Suffolk Country District Attorney Rachael Rollins joined Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, and other local leaders earlier today in Somerville for a discussion on how structural racism impacts all aspects of life, from housing and education, to health and public safety.
We talk with Rollins about how her office is thinking about the widespread protests calling for major police reform and meaningful action to address systemic racism.
On the role of the District Attorney and elected officials in police reform
“We do need to talk about police reform, but police aren't elected. Mayors are, and they appoint who their commissioners are, police chiefs, but district attorneys are [also] elected. And when bad behavior happens — in particular, violent, serious behavior like we saw with Derek Chauvin and others. And again, I will not call him Officer Chauvin, it dishonors the word officer. When we look at the Derek Chauvins and the fact that there are many people like him in the past, where District Attorneys have looked at him or the likes of him and said, I'm not going to prosecute, that essentially tells whole communities of people this behavior is OK. There are multiple systems that are allowing it to occur in a police department that doesn't immediately terminate those individuals that are committing crimes.”
On releasing the video of the transit officer under investigation for excessive force
“We usually don't release information during the course of an investigation. But I will tell you that we are hoping to move swiftly, not just with this, but a lot of our violent, serious crimes. But we are at a little bit of a detriment right now, because although we were one of a handful of DA's offices in the nation that had a sitting grand jury, things are stalled a little bit right now because of COVID-19. We're going to try to be as transparent as we can be, but we have to make sure we are dealing with victims, informing their family first before we let the rest of the commonwealth know what it is that's happened. If the public has copies of the video, if it's leaked in some other way, it won't be from our office until our investigation is complete and certainly until we have spoken with the victim's family or the victim himself.”
"If you don't listen to what the community is saying, this change is going to happen without your important voice at the table.”Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins
On the MBTA self-reporting the transit officer’s use of excessive force and false report
“The video appears to show something very differently than what that officer who has since resigned is alleging occurred. What I will say that I'm proud of is, we didn't know about this incident. That homeless man didn't file a complaint. It was the MBTA leadership that self-reported this to the DA's office. That's the type of strong, bold leadership we need in law enforcement. And we are lucky that in parts of Suffolk County, we have that. We have to work together in this world. We are law enforcement partners. And if you don't listen to what the community is saying, this change is going to happen without your important voice at the table.”
On the reticence of Boston’s police union to denounce police killings
“What I said to the Boston Police Patrolman's Association is, hey, guys — and it is overwhelmingly guys — Ben and Jerry's has made a statement about the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. Zappos, who deals with shoes, has made a statement about the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. McDonald's has made a statement. And last I checked, they aren’t in law enforcement. And my point was, Commissioner Gross is management. Commissioner Gross is not the one — I live in Roxbury. He doesn't work in B-2, he's not the one patrolling Humboldt, AV and all the streets throughout Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan and coming into contact with our most policed and prosecuted communities. That's not him. It's the men and women, the rank and file that come into contact with the community. And I don't understand why it is so hard to ask them to say, ‘We denounce what Derek Chauvin did and we stand with our community.’ And their heels are so dug deep in the ground right now that, you know, to me — I'm busy trying to change the criminal legal system. That's all I'm saying, is our communities deserve to know how the police feel about this time we find ourselves in. And you can't hide behind management.”
"Our communities deserve to know how the police feel about this time we find ourselves in. And you can't hide behind management.”Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins
On the prescience of her “Do Not Prosecute” list of 15 nonviolent crimes
“When COVID-19 hit, my list of 15 crimes that in the first instance we don't prosecute, every police department in the nation used my list of 15. None of them were arresting for low-level nonviolent crimes out of fear of contracting COVID-19. What they did was either not arrest, or issue a summons. And that's exactly what I said we should do. It just took a global pandemic for people to recognize that I was right.”
“In all seriousness, George Floyd would still be alive today if my list of 15 were in. Because what happens is poor communities, black and brown communities, have too many interactions with the police. Period. And many of them are nonviolent and non-serious, and they can escalate in an instant like we saw with George Floyd. He was tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in eight minutes and forty-six seconds, and the police don't have the power to do that. There are too many other partners in the criminal legal system that have to have a say, and Derek Chauvin made all of those decisions in that eight minutes and forty-six seconds. And by the way, that was for a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. So George Floyd's life wasn't even worth 20 dollars. And that is a misdemeanor. If Derek Chauvin had showed up and issued a summons or a ticket to George Floyd, he would still be alive today. But because we are asking the police to do too much, we have too many interactions that escalate with the potential of harm to police officers and to the community.”
"Police actually carry guns and can harm us in the name of their job. And there is no oversight."Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins
On the importance of a certification process for Massachusetts cops
“We need to make sure that there's some responsibility when people engage in criminal behavior. And so qualified immunity is now being considered. We're looking at the fact that we are one of two states in the United States of America that does not require licensure of our police officers. Do you understand that in order to be a barber or an electrician, you need a license? And barbers can't kill you. They can give you awful highlights and bad bangs, but they cannot kill you. And electricians could wire something and do that. But you get my point, right. Police actually carry guns and can harm us in the name of their job. And there is no oversight with respect to whether they have complaints against them, whether they have lawsuits filed.”
This article was originally published on June 23, 2020.
This segment aired on June 23, 2020.