DA O’Keefe’s Wrong Perspective: Differences Between City and Country

DA Michael O’Keefe on Cape Cod has gone public in his criticism of DA Rachael Rollins the newly elected district attorney in Boston. As I noted Wednesday this is highly unusual so it raises the question what is behind it?

To start off it seems that O’Keefe should recognize that his office being located on the Cape is dealing with an entirely different population than that of Rollins. It seems rather impudent for him in Barnstable County where the population of 220,000 people is 92% white, 2% Hispanic and 1% black to be suggesting that the DA of Suffolk County where the population of 725,000 is 55% white, 19% Hispanic and 21% black is improperly administering her office.

O’Keefe has been a prosecutor for 36 years; Rollins is just starting up in the job. She comes to the job with a fresh approach based on the constituency which she represents which is entirely different from that of O’Keefe’s. She has been on the job less than half a year and for some inexplicable reason she is being attacked. What is particular disappointing about this is it was totally unnecessary.

Is it something personal with O’Keefe? Is he jealous she is getting a lot of recognition while he does his job “quietly and without fanfare.” Why doesn’t he mention Rollins name rather than calling her the “social justice district attorney . . . as here in Boston.”

He calls her one of “these social justice district attorneys” yet tells us he “has been doing these things [the programs these social justice district attorneys suggest] since long before they have become fashionable.” Why then is he bothered that Rollins wants to do what he has been doing?

It is hard to tell if he is for social justice or against it and if he’s against it why would someone take that position? O’Keefe says Rollins is trying to “nullify an entire class of criminal conduct.” That is not true. Rollins has announced she will not prosecute certain categories of crime unless there is a compelling reason to do this. This is a clear prosecutorial function.

O’Keefe recognizes the DA has a right to nolle pros cases. He said however they must be determined on a case by case basis. Rollins prefers to do it differently. Rather than examine each case she’ll just look at those that are identified as being egregious. I like Rollins approach because of the reluctance of DAs to nolle pros cases. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many are usually done like that.

 O’Keefe suggest DAs are being blamed for “demographic inequities in the incarcerated populations.” Demographic inequities mean there are more Hispanics and blacks in prison than whites. He says the justice system is “reactive not proactive. It deals with those who are brought to it. And those who are brought to it are alleged to have committed a crime.” Who brings them in but the cops so should we blame them? 

O’Keefe suggests the Hispanics and blacks are incarcerated more than whites due to “the disintegration of the family, the lack of respect for discipline and education, and the glorification in some communities of a culture that celebrates disrespectful language and misogyny under the guise of art.”  The latter clearly shows O’Keefe is not a fan of rap music.

O’Keefe has no  suggestion how to address these situations. Rollins seems to recognize them. She is trying to do something about it.

O’Keefe walks himself right into supporting Rollins without recognizing it. He says the biggest single factor why there are more blacks and Hispanics in jail than whites “is the defendant’s prior criminal history.”  Rollins says a lot of a defendant’s prior criminal history is made up of minor charges that never should have been brought.  She wants to clean up the history so that it will be less likely the person ends up in prison. Isn’t that the way it should be?


1 thought on “DA O’Keefe’s Wrong Perspective: Differences Between City and Country

  1. Brian R. Merrerrick

    What O’Keefe is saying is that blacks are disproportionally incarcerated because, for whatever sociological reasons, they commit a disproportionate amount of crime. That’s the population that is brought to the courts. You can be flip and say he doesn’t like rap music or maybe the cops should be blamed for bringing them, but that is the fact.

    Typically a defendant gets one, two, three or more bites of the apple before he is incarcerated. O’Keefe points out that the biggest single factor in incarceration is prior criminal history. Rollins’ solution – and apparently yours – is just don’t charge them in the first place. Then they won’t have that criminal history. The crimes will still be committed, of course, just not charged. What do human nature and economic laws tell us will happen if crimes are widely committed but not charged?

    In the 1960’s and 70’s, well-intentioned criminal justice reforms led to increased crime rates. The angry public response then demanded “law and order” in the form of mandatory and longer sentences. With its incarceration rate the lowest in the nation, Massachusetts does not need to restart that cycle.

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