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In this episode, Chelsea talks to public defender Eliza Orlins about her grassroots campaign for Manhattan DA.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Financial Confessions.

For those of you watching on video, I apologize for my like '70s detective hair. I went a little overboard with my flat iron this morning.

But listen, it's spring. The weather is nice and crisp. There's not a lot of humidity.

I'm trying to lean into it. So I'm having a little fun here. But today, I have a guest that I'm very, very excited.

Because I have to say, of all the guests that we've had, and we've had many that kind of run the gamut in terms of what they've done with their lives, very few have been truly-- very few have had the range quite like our next guest has in terms of what makes her interesting and relevant for TFC and what she's doing with her life now. I've been wanting to talk to someone on the channel for a while specifically about the intersection of social justice politics and money. And we happen to have someone here who's actually running for office as we speak here in the city of New York and has tons to say on those subjects, is also herself a member of a union and has a lot to say about that, and who has the added experience of having been a 3-time, I think, reality television star, which brought her some of the notoriety that you guys might have found her from.

But either way, a lot to say on a lot of topics that I think don't get discussed enough in media and, certainly, we haven't covered quite enough on the show. So without further ado, and I'll let her explain in a little bit more detail her CV much better than I could, I'd love to welcome Eliza Orlins to the podcast. Hi, Chelsea, I'm so excited to be here.

Thanks for having me. This is really so much fun. And I love talking about these things.

And so thanks for all of the attention you bring to so many important progressive issues. Oh, well, thank you for joining. So before we dive into all of these topics, give our audience just a quick primer on your background and what you're doing right now.

Absolutely. So I have spent my entire career as a public defender here in Manhattan. And it was the reason I went to law school, the only job I applied for.

I was 100% sure I was going to be a lifer at the PD's office, that it was what I would do forever. And after almost a dozen years of representing thousands of people charged with crimes here in Manhattan who couldn't afford to hire an attorney, I really have seen firsthand the way in which our cruel, unjust, racist criminal legal system operates and how it's not keeping us safe, how it's wasting taxpayer money. And it's over-prosecuting people for low-level offenses, while not holding people accountable who are committing serious crimes.

And I realized that we could do better. And we're seeing other places do better and get ahead of us, places like San Francisco and Boston and Philadelphia. And so I made the huge decision to run for Manhattan district attorney.

And now we are under three months out from election day. The campaign's going super, incredibly well. The message is resonating far more than I ever could have imagined.

And I'm so excited to be here to talk about the issues. Now, how did they ever let someone this woke on to CBS is my question? Because I feel like our national media discourse has not caught up to what you're saying.

It's very true. It's very true. And I think that it is something that we are starting to see more and more, that the conversations I was having a dozen years ago are things that people were not at all receptive to at the time.

And now everybody is spouting progressive talking points, because it's become popular. I mean, and don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that people are having these conversations. But I think part of the fear of that is that these career prosecutors, like so many of my opponents who've spent their careers locking people up and perpetuating mass incarceration and disproportionately driving the mass incarceration people of color, are now saying things like, we need to end mass incarceration.

And I'm like, yeah, like welcome to the party. Yes, we do. But also can we trust someone like you to do that?

Yeah, that's ripe for those like, 'This You?', moments on Twitter, where you drag up a screenshot of how many people they personally put into unnecessary imprisonment. So tell us a little bit, just to give as much context as possible, about exactly what a public defender does in the criminal justice system. Yes.

So most people know what a public defender is because of television, because of hearing the Miranda warnings given on Law and Order. You know, you have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney.

If you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you. Well, that's me. And so for years, over a decade, I've represented people who couldn't afford to hire an attorney, who've been charged with crimes, anything from low level minor offenses all the way up through very serious crimes.

And I often tell a story about a gentleman I represented the first year that I was a public defender. And his case was so ordinary but also really stuck with me. And the heartbreak and frustration and anger I felt about that case is something that has really persisted throughout my career.

And he was an assistant manager at a Gristedes in lower Manhattan. He worked at the same grocery store for 25 years, made his way up to assistant manager. And one night, he was closing up the store.

It was around 11:00 PM. He'd bought two bags of groceries with his employee discount to bring home to his family. He locked up the store, walked over to the A train to head home.

He lived way uptown. And he got onto an uncrowded subway car and set his groceries on the seats next to him and prepared for his ride home. At the 125th Street stop, the doors opened.

Two uniformed NYPD officers got on the train. They grabbed his groceries, dumped them to the ground, and placed him in handcuffs and took him to jail for the night for the crime of occupying multiple seats on a transit facility, literally taking up two seats on the train. And so the next night I walked into night court.

And I picked up his case. And he'd spent a day, almost 24 hours in jail for this. And the Manhattan DA's office decided to write up this case to prosecute this man for taking up two seats on the train.

And so for years that frustration and heartbreak and anger about the way in which the system operates has never gone away. And I'll note, you said like the criminal justice system. But you'll never hear me say that.

I'll either call it the criminal legal system, the criminal punishment bureaucracy. Because it's not justice and certainly not for everyone. It's justice for those who are wealthy, well-connected, powerful, but not for the people like the people I represent.

So I don't think the system is broken. I think it's operating as designed. And it's rigged against the people like the people I've spent my career representing, lower income folks, Black and brown people, LGBTQIA folks, people with disabilities, sex workers, those who don't have power, wealth, and connections.

And so I think if we want to change the system, we need to elect a public defender to be DA. And a DA, for context, is sort of like the top prosecutor of the city, no? Exactly.

Exactly. And so the prosecutor makes all charging decisions, so not just which crimes get charged but which crimes don't get charged or which charges are sought, whether it's a higher level crime or a lower level crime, whether or not someone's detained pre-trial on bail and how much the bail is, what sentences are sought, whether someone goes to prison for years or decades, or whether they have the opportunity for treatment, for help, for alternatives to incarceration. And so the DA makes so many decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

So in terms of what the right DA can mean for a city, so my family, my parents live in Philadelphia. And I spend quite a lot of time there. So in terms of what's been happening politically with regards to DAs, I've been following Larry Krasner in Philadelphia quite closely.

And I know that his election was kind of viewed as a huge victory by progressives and people who are very invested in the idea of the reforms of these systems. My question, so when I speak to, for example, my parents about Larry Krasner, and I do think that his approval rating is not great, I don't know what the number is. But I think there's a very difficult-- there's a lot of complication in explaining to an average person who lives in the city why opting to not charge for so many of these smaller offenses, opting to, in many cases, effectively decriminalize certain things that people on the ground might experience as important to, I mean, there's no other way to say it, important to punish in some capacity.

I, even on a personal level when I'm having those conversations, I have a hard time communicating why it's a good thing to be moving away from the really sort of prosecutorial angle on some of these things. And also when you see and, of course, a lot of the media in these cities is, quite frankly, very pro-incarceration, very law and order, right wing, et cetera. So they're going to take these really isolated stats, like I think there's been an increase in car break-ins in Philadelphia and things like that.

And you'll see these kind of stats that you can pull and say, OK, well, this isn't working. So how do we even-- when, let's say, we do get a real progressive as DA, how do you communicate why it's important to be this kind of a DA and why it works? Well, this is such an important question.

And I'm so glad that we're talking about this. Because this really is like one of the critical things and one of the hallmarks of my campaign and what I'm running on and why-- and I can tell you why it matters. And the really exciting thing is, because people like Larry are in office, because people like Rachael Rollins in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and Boston are in office, we actually now have the data.

And the data's been out there. And this is what criminologists have been saying for years. But people kind of want to fearmonger and want to sell this false choice.

This is what we've always been sold as Americans, this false choice between public safety and incarceration or public safety and a punitive criminal legal system. And the reality is locking people up does not keep us safe. And it never has.

And it never will. Millions of people in America every year are arrested for these low-level misdemeanor offenses. And they're cycled through the system.

And this volume of cases that are coming through, it does more harm than good. And so when you don't incarcerate people, because if you think about the negative consequences of incarcerating someone, whether it be they end up missing work, even if it's just for a matter of days that they're incarcerated, whether they're held in for three months, three weeks, or three days, that person misses work. So they lose their job.

They can't pay their rent then, so they lose their home. It sometimes rips families apart. You can lose your child if you're a single parent, then maybe you have a record of arrest.

You have a criminal conviction on your record. And then, of course, people are exponentially more likely to re-offend or get rearrested, because they're just cycled back through the system and back through the system. And it causes an increase in future criminal contact with the system.

And so the effect of these prosecutions is really just creating a situation where we're making life more dangerous for people, where we're not keeping the public safe. And so declining to prosecute these misdemeanors is the best policy. And the data backs that up.

The non-prosecution of minor misdemeanor offenses now says that really, when we don't prosecute these cases, it enables people to remain in their homes and their communities and their jobs. And it means there's less recidivism. It means that fewer people will end up re-offending or getting rearrested.

And so this way that people view it as, oh, this is leniency. This is soft on crime. It's not true.

It's just smart. It's just-- it's just data-driven analysis. And it's saying, OK, when we don't move forward with prosecutions of these low-level offenses, we are actually keeping our communities safer.

Because we're reducing subsequent criminal complaints with regards to these individuals. And so now that we have all that data, I think my policies feel so-- I'm like, see, look, this is what I've always been saying. And now I have the actual facts to back it up.

But basically I've put out a policy about declining to prosecute, and that I would decline to prosecute the overwhelming majority of misdemeanors, some low-level felonies, violations, et cetera. And that that is how I would keep our community safe. We should be using the resources of our prosecutors offices to hold people accountable who are perpetrating real harms and to be using the rest of those resources that are used to surveil and police and incarcerate people to actually invest in communities and services and make sure we are providing people the help that they need and outside of the punitive structures of the criminal legal system.

And that is how we will keep our community safe. And so, yes, it's going to take time for people to come around to some of these views. But the reality is that is what the data shows.

That is the reality of what's happening when we see these decline to prosecute policies come into effect. What are some of the specific data points that you're seeing that indicate clearly that this is working? So I think that we've seen the number of offenses, for example, over a few year period, within two years post-arraignment I think is the statistic that they consider the likelihood of a subsequent complaint, the likelihood of subsequent misdemeanor charges, the likelihood of subsequent felony charges.

And that when the non-prosecution, when someone is not prosecuted, the probability of a subsequent criminal complaint goes down by like at least a quarter. I think it's like 27% decrease relative to the mean. And so I mean, happy-- you could like include some charts in your show notes or like a big paper that recently came out that was written by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

But it's really the statistics are phenomenal. And I think it really just bears out all the things that those of us who've been running on these progressive decarceral views and platforms have been saying. Yeah.

You know, to me, the quick data points that contextualize why this is a good thing for everyone, not just people who might otherwise be caught up in the system, I think are so important. Because I feel that kind of, in general, and I consider myself very much a part of the left, a part of progressive causes. And, you know, it's very important to me that they succeed across a number of issues.

And I feel that in that love and care for these causes, I often feel that the best causes have the worst marketing and the worst kind of approaches to getting the average person to understand why it is relevant to their life, and why they should be on board, and why they should care. And listen, I'm a human being. I love Law and Order.

OK. Like I watch that show. Like when I'm sick, it's like that and The Price is Right and chicken soup, like it's just-- it's just medicine.

But I don't think a lot of people even really feel fully sort of have internalized the effective, like the unbelievably effective, propaganda machine that shows like Law and Order are in terms of not only creating this perception that cops and prosecutors are pretty much unequivocally the good guys, which like citation fucking needed Law and Order. But also secondly, that the idea of justice, as it pertains to a society, is fundamentally centered around punishing bad people for doing things. And as you pointed out, like, there's not really this understanding of justice that is much more about like, well, what makes our society more just?

What makes our society more healthy? Like all of these other indices that are not at all related to whether or not a kid goes to jail for like stealing a soda or something. So in terms of how you frame it when you talk about it, how do you start to get people to reframe their idea of justice away from this focus on punishment and on, quote, unquote law and order?

That's a great question. I think it's really important that we call out this copaganda, so thanks for doing that. I think the way in which TV shows and movies portray the police are de facto marketing for these police departments.

And they're making millions and millions of dollars off them. And they're glorifying and normalizing and justifying the systemic violence and injustice perpetrated by the police. So I think calling that out is important.

And I think even these shows that are comedies and even Law and Order that people can enjoy are really normalizing injustice, showing the police and prosecutors as the good guys and showing the people accused of crimes as bad guys. And that's just not the reality of the situation. I think humanizing people, I think storytelling is an effective way of doing that.

I mean, I talk about a lot of the experiences of being a public defender and of the clients I've represented and the ways in which they're-- people's lives have been changed both for the positive and for the negative, in terms of the way they were treated by our criminal legal system. I mean, I think that there are two-- like the stark examples I think about are, I'm sure you know of the case of Kalief Browder, a young teenager who was incarcerated at Rikers Island for years for stealing a backpack, a lot of that time spent in solitary confinement. And eventually, the case was dismissed because they didn't have any evidence against him.

And he ended up taking his own life. And that is just, it's just horrifying and devastating. And he-- it ruined his life, his family's life, I mean, his whole community.

And there is a young woman whose story I tell, a client of mine, who's name is Jessica. And when I picked up her case, she was 16 years old. This was when New York was still across the board charging 16-year-olds as adults in criminal court.

And she was charged with gun possession. And gun possession is obviously a very serious issue. And we should be taking those cases seriously.

But it need not only be that we default to punitive measures, to incarceration, to long sentences. And she was hanging out with a group of guys. She was dealing with some issues within her own family.

And she wasn't welcome at her mom's house anymore and was staying with her girlfriend, or her aunt, or her grandmother. And she was not going to school and was with this group of guys. And the cops were pulling up.

And one of the guys was like, you won't get in trouble. You're a girl, tosses her a gun, which she was trying to shove in her sleeve as the police pull up. So she was caught with a gun.

Because when we talk about these cases, a lot of times we talk about people who are, you know, claims of actual innocence. And while those are extremely important, we should never, ever, ever be OK with the fact that our criminal legal system ever locks anyone up who's actually innocent. We also have to talk about the cases where someone is actually guilty.

And so Jessica was caught with a gun, red-handed. And the Manhattan DA's office refused to budge. They simply wanted to see this young woman incarcerated.

They wouldn't agree to a non-incarceratory sentence. They wouldn't think about not giving her a criminal record. And so we started begging judges.

And finally, a judge that we came in front of said, OK, I will allow her to participate in a program. And if she successfully completes it and shows all these updates and everything, I'll consider giving her a sentence of youthful offender treatment, which means that she gets YO. It doesn't go on her permanent criminal record.

And so Jessica ended up-- we enrolled her in this program. And she comes in every month with these letters. And one after the next, it's just like glowing letters, just saying Jessica's attending more hours than she's mandated.

She's become a mentor to other kids. She's doing so well. We're so proud of her.

We're helping her re-enroll in school. I mean, just glowing letters, and she proudly comes in every month with them. And I remember like finally after basically a year of going to the program, she comes in and shows her certificate of completion.

And the judge calls the two of us up to the bench and says, Jessica, I don't remember every case that comes before me. I see hundreds of cases a week. But this one really stuck with me.

And I'm so proud of you and good job. And Miss Orlins, thank you for your advocacy. And I'm like, no judge, thank you, you're the one who was willing to take a chance.

And we're all just kind of emotional about it. And she's like, I hope you'll stay in touch. And of course, we did on and off.

And then about two years later, I got a phone call from Jessica's girlfriend, saying, hey, Eliza, this is Jessica's girlfriend. And I'm like, oh, what's going on? What is it?

Is everything OK? And she said, yeah, we know you're super busy. I'm like, no, no, anything, like what's going on?

And she's like, well, Jessica's graduating from high school. And we have an extra ticket to graduation. And it would mean a lot if you would be there.

And I was like I wouldn't miss it for the world. So, of course, I call the judge's chambers. I let her know.

She says, do you think they have a ticket for me? She ends up coming. The principle hears that we're both coming, asks us to speak at graduation.

I'm like, as long as it's OK with Jess. So she says, fine. So I sobbed at her high school graduation as though my own child was graduating from high school, truly.

Like this was such a huge thing. She began driving for-- she got an amazing job and has been driving for Access-A-Ride, recently passed her MTA bus driver test, which means she will be TW Local 100. You know, bus drivers are in an amazing union.

She'll have benefits, pension, I mean, the works. Like really, truly, it's a phenomenal job. And she's engaged, has a baby on the way.

I'm attending her baby shower in a few weeks. I'm so excited. And this is all exemplifies why we need to make sure that we are not just defaulting to incarceration.

Because even someone who was guilty of possessing a gun should still be thought of as a human being, should still think about the unique circumstances that person is facing. And think about what we've done for this woman's life, it's a completely different path. She ended up getting YO, no criminal record.

Now she's got-- she's on the brink of a union job. She's been gainfully employed, hasn't cycled back through the system, is engaged, has a baby on the way. I mean, that's what we can do with a DA who sees people as people, who doesn't just default to incarceration.

And so that's what I think is so important to get the message out about, to think about these individual human beings, and to not just allow the system to be like, oh, these are criminals, felons, inmates, to use that dehumanizing language that just otherizes people and makes it so that folks are able to just think about punishment as the only solution. Yeah, I mean, that story is great. And I really do think that it's a two-pronged approach, right.

Like number one is really sort of chipping away at this idea that it's always sort of a question of good guys versus bad guys, which, by the way, if anyone's interested in unplugging from the matrix in that respect, I highly recommend watching the dramatization of the Central Park Five, the When They See Us. Because buddy, like I don't care who you are, like someone's like 65-year-old like MAGA boomer dad is going to be down like at the demo like protesting after watching that. Because you see it.

And it's like impossible not to feel just like so viscerally enraged at what these little boys were put through. And I mean and the proof is in the pudding, right. Like the names of the prosecutor from the case, who's still around, and was like writing crime novels for the past 20 years, like truly sickening.

Like her name was trending like crazy after that came out. Because people were like, this is an outrage. This is an injustice, et cetera.

So having stories like that show like, no, no, no, it's not always this very clear narrative of a bad person did something and the good guy cops come in I think is important. But also be really kind of asking ourselves like, well, what is a better outcome for everyone of the justice-- for the Jessica's of the world, for people who did make a mistake, who did do something? Like does it benefit society more to like have her go to prison, be a felon, and then never be able to get a job?

Or is it more beneficial to us that she gets a second chance, graduates high school, and has a productive life? Like, obviously, the latter. But I think there's-- and this is like really unfortunate.

But I mean, especially in American history, there are many other countries that just do not have the same kind of fundamental origin story that is so heavily tied up with this crime and punishment narrative that, obviously, has like super racist and problematic backgrounds. But it also is just this narrative that we love to talk about. I mean, even you look at superhero movies, like they're fundamentally a framing of bad guy gets punished.

And like thank god, they have occasionally ones like Black Panther where it's like, I don't know, the bad guy kind of made some points. You know like and there is a bit of nuance in terms of the representation. Vigilante justice is not justice.

Like what-- you know, yes, superhero movies are super problematic in a lot of ways. Yeah, like, fucking Batman, like I don't want to watch-- I don't want to watch a billionaire who's never had a job just like beat up random people in the street. Right.

Like if I want to see that, I can turn on CNN or whatever. But so, sorry, anyway, so one of the things that I think is a really kind of ripe case study or angle on how we frame these ideas and how we normalize and popularize them is the discourse around, quote, defunding, or sometimes abolishing, the police. So I have a few questions for you on that.

But I'd like to kind of put our conversation through the prism of, when the idea is broken down to a lot of people of what it would mean to redirect a lot of the funds that are currently going to these insanely bloated police departments and, yes, some of them it's good to be like, oh, it could go to mental health services. But also maybe it could go to parks, like those are really underfunded. Like just kind of redirecting these budgets, and when you even see them visually, like the budgets that police get versus all these other services get, people do really say like, hey, that does make sense.

Hey, I do like that idea. But we also see that in polling-- in poll after poll, phrases like defund the police, abolish the police do poll as very unpopular. And that is kind of across a lot of different groups.

So how should we frame these kind of ideas? And how can we make them something that more people can really kind of sink into and feel a part of? You did such a nice job framing that.

Because I think that what you're saying is 100% what I've seen on the campaign trail and throughout having these conversations. That when you say, we should be reallocating resources to funding social services, to funding education, to funding mental health treatment and substance use disorder treatment, and housing, and food, and schools, and hospitals, everybody agrees. People agree.

But I think it's like when we-- they don't realize necessarily that billions of dollars of our state budgets are allocated to policing, to surveillance, to punishment, instead of things that would actually foster equitable and healthy and safe communities. And I think these conversations are hard. Because people are very dug in to the status quo.

They've been very conditioned to think about things in a certain way. I think that sometimes the media perpetuates that. Sometimes it is other politicians.

Sometimes it is just conditioning to think that the police are keeping you safe. Because when you actually ask someone to close their eyes and to imagine a situation in which they felt safe and just describe it, describe the sights, the sounds, the smells, who's present, what they're feeling, what they're seeing, et cetera, no one, no one mentions the police in a situation where they feel safe. They feel that they're-- most people describe either a home or a place, a place where they feel surrounded, where they have enough, where they are able to be fed and to be surrounded by people they trust and to have the services they need, I mean, in kind of a broader sense.

But when people describe it, they never describe the police making them feel safe or jails making them feel safe. And I think that getting people to shift that vision is really important. And I think we're getting there.

We are getting there. And I think the thing that has been very resonant, even if the funding issue is difficult to discuss, is the fact that now people are very hyper aware of police violence, of police accountability is something we have seen so little of. And people are ready to have those conversations about what it would mean to hold police officers accountable, who are committing physical violence in the streets, but also the things that I saw with stunning regularity and public defender, which is falsifying documents, false arrests, literal perjury in the courthouse.

Police officers walk into courthouses across America and, specifically here in Manhattan, and they, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, say I do. And then they get on the stand, whether it be in front of a grand jury, in front of a judge, in front of a trial jury, and they lie under oath. And there's no accountability for that, none.

And so the DA's office is really like complicit in this continuing misconduct by the police. And so I think that talking about how as district attorney police misconduct will not be tolerated. And I will establish a unit to prosecute bad police officers.

That is, in fact, popular. That does poll well. And people do want to see that.

And so when we talk about that kind of thing, I think that that's the start, that it's like the gateway to talking about how we can reduce police presence in communities additionally and prioritize reforms and accountability measure. Those two things kind of go hand-in-hand. It always kills me when people who are clearly in many cases bad faith actors but also sometimes, I mean, and people legitimately do feel this way.

But like when people will, they'll point out a case like the George Floyd case. And they'll be like, look at this white man who was brutalized by the police and no one cares about him. And I'm like, right, so why is your takeaway from that that like shouldn't care, like, no, we should care about both.

Like both are examples of rampant police violence and unaccountability. Like why can't we have both? And why doesn't that unite us?

Because people will point out like, oh, well, statistically it's you know more, I don't know, like intraracial rather than interracial in terms of brutality between a police officer and an individual. Or statistically, it might be more one group than the other. And it's like, OK, fine.

But then isn't the larger takeaway, not that we shouldn't talk about these issues, but that we should all be concerned about them. That it's not just something that affects Black and brown people. I believe it does disproportionately to their percentage of the population.

But like, clearly, this is also an issue with white people. Like, I mean, how many people in-- how many white people in the Appalachians or the Ozarks or wherever are caught in the prosecution of drugs as a criminal offense and are in this exact same situation, you know, that someone might be in New York City? And I think it's unfortunate that a lot of the, especially the right wing conservative narratives around these issues, have attempted to use a lot of these stories to really polarize people between groups, often along racial lines, rather than sort of raise up the truth that this is something that crosses races.

It crosses rural versus urban. It crosses all kinds of communities. And the problem really boils down to criminalizing many behaviors that should not be criminalized.

And then a police force that is, in many cases, just completely bloated and has almost no accountability. Yep. Yep, yep.

I mean, of course, the nature of our criminal legal system is overwhelmingly racist. But that doesn't mean that anybody escapes the true punishment bureaucracy of the way in which crimes are prosecuted. And so I think we really need transformative change.

We need to think beyond policing, beyond punishment, beyond all of those things. And I think, you know, you brought up drugs, which is a great example. I think that when we see places decriminalize drug possession, personal possession of drugs, decriminalization, has led to a decrease in crime, a decrease in opioid overdoses.

It has led to such positive outcomes for communities that we need to be thinking about not prosecuting drug possession cases period. No, it's absolutely true. And I'm interested in hearing-- so I kind of believe, through my very, very non-exhaustive experience phone banking and things like that, just in terms of talking to a lot of people who like radically disagree with us on a lot of these issues, right, I feel like often the door in is the war on drugs.

Because not only, as I was mentioning earlier, does that have a lot of cross community sort of impact, but also it has, I think, the easiest way for people to understand a reframing of like someone who's addicted to drugs is sick, right. Like someone-- they're sick in the way that a person with a disease is sick. So clearly the answer for someone who has a disease is not to throw them in jail and be like get over it.

It's to work with them to make them better. And I think most people-- and I'm sure this bears out in polls, I don't have the numbers in front of me. But I think most people across the political spectrum have an easier time envisioning a world of or a relationship to drugs that is much more therapeutic and restorative and all of these things rather than criminal.

So how does the war on drugs factor into your plan specifically for being DA? And how can we kind of leverage the framing that we're starting to come around to about drugs being a sickness, to extrapolate that onto a lot of other things that we tend to criminalize and maybe shouldn't? Well, so the war on drugs has been truly a war on people.

It's disproportionately hurt Black, brown, and low income people. And it has led to, obviously, a massive increase in incarceration. And that's for nonviolent drug offenses.

And it is, I mean, it's horrifying. It's not keeping us safe. We have to move towards decriminalizing all drugs.

And I do think that this is something that resonates with people. This is something that is popular with people. And they're like, yeah, either someone who is using drugs is using them recreationally and, therefore, why should we criminalize that when we're allowing people to go out after work and have a few drinks.

I mean, and they're not hurting anyone. Or they are dealing with a substance use disorder, and they're unwell. They can't help themselves.

Locking those people up is actually making them worse. They're coming out still drug addicted, certainly not better. And it's just perpetuating a cycle where-- and not to mention, when you tell people how much it actually costs of their taxpayer money to lock someone up for the night, people are outraged.

Right. The latest report just came out. And it's $1,266 a night to put someone on Rikers Island.

That is a wild amount of taxpayer money to lock someone up and not give them any help or treatment. And it makes no sense. And so when you give people those common sense arguments for these sorts of things, you know, think about, oh, this is what we could do with $50 a night to help someone, to set them on a better path, to make it so they're not re-offending, so they're not trapped in these cycles of poverty and addiction and going through, and they're not able to deal with any of the issues they're facing, people are like, oh yeah, I guess that all makes sense.

And so I think that this also applies, and that's something that's been really heartening to see, is that it also applies to the decriminalization of sex work. And you're hearing people use the catchphrase now, sex work is work, which obviously activists and advocates have laid the groundwork for for years and years, for a decade, and have popularized decriminalizing sex work to a point where people who are not progressive are using that phrase. One of my opponents, Tali Weinstein, says, we should be decriminalizing sex work.

But what she means is continuing this prohibitionist model, where, theoretically, you don't prosecute the person who's engaging in sex work, who's selling sex, but you do prosecute the buyer, which clearly is not decriminalization at all. If you think about the fact that if you wanted to say, oh yeah, haircuts are-- haircuts are illegal. But the person who's cutting your hair can't be prosecuted.

But if you go get your haircut, you know, you can still be arrested and prosecuted, and places can't actually allow anyone to cut hair in their buildings and whatever. Hairdressers wouldn't feel like their work was decriminalized. I mean, it would be-- it's an absurd concept.

And it's actually one that hurts people. This is a racial justice issue. This is a gender justice issue.

This is a LGBTQIA justice issue. And so I think talking about the prohibition of sex work, it's made it so difficult for women and other marginalized folks to come forward, to seek legal protection from abuse or exploitation or trafficking. And so that's another thing that I think we really need to be centering, we really need to be talking about.

We need to be saying that this current system that we have is putting sex workers in danger. They're left to live in poverty. Police are carrying out violence against them.

It's such an intersectional issue. And so decriminalizing drugs and sex work, and the way in which I would bring that into the DA's office is by saying, I'm no longer prosecuting these things, period. Prosecutorial discretion is massive.

And there are plenty of crimes that don't get prosecuted. And these are crimes that will not be prosecuted under my administration, full stop. Now at the risk of being a huge downer here, Eliza, I have to ask you, obviously, if you become DA, not unlike Larry Krasner's situation, the police is absolutely going to hate you, realistically.

Like that's going to be a massive issue. I mean, they hate de Blasio and he does almost nothing against them. So like, let's be clear.

And that's the funny thing I have to say. I have to make one comment about my mayor. Bill de Blasio is an exceptional political figure because truly hated from all sides of the political spectrum.

Like he's managed to please no one and piss off everyone, which is incredible. But he has been, in terms of holding the police to any kind of account or making any serious moves towards meaningful criminal reform, police reform, et cetera, he's done almost nothing. Like he's pretty much by any progressive measure a total failure in that respect.

And yet, I mean, I don't know if you guys remember this. But like I think it was the-- like one of the-- the police chief or someone was like openly talking about his daughter like in a very sort of implicitly threatening way. Like the police turned their back on him at like several different public demonstrations.

Like clearly, they hate him enormously, even though he's done almost nothing. So if you're coming in, Eliza, as like a Krasner type figure, being like, OK, stuff's really going to change now. And you guys are actually going to face consequences.

I mean, do you-- do you have fear about that? Do you feel like personal anxiety about that? Or how do you plan to deal with that?

Well, I have to comment on the de Blasio thing. Did you see- do you remember the Max Rose ad from this most recent cycle, where he was like Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor New York City's ever had. He's like, that's it.

That's the ad. Yeah, and oh, the guy-- is that the guy in Staten Island? So funny.

Was that the Staten Island guy? Everybody hates de Blasio. It was just like a universally appealing thing.

It was running in Staten Island. And it's like even, no matter which side of the political spectrum you're on, you feel like de Blasio has been an abject failure. So that cracks me up.

And of course, the overwhelming hostility that police leadership has shown to even the mildest of reforms and accountability measures means that if the next DA wants to bring about real change in this regard, they're certainly going to face hostility. And I think that, for me, this is a-- it's a non-negotiable. With all that I've seen in terms of police misconduct as a public defender, I mean, I have an iPhone filled with photos of clients who I took pictures of in arraignments because they had gashes on their heads and broken wrists and stitches and staples and bloody and all these things.

Because they were brutalized by the police. And it's just something that has gone on for way too long. And so I think the next district attorney must prioritize reforms and accountability.

And so hopefully there will be some buy in. Hopefully, our next mayor will be someone who will join me in that fight. But also I think, in having conversations with individual officers or individual sergeants or retired NYPD officers, people who are-- they're in their individual capacity speaking to me, they have said, yeah, I didn't become a cop to arrest people who are experiencing homelessness.

I didn't become a cop because I wanted to arrest people who are experiencing substance use disorder. And I certainly didn't do it to go respond to what they call EDP, when they get a call for someone who's an emotionally disturbed person is what they call it. Because when police show up to these situations where someone is experiencing really serious mental health issues, or they're in the throes of a mental health crisis, the police are so ill-equipped to deal with that.

And they don't want to deal with it. They don't want to. They feel like it puts their lives in danger.

They feel-- and, of course, it puts-- and I've seen, as a public defender, then put my client's lives in danger who are experiencing delusions. And they're like, no, stay back, stay back. And the police approach them.

They have no de-escalation-- there's nothing about the situation that makes it== that ever helps by having an armed police officer show up to one of these situations. And so if we were able to implement something like what they're doing in Denver, for example, where people who are trained mental health professionals show up instead of police when someone is in the throes of a mental health crisis, it actually, as it turns out, helps everyone. So I hope that there will be buy-in.

And I know that there is buy-in from individuals who don't want to be social workers, know that they're not social workers. Many of them do want this. And they should want it.

But I do think that there is going to be growing-- there will be growing pains. And I think that we did see that with de Blasio. When the police turned their back on him one of those times and they engaged in a slowdown, they were like, we're going to stop making low-level arrests.

We're going to blah, blah, blah. You know what happened during that period? And I know because I was going to night court.

I was going to arraignments. I was in court every day. Crime rates decreased.

Crime went down when the police stopped making arrests that didn't have to be made. And so, even if there's hostility, I think that what we will see from that is not necessarily like mayhem, you know, that everybody's going to say, oh, the New York Post is going to have you believe that will transpire. Because that's not the reality of the situation.

And so I think it's really important to say that, when the police stop making these low-level arrests, you know what happens, crime goes down. Totally. Also I am a like upper, middle-class, white woman who wears blazers everywhere.

I'm definitely like the demographic that gets treated best, like I'm sure, at scale, by police officers. And my interaction with the NYPD has always consisted of like something happens. They show up, don't do anything, stand around and talk for 15 minutes, like maybe write something in their notebook, like have a random conversation, don't wear masks by the way.

One time this happened really early on in COVID. And we had a couple detectives here, like a detective and a couple of cops, nary a mask in the group for part of it. And I was like, you guys, like I'm like upset about what happened but more afraid of getting COVID.

So can we like mask up or go outside like? And it was just like this completely sort of ineffectual like, yeah, we're here. Well, we're probably not going to fix the situation.

But we'll let you know and then like complete silence. And I think that you're right that if most people think about the experience that they've had with police officers, they are probably more similar to that than anything else. Like it's rare that a cop is like saving you from a burning building or something or like really doing something that is transformative to your life or that really helps you or makes you feel, as you were saying earlier, truly safe.

And it's often just like this presence that doesn't necessarily do things when you need them to, but also. In many cases, has that really potentially destructive other side. And I do think, though, that there becomes in organizations where there is this systemic abuse of power, right, because I do believe, like you were saying, you talk to people who came into the force to do real good, to be parts of their community, to improve the relationship between the police and the policed.

But I think by being in an organization that has these issues and that operates in this way, even people with those intentions or who may not themselves want to be behaving in this way, you kind of get sucked into it and out of pressure have to be complicit and have to be a part of this. So how would you specifically make it easier for cops to be better? That's tough.

That's a tough one, I think. Making it easier for cops to be better, I mean, I think probably it's by saying, categorically, declining to prosecute certain things, that they don't need to make arrests for those things, that they shouldn't be making arrests for those things, because I'm never going to prosecute those cases. And as much as I can't actually stop them from doing it, all they can do is bring someone to the doors of the courthouse.

And then it's within my discretion, as district attorney, to decide who gets charged or whether they get charged at all. And so hopefully they will say, OK, we should not be doing this. Let's focus on serious crimes.

Let's focus on doing investigations of people who are perpetrating real harm on our communities, rather than locking people up for low-level offenses. And, you know, hopefully, there buy-in in there. But I think that Manhattan, not just within the police and within the DA's office, it's really overdue in this entire system for really sweeping systemic reforms.

And the current system is not only failing to keep New Yorkers safe, but it's actually harming communities. And so I think that we need to really think about these evidence-based solutions to problems, like seeking alternatives to incarceration, which as it turns out make life better for everyone. The data shows that works.

And so it's like we just have to break the cycle of perpetuating mass incarceration, over-policing and over-prosecution and over-incarceration. Because that is what will end up making our communities more equitable, more just, safer for everyone. And will hopefully improve the relationship between the communities and the police, which will hopefully bear fruit as well.

So as a last topic for you, so I live in Morningside Heights, which is, for those who don't know, it's like a little mini neighborhood between Harlem and the Upper West Side. A lot of colleges are there. I love the neighborhood.

But it's an interesting neighborhood. You kind of see a little bit of everything because of its geographic location. And obviously, and our office, to get there takes me through the Upper West Side.

So I'm on the Upper West Side all the time, very familiar with it. And few things have made me feel more grossed out by my own community and my own neighbors then the crisis that was happening in the Upper West Side specifically over the past year of houselessness due in large part to COVID. And part of what happened during COVID, especially in the earlier days of it last year on the Upper West Side, was that all of these hotels on the Upper West Side that were completely empty and, in many cases, closed because of COVID and like who the hell was trying to come to New York and stay in a hotel at that time.

In order to get a lot of people off the streets, they converted a lot of the hotels into temporary housing for unhoused people who were on the Upper West Side. And also many people who were unhoused came to the Upper West Side during that time. So there was a level of visibility of the unhoused population in the Upper West Side that was higher than usual.

And there were also a lot of people who were otherwise on the street living in these hotels as temporary housing. And when I tell you that the people, the residents of the Upper West Side, and I don't know how familiar you guys are with neighborhoods. But it's a very kind of hoity-toity, whatever population in general.

They were letting loose on social media, at their city council meetings, all over the place with just the most truly I mean like horrendous, violent language against these people, treating it like they were destroying the neighborhood. Like it was completely unfathomable to them that they should be able to have shelter with their families. In many cases, these are families.

Unfathomable to them that they should have shelter in unused empty hotels. It's not like this was even kicking people out of hotels. But it showed the visceral, visceral underlying contempt and anger that a lot of these people had toward their own unhoused neighbors, that was clearly lingering below the surface the whole time.

And, by the way, I'm sure that entire neighborhood went hard blue on every other election. So these are people who consider themselves progressive, I'm sure, in a lot of ways. But that incident I feel like opened my eyes in a massive way to the real sentiments of the people who are living just down the street from me, effectively.

And I'm very concerned going forward with every local election in New York City, but especially one like this, how these people, these candidates view the issue of unhoused people in New York City. What should be done about that issue? What should be the narrative around that issue?

And what would you specifically do about that issue? Well, I mean, I participated actively in the Homeless Can't Stay Home campaign that is what led to folks being able to be housed in the Lucerne and other unused hotel rooms. I mean, it's absolutely devastating that folks who were experiencing homelessness had no place to go and in the height of COVID.

And shelters certainly weren't safe. And so I think the first thing we have to do is make sure that we are treating people who are experiencing homelessness as people, that we're making sure that they're not being treated as less than. Some of the language that was used by some of these Upper West Siders For Safe Streets, it was, as you said, it was disgusting.

It was horrifying. And I think that one of the important things that a district attorney can do, which is what I will do, is really stop the war on poverty. And that means, when you are declining to prosecute many of these offenses that have so long been used to criminalize homelessness, to criminalize vulnerable populations, and making sure that this massive budget can instead be used to offer wraparound services, including access to stable and transitional housing and mental health services and medical care and help obtaining benefits and substance use treatment programs.

And we need to stop prosecuting people because they're experiencing homelessness. And we need to be having people in positions of power who will be their allies instead. I totally agree.

And all you people from the Upper West Side, whatever that organization was, I have the screenshots. I was in some of those groups. And I saw you guys saying stuff.

And I will never, ever forget. So in sum, so you interestingly, as I mentioned at the opening of the conversation, a lot of your public profile has come from being on Survivor and The Amazing Race. Is that accurate?

Well, it's funny. I think that that's the perception. But I was on Survivor before social media even existed.

And so I signed up. And yeah, people initially, I think, followed for maybe the fact that they'd see me on television. But they really stayed and came for the rage against injustice.

Because my platform has grown from my political activism moreso than my reality TV background, even if that is an interesting factor. My kind of final question for you on that front is whether or not it initially came from reality, and I'm sure in some part it did, a lot of people now who have public platforms feel a compulsion to share their views about these issues, to be politically engaged, to be socially engaged, and to use those platforms for good but are sometimes afraid of alienating their audience, afraid of being, quote, brand unsafe. Obviously, I don't know what that means.

Or in some way pivoting from the thing that gave them that platform in the first place. What would your advice be to anyone who has a platform, who has media attention, who wants to become a voice for these issues but is afraid maybe? I mean, I think, certainly, that's not an issue that I've had.

I think people have definitely long since unfollowed me if they didn't care about the issues that I was talking about. But I think that now, especially now, when we're coming to a place where there's this reckoning with the fact that our system is and always has been premised on racism and white supremacy and that there's just so much horror in the world, that if you are silent and you're afraid of hurting your brand, you know, you're complicit. You're complicit in all of these harms that are being effectuated on our communities.

Like you have to use your platform and use your voice. And I think to your listeners, I would say, make sure that the people that you're following are speaking up on the issues that you care about. And if they're not, don't follow them anymore.

Unfollow people who don't speak up on these issues. Because their silence is complicity. And you are helping them make money off of you.

And they're not standing up for people. And so I think I would tell people that anyhow now isn't it popular to stand up? Like I think so many people are saying things even if they don't believe them, because it has become popular.

So the people who aren't saying anything like really shouldn't get to make money off of your backs, when they're not speaking up about these critical issues, about like moving to the right side of history here. I absolutely agree. Hold those influencer's feet to the fire.

And if you really want to get at them, I don't know if I want to necessarily give up this secret. But if you have an influencer who is being completely silent and complicit on some important issues, and you see them cashing in on some branded partnerships, tag that brand. Let that brand know you're not happy about the fact that this person is being complicit.

Hit them in the wallet, that's where it hurts. And also I think it's also absolutely critical to make sure that if you have that platform, if you're the one with that platform, that you're elevating voices in communities who have had direct experiences, in addition to speaking out as an ally. That you're making sure to center people who have been from impacted communities who have gone through these things, who understand these issues in a way that maybe fundamentally you can't.

Could not agree more. Eliza, it's been an absolute pleasure. I feel like, I don't know, could be premature, I feel like you have my vote.

But this has been a very exciting conversation. And where can our audience go to learn more about you and about your current campaign for DA? They can find us at

It's E-L-I-Z-A O-R-L-I-N-S dot com. And I will say, since I don't think we covered it just by covering a lot of topics, that we are running the only grassroots campaign for Manhattan DA. Truly, we are a people-powered movement.

We're funded by small dollar donations. We have thousands and thousands more donations than anyone else in the race. As of the last filing, we had over 7,300 individual contributions, with a low average donation.

And meanwhile, the max donation in this race is over $35,000 per individual donor, which is wild. And which means that there are people in my race, including Miss Weinstein, who I mentioned earlier, who is raising millions of from Trump donors and Ted Cruz donors-- Gross. --and Josh Hawley donor and is trying to buy this seat, so that she can continue to perpetuate mass incarceration of people of color as a career prosecutor, which is what she's always done. And so we need to make sure that we're fighting back.

So every donation is appreciated. If you can't afford to donate, sign up to volunteer. We need all the help we can get in our little grassroots campaign that's going to change the system.

Listen, you may even catch me on a Manhattan street corner passing out some literature at this stage. Last question actually, real quick, and you can obviously decline to answer. But are you supporting anyone currently for Manhattan borough president?

Oh, that's an interesting question. Because I'm friends with so many people in that race. And I'm glad that their race is ranked choice, even though mine is not, because I do like a lot of the candidates.

So not publicly supporting anyone yet. But there are some fantastic options. I will share that I'm publicly supporting my councilperson, Mark Levine.

He's great. Also follow him on Twitter, he has been giving some great, great COVID info. I'm probably going to get my vaccine through him.

He's been great. But check out all the candidates. There's several really good ones for Manhattan borough president, which is shocking.

Thank you so much for your time, Eliza. It's been a pleasure. And thank you guys all for watching slash listening.

And I will see you all next Monday for another episode of The Financial Confessions. Bye. [MUSIC PLAYING]