problem with reality. It can up-end the best political intentions. Ayala has to know that politics and justice mingle all the time. They don’t stay in separate lanes. Why does she think George Soros dumped roughly $600,000 into her campaign?

Sitting in the front row of Ayala’s talk in Portland was Court of Appeals Judge Darleen Ortega, perhaps a prime example of the kind of justice that Bobbin’s group is pursuing.

In 2014, the Court of Appeals ruled that someone found driving a stolen car has to acknowledge he knows it’s stolen, or he can’t be held liable. The case involved a man found in a stolen car and in possession of bolt cutters and various sets of keys. He claimed he didn’t know the car was stolen.

The court ruled in his favor. Word on the street quickly spread among car thieves: If you’re caught, just say you didn’t know the vehicle was stolen. As a result, Portland now has the third highest rate of stolen vehicles in the nation.

That’s how it is with politics and justice. They can become so intertwined and convoluted that death penalty opponents sound like pro-lifers.

The social-justice crowd should be careful what it asks for. They may end up with something they didn’t anticipate.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons

Related:

“A Huge Rash of Homicides”

From the Archives:

“Not All Lives Matter”

“Sacrificing the Small Fry”

4 Comments

  • PSU Class of 2019 wrote:

    This event you went to I got in for free. I’ve never been to prison. I went with friends who were on a list of prepaid students. I gave the name of their classmate who couldn’t make it. It’s Portland. Whose to call me out??

    It reads to me like you got more out of this than I did. Are there other news accounts? I didn’t agree with her on some things. Don’t think because nobody said anything that we’re all in agreement. In Portland you can’t speak your mind. I’m on track to graduate in June 2019 and hope to get out of Portland. My mom works for the state. She’s encouraged me to pursue my dreams elsewhere.

  • I didn’t see any other news accounts of Ayala’s appearance. It was promoted by the Portland Mercury, which advertised that it was free to formerly incarcerated people. Likewise, the website for the Oregon Justice Resource Center also noted it was free for all formerly incarcerated people.

    Had I just breezed in and bypassed the check-in table, I probably could have avoided paying anything. Like you say, this is Portland.

    You’re correct that just because nobody in the audience challenged Ayala doesn’t mean everyone agreed with her. But at the end, when she received a standing ovation, I looked around and didn’t see anyone else sitting except me.

  • Regarding Ayala having had her “innocence taken from [her]”… Yawn. I’ve met a lot of prosecutors and it’s not hard to pick out the ones who are doing it so that they can put it on their resume and later on reveal how rigged the system is.

    Prosecutors dump cases all the time — for reasons that don’t even rate near the same page as “the cop is perjuring himself”. If this actually did happen, it’s on her. She was required to provide this information to the judge and defense. She could have, should have, and still should do something about this specific liar and all the poor innocents he “put away” before and after this case. …but she didn’t, she hasn’t, and she won’t, so I doubt it ever happened.

  • You make several excellent points. I know a DA who will be at a Florida event with Ayala in April, and I told him about your comment and suggested he pursue some of the issues you raise.

    As you note, she “could have, should have, and still should do something about this specific liar and all the poor innocents he ‘put away’ before and after this case. … but she didn’t, she hasn’t, and she won’t, so I doubt it ever happened.”

    So…now that she’s a State Attorney, what is she going to do — besides go around the country and lecture to people who are not inclined to challenge her?

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