Top Left Corner #162
NTRVW: Berkshire D.A. Andrea Harrington on drug deaths, Roe v. Wade, more.

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Top Left Corner: And with me on the line is Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington. Andrea, thanks so much for coming on the Top Left Corner. It’s been too long.

Andrea Harrington: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Top Left Corner: So we have we have a number of things that I have wanted to catch up on. And I know that that you probably have plenty to say about them. Firstly, though, let’s let’s talk about the most. Recent items that have come out of your office, the issue of drugs being laced with chemicals that are genuinely dangerous or deadly. Talk to us about. There was, I think a little bit earlier this summer, there was a fentanyl warning that there was increased levels of fentanyl. But then there was just this past week there was a Xylazine advisory. Talk to us about what? What you know and how the public should react to this.

Andrea Harrington: Yeah. Thank you for asking me about the Xylazine issue. And this is a new well, new to me and I think new to a lot of other people. Drug that they’re finding within other substances so people might think that they have heroin or cocaine and in lab tests it’s turning out that heroin and cocaine are also being mixed with this Xylazine, which is a veterinary sedative. And it can be very dangerous for people in particular and can contribute to fatal overdoses. So we did put out a warning letting people know about the psilocybin. And in particular, it’s important to know about because Narcan does not work on psilocybin, but it is important for people if they believe that somebody is overdosing to administer Narcan because Narcan can work if there are other opioids present.

Top Left Corner: Right.

Berkshire D.A.’s Office Issues Public Health Advisory About Xylazine in Drug Supply

The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office cautions the community about the presence of Xylazine in the drug supply.

Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS) at Brandeis University noted a significant percentage of opioid samples testing positive for the presence of Xylazine, especially in Western Massachusetts. MADDS found the drug in both powder and counterfeit pain pills. The Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab finds Xylazine frequently used as a cutting agent.

In 2021, 12 out of 33 samples MADDS tested in Berkshire County contained Xylazine. As of June 2022, 10 out of 42 samples tested positive for Xylazine. Statewide MADDS reports that 28 percent of samples tested positive for Xylazine.

“I thank MADDS for testing and alerting our community to changes in the drug supply. I urge people who use drugs to be cautious with their intake and never use alone,” District Attorney Andrea Harrington said.

“Sharing and raising awareness about what is in the local drug supply is a proven harm reduction measure to prevent tragedy.”

Implementing harm reduction strategies across the county and treating people with compassion is an evidence-based solution to the opioid and overdose epidemic.

The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office signed a Memorandum of Agreement with MADDS to allow them to operate in Berkshire County as part of a statewide effort to supply the community and first responders with data to prevent fatal overdoses.

The District Attorney asks that everyone learn the signs of overdose and act immediately – call 911, administer Naloxone, perform rescue breathing, and stay with the person until help arrives. While Narcan will not reverse the effects of Xylazine, Narcan will reverse the effects of the opioid present, so always administer Narcan.

The Good Samaritan Law protects those who report an overdose from arrest and prosecution for drug possession.

Xylazine can cause over-sedation, decreased consciousness, low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, and reduced breathing. In combination with opioids, Xylazine increases the risk for overdose, and over-sedation for long periods of time can cause damage to muscles, nerves, and kidneys.

The Massachusetts Drug Supply DATA Stream website provides health bulletins and alerts to assist in identifying changes to the drug supply.Berkshire Harm Reduction provides safer use supplies, advice, medical care, and more. For additional resources in Berkshire County, please see the Berkshire Overdose Addiction Prevention Collaborative website.  

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office serves all 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. The office represents the Commonwealth in more than 7,500 criminal cases per year in Berkshire Superior Court, three district courts, three juvenile courts, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Supreme Judicial Court. The office works closely with the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, and collaborates with local police departments across the county. A dedicated staff of more than 50 prioritizes public safety, empowering victims and witnesses through services and support, and building a safe community for everyone and especially the most vulnerable.


Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office serves all 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. The office represents the Commonwealth in more than 7,500 criminal cases per year in Berkshire Superior Court, three district courts, three juvenile courts, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Supreme Judicial Court. The office works closely with the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, and collaborates with local police departments across the county. A dedicated staff of more than 50 prioritizes public safety, empowering victims and witnesses through services and support, and building a safe community for everyone and especially the most vulnerable.

flyer about the dangers of xylazine in illicit drug market
Massachusetts Drug Supply Stream (MADDS) Community Drug Supply Alert: Xylazine Present in Opioids July 2022

Andrea Harrington: Yeah. So Xylazine can cause over sedation, decreased consciousness, low blood pressure, slowed heart rate and reduced breathing. So it does increase the risk for overdose when it’s used in combination with opioids.

Top Left Corner: So essentially this is a cheap chemical that’s being cut into an expensive drug so that dealers can make the maximum profits. And I’m guessing that the expectation is that they can do this and get away with it because it has an effect that is drug, like you said, it can increase the sedation, slows down the heart rate. So, I mean, it’ll have sort of the feeling of a maybe a euphoria or at least sort of pumps up the euphoria. But are they. And I know this is going to be different from one chemical, one drug to the next, but are these people at all typically aware of the dangers or are they aware of the the proper ratios that the. Well, not proper, but the ratios that can lead to death? I’m just I’m just trying to get inside the head of the people who are manufacturing this crap.

Andrea Harrington: I don’t have the sense that the people that are putting out these substances are particularly concerned about the safety of the user. So I don’t know that there’s really a lot of thought or care that goes into the drug preparation. What I can say is that the fact that we are starting to have a better understanding of what is in the drug supply is critical to addressing the problem of substances in our community through a lens of harm reduction, because we’re able to better warn people about what it is that they’re consuming. Right. The reason we know about this is because my office has a partnership with researchers from Brandeis University that are operating in sites all over Massachusetts. So they’re operating in Berkshire County because we have a memorandum of understanding with them. They’re testing the leftovers of what is left over after people use drugs and they’re testing small amounts of drugs. So because of their testing, we know that there are these increased levels of psilocybin now seen in the drug supply. We did contact the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, and they are finding that Xylazine is also very frequently used as a cutting agent. So this helps us to to the communication I found is the most important public safety tool. And so being able to communicate with people what are in the substances that they’re using does make people think and help people to protect themselves from fatal overdose.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, that that’s you know, I’m glad that I’m looking at the the information that you sent out to the Massachusetts drug supply data stream. Mads, I’m glad that they’re out there. The thing about it is, if you’ve got users out there on the street buying legitimate drugs that have not been cut with rat poison, basically, then every one of those users has a chance to make the next fix their last one in a good way. They can potentially get treatment. They can potentially kick in their own if possible. But this prevalence of of deadly chemicals in the drug supply, it really limits a person’s chance to to finally kick and get clean because, you know, one bad batch and they’re in the morgue instead of a treatment facility.

Andrea Harrington: We I’m my office is responsible for all of the unattended death investigations. So meeting with parents in particular of people that have died of fatal overdoses and other loved ones, I mean, those are really hard conversations when somebody lost to a fatal overdose. You know, there are somebodies, child, parent, brother, sister. And I mean, these are the it’s there’s just too much tragedy that has occurred. So from my perspective, we need to do everything that we can to keep people in our community safe from fatal overdose. And a lot so often the parents that I that I talked to say that the reason why the big barrier to their loved one getting help was the stigma that comes around having a substance use issue. So I think it’s important to reduce that stigma. And I think treating people who use drugs like human beings and like people that we care about is an important component of helping people to get help and just to be healthier.

Top Left Corner: Now, I’m not going to ask you to commit to one way or another to this this concept, but I want you to think about it for a moment. When I was I was probably 16 and. Pot. Cannabis was not legal, obviously, back in the Stone Age, but I. I got my weed. Everybody else did. If you didn’t happen to have a friend or a steady supplier, you. You went searching. And on a Friday night and you were looking for weed for a dime bag or whatever, for five bucks, ten bucks, 15 bucks, whatever it was back then. And and usually you could find somebody hanging out near the arcade or the Burger King or the various other places that people hung out. And I scored one night feeling pretty good about myself because I was a pretty big fat bag of weed for little money. And a friend and I smoked a normal amount, you know, probably a bowlful. And spiteful, and I lost three days of my life. I cannot remember what happened for the next 2 to 3 days. Don’t know how I got home. Don’t know anything.

Top Left Corner: All I know is that as soon as it kicked in, you know, I mean, we’re talking couple of hits and then something is definitely wrong. I don’t know what was sprayed on it or what it was soaked in. I have no idea. But I was terrified for a minute and then I can’t remember what happened. Somehow I made it home. But who the hell knows how? So. I wonder now that, you know, cannabis is legal. That’s not going to happen. Right? I mean, because you have stores that are backed by large companies, they have testing laboratories that have quality control that would never, ever, ever do that because they wouldn’t want to be shut down. Portugal recently decided to decriminalize all weed or all drugs, and they are noticing, at least in the beginning, I don’t know if it remains the same. Vast decreases in overdoses and increases in people seeking seeking help in seeking cessation. Help. Do you think that there is any appetite in this country for a legalize at all, spend no money on prosecution and direct all the money towards towards therapy?

Andrea Harrington: Well, I did have an opportunity to visit Portugal to study their approach to drug policy so they have decriminalized the personal use amounts of drugs. I don’t believe that unless something has happened since I visited, I don’t believe that they’d like legalize in a way that ensures that there’s a safe drug supply. But, I mean, I can definitely attest that there are decriminalization efforts have been hugely successful in terms of helping people to be healthier. And they have a much, much, much decreased the the incidence of opioid addiction in Portugal, here in our community and across Massachusetts, I’m starting to see the public health experts start to call for a safe drug supply. And this is a big topic of conversation. I’m very close with Stephen Murray, who was on the northern Berkshire EMS and is now working for Boston Medical Center in Public Health. And he’s leading this conversation around the safe drug supply. I follow the evidence and I follow data in terms of what’s going to help make people healthy and safe. So but, yeah, as you as you mentioned, like all of these kinds of changes need to have support from the community in order to be successful. I think in the case of the drug supply, I really think that we need leadership from the federal government in terms of changing the the drug policy in this country. I do think that there is an appetite for harm reduction. In particular, I noticed just being out in the community talking to people. I think that that people are really ready to see new solutions because we’ve just been so, so devastated by issues with drugs in our own community. And the response is clear that the arrest and prosecution response just hasn’t worked to make our community healthy.

Top Left Corner: Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, the thing is, it’s got to be you know, let’s look at the numbers. If if if the sort of carceral approach was was working, we would not be seeing these things. And I feel like, you know, there’s a it’s a it’s a big engine with a lot of moving parts this this drug situation. But the thing is, I think that there are probably a lot of people who if you could snap your fingers and Bibbidi bobbidi boo, they’re clean, they would do that in a heartbeat. They want to get off, you know, whether it’s meth or whether it’s heroin, they want to get off this or even prescription opioids, which are extremely expensive on the on the street. And and they are, you know, usually a first person’s first gateway into into opioids. So I just feel like there’s got to be a a way to break the cycle. And, you know, I don’t I don’t think there’s ever going to come a time where we’re going to have heroin shops like we do cannabis shops. I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but it does seem to me that as long as there’s money to be made, big money to be made, you’re going to have people dying of these, you know, fentanyl and psilocybin laced product. You’re going to have people dying of just standard overdose. You’re going to have people just sort of disappearing through addiction. They disappear. They disappear from their families. They disappear from their friends. They just sort of slowly fade away until they just are not there anymore. I mean, that’s a description that I heard somebody say that addiction makes you slowly disappear. And I think that it’s it’s one of those things where if the prosecution of these things doesn’t doesn’t help, then we’ve got to find something else because, you know, we’re done. I think having the conversation let’s study this problem. We’ve been studying this problem for 20 years now.

Andrea Harrington: It’s so interesting to hear you say that because there are evidence based, well researched, successful strategies for combating the problem of problem drug use. And I’ve worked to educate the community about that. We had a harm reduction expert who’s a professor and a doctor from San Francisco Speaks. About his research around harm reduction. Maya Savage has a great book out. We had her come to like a virtual lecture in my office about harm reduction. I mean, these it’s connection. It’s treating people’s underlying mental health issues, right? It’s all the social determinants of health that keep people healthy and help people find other ways of coping, then turning to drug use. So these strategies do work in communities. They’ve been successful and we’re working to educate people about those.

Top Left Corner: Oh, sure. And Andrea, I don’t want to suggest that you are not trying to use all of the tools, you know, that are that are productive. When I say we excuse me, I’m talking about the sort of the national we because.

Andrea Harrington: Yeah, no, I took I took it.

Top Left Corner: There are there are a lot of a lot of counties across the country that are not Berkshire County that do not have the good fortune of having a sort of a forward thinking da. So I think that we’re lucky in that regard. Let’s I guess the last point of this and this is probably longer than I wanted to talk about it, but organized crime. How much of a role does organized crime play in the drug supply in Berkshire County?

Andrea Harrington: Oh, well, just a massive roll. Although the drugs that get here get who get here through very well-organized drug distribution networks. And we have put the focus from the law enforcement side in terms of investigation and prosecution into those larger sophisticated networks. So we have a lot of drugs that come into this community from spring from like Springfield, Holyoke area. And then a lot that comes up through New York State from the Bronx in particular. We had an investigation where we had basically the biggest, largest drug bust that we’ve had, I think, since 2013. So we very much do investigate and prosecute those drug networks and work to disrupt those and get them out of our county.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, there was a pretty big haul in a while ago. That was how much how much heroin was that?

Andrea Harrington: Oh, boy. I don’t know. I don’t have the number.

Top Left Corner: It was it was a lot. I was like.

Andrea Harrington: I thought I saw a photo. I saw a photo. It was it was a lot. It was a lot. So we do we do disrupt those networks we’re working to get to always working to try to get more help from the federal government. Some things that I want to work on. We had previously applied for this high to designation, high intensity drug traffic area, which would allow for more federal resources and more cross jurisdictional investigations. We have not been successful in that yet, but we’re going to try again this year. We’re also working to get Project Safe Neighborhood status. With that would be something that we would do with our U.S. attorney’s office and that would also make more federal resources available.

Top Left Corner: So that’s that’s a pretty good wrap up. We’ll keep watching out for that. And I’ll be sure to to add these Elysian information to sort of the the regular news feed coming out of The Greylock Glass because I’m really hoping that really hoping that if users are listening to any of the any news that they’re listening to The Greylock Glass because we care and I’m talking to you out there, we actually really do care about your life. We care about your life. We care about your future. And we want you to live and and be as healthy and successful as you can be. So please be careful about your supply. Let’s talk about let’s talk about some of the violence. I asked a question or suggest that I wanted to ask you the question about levels of violent crime. I see it on social media all the time, people saying that there’s just more violent crime these days. What’s your what are your numbers say? What’s your take on it? And explain why you think the public has this perception.

Andrea Harrington: Well, first, whatever it is in terms of whatever the data is or whatever the numbers say, really when you’re talking about crime and when you’re talking about safety, the most important thing is how people feel. Do people feel safe? Because we see things happening on the news and we see a lot of violence and it has a big impact on us and how safe we feel. So I haven’t seen any data that that actually does indicate that violent crime is up. And crime data is it’s it’s somewhat problematic in terms of how it’s gathered and collected. But I have not seen any data that indicates violent crime is up. And we also have I do have a little bit of data here in terms of cases filed that I can I’m sorry, I have to pull back here. But from from my perspective, you know, any violence in Berkshire County is is unacceptable, right? So we take every every shooting, every homicide, every domestic assault, every sexual assault. We take all of those with seriousness. And we also we work every day like our life depends on making this county safer. So for me, whatever the stats are, they are.

Andrea Harrington: But we’re going to work as hard as we can to make this a safer community. So according to the Massachusetts trial court, the lead charges filed in district courts in Berkshire County are down. So in 2019, there were 4414 lead charges filed in district courts across Berkshire County in 2021. That was down to 3736. So the number of district court cases are down. The number of superior court cases, I would say are probably pretty have stayed pretty even. And I would have to go dig out some numbers to really look at that. But from my perspective, the gender based violence in county really has been off the charts and we’ve had a big focus on addressing that kind of violence. And I would say, if you ask me like, what are some of my proud accomplishments as district attorney, it really has been to change, I think, the culture of law enforcement in terms of focusing on violent crime and getting people that are more non nonviolent, low level offenses, getting those people into kind of more public health type programs, but putting our law enforcement resources into addressing violent crime.

Top Left Corner: Sure, sure. No, I think that it obviously was years overdue, that violent crime, when people think of that phrase, that they also connected to to domestic abuse, to sexual assault, all of these things really have been overlooked for a long time. The I guess when it comes to things like, oh, there was the. There was a shooting in State Street in in North Adams. What’s the name of that bar? Key West. Key West Bar. Yeah, it’s it’s kind of a hard hat bar. It’s a rough and tumble place to begin with. But people drive by that. They drive by by that on the way to, you know, Walmart, ocean state job lot. So part of it, I think is that you it’s visible. You know, some of the the crime that has occurred has been sort of either visible or at locations that people are aware of. And that does tend to increase people’s uneasiness. And any time there’s this shooting that happens out on the street, I think that tends to shake people a bit because they think, hmm, I could have been standing there. I was I was there. You know. Go ahead.

Andrea Harrington: Now 100%. And having people shooting firearms and shooting people out on our streets and in our neighborhoods and in our community is unacceptable. And we are prosecute those cases to the fullest extent of the law. We work with our local law enforcement to support their investigations in those cases. So in all of the cases of any recent shootings. Or any shootings since I’ve been the district attorney across Berkshire County, we react appropriately in order to protect public safety. So we’ve requested that the courts hold any individual who is charged with discharging firearms and shooting shot, firing shots in our community. So we’ve been largely successful in that. Of course, judges make the ultimate decision in those cases, but the individuals from the case that you’re talking about have been held pretrial, and that’s to protect public safety.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think, you know, when when the shootings are typically behind closed doors, people can pretend that they don’t happen. But when they happen, you know, out in places that people are frequenting, it kind of freaks them out. But let’s you’ve brought up domestic violence. You have made that a cornerstone of your policy in a policy structure. It has been a. Disappointing time these last two years, as we have seen people who are struggling with the pandemic, in many cases not necessarily locked in, but sort of forced into close quarters with people that are dangerous to them. People who are in their family. What? What this is what people suspected in the very, very beginning. And you actually put out a PSA that I ran about that with information on how people can get help. That was at the beginning of the pandemic. Did we were we right to be concerned now that the pandemic is kind of sort of receding? Was there the increase in in in violence, in the homes, in the relationships that we feared? And how did you deal with with the last two years?

Andrea Harrington: Well, what was reported was that the incidents that law enforcement that Elizabeth Freeman Center was seeing were more serious because people were less likely to reach out for help earlier on as the violence started to escalate because of a lack of, I think, contacts with other people not seeing, not being out and about and seeing people as much and kind of being in stuck situations. So we definitely saw very, very serious incidents of violence. I don’t believe the numbers support that. There were necessarily a higher number of victims, but the cases that we were seeing were more serious. Got it. Over the past two years, how we’ve been dealing with that is we’ve well, we started our high risk team. This is a domestic violence high risk team, and that is domestic violence, homicide prevention. That is the goal of that initiative. And it brings together people that are working in different parts of the system law enforcement, police departments, probation, Dxf Elizabeth Freeman Center and breaks down silos so that we’re all communicating about high risk cases so that we can prevent any potential tragedies from occurring. And these have been shown to be very effective in other communities. So that has been in existence for just over a year now here in Berkshire County. I think it’s been hugely successful. We’re going to be putting out our annual report in the very near future, so I will make sure that you have access.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I’d like to see that it’s. Yeah, it makes sense. What you say makes sense. The pandemic isn’t going to necessarily create new dynamics of crime, but they are going to intensify them. I mean, domestic violence, but they are going to intensify them because what else they’re going to do? You know, you are all of a sudden now spending three or four times as much time with with well together as you would and and you’re not happy about the circumstances to begin with. The other thing, which is. I think it’s connected, but that might be a stretch because I’m kind of a leftist media organization, but I kind of feel like there is a national. Sexual assault going on or certainly sexual violence going on with the recent Supreme Court decision about Roe v Wade? I feel like it is a a federally approved continuation of a sexual assault that. Now you’ve got states where you can’t even get an abortion if you have been raped or if you are a victim of incest. It’s horrifying. It is saddening. I have not written about it because I don’t know that I can add anything to the conversation myself, but I have wanted to talk about it and I’ve wanted to to hear about it. And and I was really excited that you were that you put out a statement on it because I think people locally. I believe that our rights are secure. And I think they need to understand that our rights are only as secure as we fight for and as we keep vigilant about.

Top Left Corner: There’s nothing inherently different about Massachusetts that makes us so much more immune to right wing extremist policy making. You know, we did we did put witches to accused witches to death just a few hundred years ago. And, you know, we don’t evolve that quickly. So let’s you know, it’s just just saying. So the point here is, is that you’ve put out a statement of real outrage. I connect, connect the Supreme Court decision to sort of the same the same sort of underlying worldview that allows for the continuation of domestic violence. That’s my take on it. And I’d love to hear what you think, and I’d like to hear what your concerns are for not just our own women here, but in surrounding states who could you know, I can see things changing in places not too far from us. I could see things changing in Maine. I could see things changing in New Hampshire. You know, there’s some pretty strong, you know, right wing factions in those areas. We could end up having people crossing the borders to Massachusetts to get, you know, abortion care. So what do you say? What where do you think we are in Massachusetts? What do you think we have to offer the rest of the country in terms of message and in terms of maybe hope?

Andrea Harrington: Well, I certainly agree with you that the the underlying basis for this decision is that women are lesser and are not deserving of equal protection under the law and are not deserving of basic human rights and really the most fundamental right of determining our destinies and our health care and our own lives. So I do think that that kind of base attitude is what motivates violence against women, whether it’s a form of political violence or actual violence. So I totally appreciate the parallel that you’re drawing there. For me, this is a personal issue, and I’ve been very outspoken about it. And I do think that it’s critical for people to be speaking out at all levels, whether we live in Massachusetts or we live in Texas or we live in Alabama, we need to be speaking out to protect reproductive rights and health care for women everywhere. And this matter is important to women that live in Berkshire County. So, first of all, I’ve wanted to be very clear and to get the message out that abortion is legal here in Berkshire County and in Massachusetts. And I know that maybe this seems obvious to us, but what I’ve found in trying to empower and serve the most vulnerable people in our community is that they don’t necessarily get the same those messages because people see what’s happening on the national news and they are fearful and things like maybe their local prosecutor is going to prosecute them for getting an abortion.

Andrea Harrington: And we see that kind of like with ice, right? So Massachusetts has been a sanctuary state. I’ve been very clear we don’t cooperate with ICE. But still, you know, the immigrant community is very fearful of law enforcement. And this whole you know, this idea of criminalizing abortion really undermines public safety at a very basic level because it breaks down trust between people and the legal system and with the government and with authorities in general. So we put so much work into trying to build that trust, and this just undermines it. So as a as a prosecutor, it’s just so disheartening. I also see this as fueling the next wave of mass incarceration across this country. And it is very scary. And we were talking about the kind of tools and resources that we put into our investigations are our drug investigations, homicides. We have we have these are hard cases to solve, but we do have pretty powerful resources. And the idea of other places using those resources to investigate women and their providers for for seeking health care is really frightening. So I do believe that Massachusetts has an important role to play in terms of being a sanctuary where people can come and safely receive medical care.

Andrea Harrington: But also, we have to be vigilant because we know there is a potential for a federal ban on abortions. So as a state, we need to prepare for that and we need to make sure that we can continue to respect people’s basic rights and dignity. Here in Massachusetts, there is a system where if there’s a warrant for an individual’s arrest and it’s entered into a national system that will be honored in other states. So very early on, Governor Baker stated in Massachusetts, we are not going to honor warrants that are based on people seeking reproductive health care. That was a really important step. But I think that this highlights for people how important their local prosecutors are in the way that we use our discretion. So I am part of a group that has been vocal about this issue since October of 2020, when in Georgia there was some legislation that was passed that was criminalizing abortion. And we put out a statement in October of 2020 saying, as local prosecutors, we will never, ever enforce abortion bans. And then in the Dodds case, I was part of a about a hundred prosecutors from across the country that submitted an amicus brief in that case, really highlighting how criminalizing a. Abortion will undermine public safety.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I think really, you know, the the and I don’t want to draw too much of a connection because these are very different things. But the fugitive slave law should come immediately to mind. Any time people start talking about tracking people across state lines to try to prosecute them for something that isn’t isn’t illegal at the destination. You know what I mean? We have precedent on this. We we’ve we have as a nation, we have aired I mean, we have fallen down. And, you know, when it comes to things like the fugitive slave law, we don’t need to make those mistakes again. You know, we we can be better.

Andrea Harrington: Did you see Jamal Lewis column? No, about. Yeah, he had a column in The New York Times. I think I read it over the weekend, drawing that comparison. I think you’re talking about. I think that was Plessy versus Ferguson. Yeah. Maybe with the SCOTUS case, I applied to the ability of people who were enslaved to travel.

Top Left Corner: Okay, so I’m not way out of line here.

Andrea Harrington: This has been. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You should. You should check that out. Yeah, you.

Top Left Corner: Should. I’ll read that. I’ll read that because I hesitate to make connections like that. But but yeah, I mean, it’s we have precedent. I mean, we have a lot of there’s a lot of things about, you know, about data that scare me, the fact that sometimes it’s not even that the law enforcement needs to get a warrant for some of the data that they’d seek. They can buy it. A lot of it’s for sale. You know, anytime you have a private corporation doing, you know, doing some sort of data service for for the government, sometimes part of the deal is that they get to sell that data. And we you know, that started with the Postal Service selling customer, you know, user data. People are not aware of how pervasive it is with the Postal Service. But, you know, license plate readers, there’s an article in Wired magazine right now about how much of that data is accessible without a warrant. And if you can put together just a few data points on a woman who travels to a state that, you know, still allows abortion, you know, you’ve you’ve basically have this this really nasty web that a woman can’t escape from no matter how careful she thinks she is because of something as simple as a as a data, as a license plate reader, which might originally have been put in installed so that they can do away with tollbooths, as we have on the mass pike. They have license plate readers now, which it’s a convenience, but it makes you think, yikes, that that stuff, that data is out there for anybody to to find. So yeah, that’s I think it’s important the work that you’ve been doing, getting the word out that this is it’s still Massachusetts.

Top Left Corner: You still don’t have anything to fear. If you have any questions, there are places to go to get answers. But but I think that it’s going to take a combined push of we’ll just use taxes, you know, the people in Texas are going to fighting for to try to, you know, either reverse or roll back some of the the restrictions on abortion there. But I think they need our help. I think that it’s going to require a nationwide effort to try to roll back these these restrictions in every state. I don’t see I don’t see how the people of Texas who were against this can do it on their own. I really feel like they need and I don’t know what that support might entail, but I think it definitely entails support. That’s. That’s pretty much what I wanted to ask about that. I think. I don’t have any other notes on it, but I do want to I did promise that I wanted to ask about, you know, this has been a crazy term for you. You know, an entry into the the DA’s office could not have been more weird than it has been during the pandemic and all the attendant issues. It hasn’t been easy on you, and certainly your detractors haven’t made it easy on you. I you know, I read the editorials, too, and I’m like, oh, my God, they’re going after her again. What fools with clowns. But the the truth is that you surely have learned some things. What would you say are some of the things that you learned that you would change in the future? And what are some of the things that you’re proud of that you’ve you’ve succeeded with?

Andrea Harrington: Well, thank you for the question and for noticing some of those things. I. I think the biggest thing that I learned is that to make fundamental change, it is critical, even when you’re the district attorney and when you have a lot of power and you have a lot of say in terms of who gets charged with what and and a lot of influence over how certain things are disposed of through a plea process that it still is critical to have. Alignment across systems to build support for fundamental change and certainly have learned a lot about when it is that you work to bring people together and when it is that you stand out on your own and just take a position. And those are always choices that I think are determined by people’s own kind of personal moral code and also strategy. So I’ve definitely learned how important it is to bring people together around big issues, and I’m looking forward to being able to do that, I think, in a more significant way, post-pandemic. I think the pandemic, definitely the nature of the crisis kind of did lead to people kind of just being in their own camp and trying to just get through.

Andrea Harrington: So I do see a lot of opportunity to bring people together around big issues, like addressing the the opioid issues and the drug problems and making our community safer. You know, I’m very my focus for the past three and a half years has been around the things that my office can control because we can make huge changes just on what we can do ourselves. I would like to do more of like codifying those policies and getting them written down, getting them published on our website. That’s a big goal for me. But looking forward, I think that the key to where I want to go in terms of public safety is having more community collaboration. I really want to bring a restorative justice program here to Berkshire County. We need community partners to be able to do that. I really would love to see more like social workers, like kind of street outreach workers working in our communities. And I don’t have control necessarily over that. So that takes buy in from our local municipalities. Those are the things that I really see as being game changers in terms of making our county safer and more just.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, those are you know, those are goals that are going to require a lot of people to to get it. And I guess that’s that’s the best role that you can have, is being the person who can explain why you have this this view of excuse me, of justice locally. I think that it’s. I don’t I don’t have anything against any other candidates. But I do know that when you get a progressive foothold, it doesn’t always go as quickly or as easily as you might like it to. I mean, the change doesn’t happen overnight, but I do know that it can be rolled back almost overnight if a candidate who does not support those positions gets in. Things take time to take root. You know, it’s kind of like when you when you transplant a house plant, right? I mean, you know, something needs bigger roots. You you know, you get some more soil, you get a bigger pot, you transplant it. And then you have to sort of let it sit for a bit. You can’t go messing with it for a while because it is it is in a tender, is in a gentle state. And I feel like the reforms that we need to make. On a societal level have to start locally. And they have to spread. They have to spread like I like. Let’s use a good analogy rather than the obvious to spread like dandelions. But they have to spread like dandelions. They really do. They they have to you know, people have to see them working. And I really feel like there is a. There is a.

Top Left Corner: Choosing my words carefully again. There is there are things to be gained by going back to the bad old days of just lock them up. There are things to begin. People make money that way. I mean, you know, we’re not going to have time to get to that. But there is a huge industry around around criminality that is is happy to see the status quo firmly in place. And so I think that there is a lot on the line and there’s a lot of money and a lot of interest being put into keeping things just the way they are. So any time there is a a chance that progressive change can take root and prosper, I really want to give it that chance. I know that you have some detractors on the left who feel like you have not gone far enough. And and I can understand their points of view, too, though I do know that being part of government and being sort of an outsider and being somebody who has new ideas, that’s a challenging position. So I appreciate the the courage that you’ve shown in sticking to your guns as much as you can. So thank you for that and thank you for taking quite a bit of time. This is more time than we intended, but that’s why the Top Left Corner is still an hour long show because this happens with frequency. I get these interesting people on like yourself and I. I don’t want to let them go. Any closing thoughts on your work that you’re doing now? Anything that people should do to keep track of what you’re doing?

Andrea Harrington: Well, thank you. I mean, I could talk all day. Thanks for giving me the time and for such an interesting conversation. People can can keep track of the brochure district attorney’s office work. You can follow us on social media. We’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter, and I think we’re on Instagram. But don’t quote me on that.

Top Left Corner: I’ll put the link in the show. You.

Andrea Harrington: Yeah, we have a monthly newsletter that we put out every month that gives some of the highlights from what happened over the past month. Please, please sign up for our newsletter. We have a lot of great information to share about our work and there’s so much information that comes at people constantly. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s going on, but we are doing really important work that goes beyond just the individual cases, but really working towards structural change and to take to make people safer. And I. Prioritize public safety. That is the most critical part, I think of my job. But public safety and fairness and equity and justice, they go together. You cannot have one without the other. What I’ve learned over the past three and a half years is that my commitment to racial justice in particular is critical to public safety, because when we want to solve cases, we need help from the community and people are not going to come forward and provide information to an oppressive system. So we’ve got to get the focus away from penalizing people for minor stuff and really get it on helping people where they need it and holding perpetrators who have committed violent crime accountable and protecting the public by getting dangerous people where they belong. But those two those two goals very much go hand in hand. And I don’t ever let anybody trick you into thinking that they are counterproductive.

Top Left Corner: So this was really great, Andrea. I will make sure I have the links to everything we talked about in the show notes and that we can they can sign up for the newsletter. They can just follow you on social media. And until next time, I just want to say thanks so much for being on the show and take care.

Andrea Harrington: Okay. Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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