Radio Boston Radio Boston

Support the news

DA Rollins On SJC Chief Justice Gants' Passing, New Harvard Sentencing Study17:19
Download

Play
Rachael Rollins, speaking Tuesday, June 2, at the gates of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Rachael Rollins, speaking Tuesday, June 2, at the gates of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins joins us to reflect on the passing of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, and what she'd like to see from Baker's nominee for a justice to replace him.
She also discusses a recent study by the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School that has exposed stark racial disparities in the Massachusetts criminal justice system, and outlines her plan to release a list of BPD officers with records of misconduct.

Interview Highlights


On the passing of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants
“We have lost a giant. He was just such a brilliant and kind man. He was moving so quickly, before many of us did — four years ago he asked that this Harvard law school study happen, before many individuals were talking about the racial disparities, well before I had even thought about running for DA. He was just a champion of these issues. I think it speaks to just how important cultural competency is with respect to the judiciary, and we will have some incredibly large shoes to fill, if they could even be filled, now that he’s gone.”

On what she’d like to see from Gov. Baker’s Supreme Judicial Court appointments

“There have been 10 women on the court since its inception; 3 black Americans or individuals have been on that court; exactly 0 Latinx individuals have been appointed to the court… We don’t have a lot of racial and ethnic diversity. We also don’t have a lot of criminal defense attorneys. We don’t have a lot who have defended the indigent… I think 5 out of 7 [of the justices] are former prosecutors.

“The Governor has a lot of opportunity here. He, I know, is taking this incredibly seriously… and I have every faith in the fact that he’s gonna try to fill these enormous shoes well.”

On the need for more data transparency from police departments

“Our legislature has actually done tremendously great work in laying out what we are supposed to do regarding the collection of data. And so there are specific sections that tell us explicitly what we're supposed to be looking at. So, for example, whether or not there is a, you know, we're going to track individuals using a single common identifier. So if Rachael Rollins is going through the criminal legal system, I have one number, whether it is used by the Boston police when they arrest me, the DA's office and CPCS when they defend me or prosecute me, probation, the trial court, you know, all of these different players in the system. And then ultimately, when I get charged or found not guilty, or whatever the result is, when I get charged, when I go into the Department of Corrections system or the House of Corrections, depending on what I am charged with, is there one single, standardized, common identifier so that we can find Rachael when we need her? And we've seen that that is not happening.

“We are Massachusetts. We are leading the world with respect to technology and innovation and data and transparency and many other rounds. But we are failing, and we — I include myself in this — are failing when it comes to data and transparency regarding the criminal legal system.”

"We are leading the world with respect to technology and innovation and data and transparency in many other areas. But we are failing... when it comes to data and transparency regarding the criminal legal system."

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins

On the racial disparities for criminal sentences in Boston

“This is not just the police. And so these are initial charges, depending on how many we charge you with and the type of things we charge you with. The studies showed that black and Latin X individuals are usually charged with superior court level charges right where there's exclusive jurisdiction and superior court, as opposed to a district court where there might be concurrent jurisdiction between a district or municipal court and a superior court or certain drug and weapon offenses or even mandatory minimum. So what I have to do is teach my assistant district attorneys as well as my counterparts do. But what are the implicit biases that we have? Internal. Right. That we are looking at this defendant and thinking that they should be charged with something more significant than maybe somebody in the exact same situation. And what's fascinating is even with a regression analysis, you are right, we saw 31 in 25 more days. You know, regarding Black and Lant next individual. So I think we have to start talking more about race.”

On why we need to have uncomfortable discussions about race

“What you need to recognize is there are a lot of people that are incredibly uncomfortable discussing race because they think by having a discussion about race, we are calling you racist. And that is not, in fact, the case. But we are well beyond the place where people's feelings about being hurt because we're talking about race, that's in no way going to trump the real and documented harm that Black and Latinx individuals and poor people are experiencing every single day in our criminal legal system.”

On her plan to release a list of BPD officers with records of misconduct on Sept. 25

“We have said out loud that we are going to be reaching out to the CPCS and MACTL, so Anthony Benedetti, the chief counsel there; as well as the Mass Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the ACLU and Lawyers for Civil Rights. We know that there are exceptional members of law enforcement that do an honorable and noble job every day with dignity and compassion and cultural competence. Unfortunately, the media is not showing us those images every day. We are seeing the individuals that are dishonoring the badge, the Derek Chauvins of the world, are the ones that are uplifted, unfortunately, or that we are seeing in the media. When we see nine Boston police officers indicted, that makes us lose our credibility in the system. And I mean us — I'm a member of law enforcement now as the DA. So we are holding these individuals accountable. Of course, it was the U.S. attorney and the special agent in charge of the FBI that did because there were federal charges. But we feel obligated to tell the criminal defense bar about this. Now, of course, they've probably seen the news, but on my letterhead, saying if you have concerns about any of these nine individuals, if they have been involved in criminal cases, we will review any pleading that you present to us that calls to question their potential bias or ability to be truthful.”

"When we see nine Boston police officers indicted, that makes us lose our credibility in the system."

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins

This article was originally published on September 16, 2020.

This segment aired on September 16, 2020.

Related:

Paris Alston Twitter Producer, Radio Boston
Paris is an associate producer for Radio Boston.

More…

Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news