Rachael Rollins is the first African-American female to elected to the office of district attorney in Massachusetts. She was elected in Suffolk County. She is not the first African-American to be Suffolk Country District Attorney. Ralph Martin held that position, a Republican appointed by Governor William Weld who would later be elected to it.
Martin was a good DA but he was part of the club. Little changed under him in the way cases came to court or were prosecuted. He wasn’t a bull in a china shop but more a go along guy who operated in a quiet professional manner.
Rollins is totally unlike Martin. She is a bull in a china shop stomping around looking to break things that should be broken. Her actions are causing many to tremble. One of her boldest is embracing her blackness. It’s as if she is saying the criminal justice system was set up by whites and run by whites but that will no longer be the case in the county where she holds the office of district attorney.
When I went online to look into The Rachael Rollins Policy Memo to her office which is here I was obviously struck by the photograph that was on the top of the front page. It depicted a group consisting of about three dozen mostly teenage African-American women. It certainly made clear who the memo was intended to be for.
The next photograph was of Rollins herself and two other African-American women. After that six women posed with four of them being black. Next to that was Rollins with a black youngster. The next photo of Rollins showed her in a classroom reading to a group of early grammar school students all of whom were black. So it continued clearly sending out the message that Rollins’s first concern was going to be with the black community.
At first I was put off by this “in your face” showing of blacks. I thought “just because she is black doesn’t she understand she is the district attorney for all the people in Suffolk County not just the blacks.” The demographics I had seen, here, suggests that the white population is over 60% while that of the blacks being around 25%.
Thinking of this I had an epiphany. I understood how being white had affected my outlook on things. I knew as sure as I am writing this that had the Suffolk Country district attorney been white and had she put out a policy memo that had photographs of mostly white adults, teenagers, and children, I would not have blinked an eye. I would have read it, looked at the photos, and passed on to other things.
I never put myself in the shoes of a black who would have read that white district attorney’s policy and saw all the faces of white people. What would he think? Would it have been off-putting to him or something that was what he expected? Wouldn’t the tacit message to him be that this is a white man’s system of justice where the whites get the breaks and the blacks get broken. Would he think: “just because she is white doesn’t she understand she is the district attorney for all the people in Suffolk County not just the whites.”
Rollins has given all of us who spent most of our lives in the criminal justice system lots to think about. One thing that pops into my mind is that had she been DA back when John Martorano murdered those two young black teenagers along with a black man she certainly would have brought him to justice and not let it pass away as if their lives were not important.
I don’t think that during Ralph Martin’s days this could have been done. A carapace over the system limited movement and change. Times are changing; we should embrace them and change with them in so far as they make America a better place for all its citizens. Thanks to people like Rollins we are moving toward that goal.