Op-ed: Why we are endorsing Rollins for DA

By JP Progressives Steering Committee

After finally passing a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill this past Spring, the next step in the fight against mass incarceration is to ensure these reforms are implemented by electing a progressive District Attorney in Suffolk County. As the ACLU “What a Difference a DA Makes” campaign has noted, the DA is the most powerful role in our criminal justice system, deciding who gets charged and how long they are sent to prison. This election is an important opportunity to further advance the fight against mass incarceration.

Alongside 30 plus member organizations of the Justice for Mass coalition, JP Progressives is proud to endorse Rachael Rollins for Suffolk County District Attorney. Rachael brings not only a progressive vision for the office but also the critical management experience required to implement a change agenda. Her broad appeal among distinct progressive groups makes her the candidate best positioned to defeat the more conservative candidate Greg Henning in the Democratic primary on September 4, 2018.

From the excessive use of cash bail to overcharging for crimes to lobbying against our recent criminal justice bill, District Attorneys across the state – including in JP’s Suffolk County – have played a leading role in maintaining a broken system that disproportionately impacts our communities of color and those experiencing poverty. After hosting the first forum with all five DA candidates and participating in discussions with our community and other progressive groups, our members voted that Rachael Rollins is the candidate best equipped to implement the reforms necessary to repair this broken system.

We believe Rachael has solid progressive policy positions that align with ours on all the critical issues: eliminating cash bail, charging and sentencing reform, pre-trial diversion, alternatives to incarceration, transparency and accountability, and more.

We also believe representation matters. While 24 percent of the population in Suffolk County is African American, 57 percent of those incarcerated and 75 percent of those serving mandatory minimums are black. This reality is in stark contrast to the current demographic composition of the attorneys within the Suffolk County DA’s office: 87 percent are white, 7 percent black, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent Hispanic. Not only will Rachael bring her lived experience as an African American woman whose family has been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, but she also brings her intense commitment to ensuring that the lawyers in the DA’s office reflect the communities they serve.

As the first female general counsel for the MBTA and the first person of color to serve as general counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Rachael has the management experience needed to lead the reform process within the Suffolk County DA’s Office. With a budget of $20 million a year, a staff of approximately 300, including 151 lawyers, and over 34,000 cases a year, this job requires a manager with experience in governmental operations who can hit the ground running on day one.

The field is crowded in this race. Running against Rachel Rollins are fellow progressives Shannon McAuliffe and Evandro Carvalho, and more conservative candidates Linda Champion and Greg Henning (also one late entry, Mike Maloney).

Despite being blessed with three compelling progressive candidates, we are facing a very real threat that votes will be split among the progressive candidates, creating the worst-case scenario of the more conservative candidate Greg Henning as the winner. An Assistant District Attorney who worked under Dan Conley as head of the Gang Unit, Henning has indicated at various forums that he intends to continue the backwards policies and practices of his predecessor.

While Henning is certainly an experienced prosecutor, he doesn’t support the Mass Sentencing Commission’s recommendation to abolish mandatory minimums for all crimes except murder, he supports the continued use of asset forfeiture prior to conviction, and he opposes the appointment of a special prosecutor for cases of police misconduct – a stance that has earned him nearly $60,000 in campaign support from law enforcement officers. Rollins has committed to establishing an independent prosecutor; as the chief law enforcement official in the county, we need a District Attorney committed to holding police accountable in instances of misconduct or excessive force, not one beholden to maintaining the status quo.

For these reasons, it is not only important to vote for the best candidate, it is also absolutely critical that all progressives unite behind a single progressive candidate, even if that candidate was the second choice for some.

Please join members of the Justice for Massachusetts Coalition by supporting Rachael Rollins for Suffolk County District Attorney. You will be joining with a broad coalition of progressive groups including Progressive Massachusetts, the Right to the City Vote Coalition, the Chinese Progressive Association, Mass Alliance, Progressive Democrats, the Real Justice PAC, Democracy for America, and many others. Mark your calendars for September 4th; this primary election is an important one.

For more information about the group, visit jpprogressives.com. The steering committee is made up of Annie Rousseau, Will Poff Webster, Ed Burley, Kristin Johnson, Andrew Breton, Radhika Khetani, Enid Eckstein, Carmel Levy, Nikki Kong, Ziba Cranmer, and John Riordan.

[This article has been updated.]

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