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Op-ed: What I Believe In, By Parisa Dehghani-Tafti

The following op-ed was written by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic nominee for the top prosecutor job in Arlington and Falls Church. Voters will head to the polls this coming Tuesday, Nov. 5.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be writing as the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, I would not have believed you. People with my personal and professional backgrounds don’t often run for, much less win, political office.

I came to the United States as an immigrant. Like many immigrants our family struggled with poverty, with a new culture, and unfortunately, with discrimination. But my parents had faith in the opportunities America offered and they believed, above all, in the power of education. Thanks to their sacrifice and with the help of federal grants, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in Philosophy and Comparative Literature and later earned a JD from New York University School of Law.

I was inspired to go to law school because a dear friend was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. He spent three years in San Quentin before being exonerated.  Since then, for the last nineteen years, I’ve worked to reform the criminal legal system.

I’ve worked as a public defender with the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service, litigating cases of constitutional magnitude; as the legal director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, exonerating innocent individuals in DC, Virginia, and Maryland; and as a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and George Washington University School of Law, training the next generation of criminal law attorneys.

My platform is rooted in a simple principle: Safety and justice are not opposite values – we can’t have one without the other.  I believe:

  • Prosecutors should focus on serious crimes that threaten public safety and community well-being, including sexual assault, elderly abuse, and wage theft;
  • Prosecutors should support programs that help victims recover from the trauma of crime and restorative justice programs that help reduce crime;
  • The default approach for children who make mistakes should be diversion and education;
  • People should not be in jail because they are too poor to afford bail;
  • Whenever possible, people with disabilities, mental illness, or those suffering from addiction should be offered treatment rather than incarceration;
  • It is wrong to continue to saddle people with a criminal record for simple marijuana possession when it has life-long consequences on employment, education, and housing;
  • No criminal legal system can achieve justice if it tolerates racial and class disparities;
  • People who have served their time should be reintegrated into society as returning citizens with voting rights;
  • The government should not take your property without a conviction; and
  • The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

These issues are grounded in sound science and supported by a wide cross-section of our community.

Since the June 11 primary, I’ve been meeting with and listening to our delegates, senators, members of the County Board and the School Board, the police, faith groups, local leaders and activists because I believe listening to their expertise and taking heed of their priorities is key to maintaining safety and pursuing justice.

I started this campaign as far back as February 2018 when it was just me, meeting one on one with members of the community in the early morning hours before work, during lunch breaks – eating on the run, weekends, and late in the evening after putting my kids to bed. I had no name recognition, no staff, and no money but the encouragement I received from so many of you is something I will never be able to repay.

Little by little, I gained the support of advocacy groups, local grassroots groups, and people who normally don’t have a voice in the system. Little by little, we became a movement right here in Arlington and Falls Church before attracting national attention. So, it is deeply encouraging that criminal justice reform is now a central part of every single Democrat running for president’s platform. But, what’s even more encouraging is that our community took the lead on this issue by voting for reform during the Democratic primary this past June and by supporting our local representatives who have long championed reform in Richmond.

I am Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. I humbly ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 5 for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church so that we can continue the movement for reform and build a criminal justice system that keeps us safe, treats everyone fairly, and reflects our values.

Editor’s note: “Why Should You Vote for Me” essays by candidates in competitive races in Arlington will run on Monday.

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