Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who was confirmed last week as US attorney for Massachusetts after an unusually contentious vote in the Senate, said Monday that she faces death threats as a woman and a person of color.
Rollins, who will be the first Black woman to serve as the state’s top federal law enforcement official, made the remarks during an interview on GBH’s “Greater Boston” when host Jim Braude asked her about the “trickle-down impact” of comments made by Republican lawmakers, who sought to paint Rollins as a radical with a soft-on-crime record.
“A lot of people don’t recognize [that] as women and as women of color, and particularly as a Black woman, the level of racist, hate-filled death threats that we receive,” she said. “My security team is fielding calls with people using the n-word and saying they want to put a bullet in my head and [that] they know I have children. Nobody signs up for that, Jim. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.
“I want to do this important work,” she continued. “But being a mother and a guardian to my nieces is far more important than being a DA or a US attorney. So the trickle-down effect of hate is potentially violence, and we have to be better than that. And I sincerely hope that the people in Washington are a little bit better. And I think I, myself, I want to work on the language we use when we disagree with each other because it really matters.”
Senate Republicans were united in their opposition to Rollins’s nomination on Wednesday. The vote ended in a 50-50 draw and required Vice President Kamala Harris to deliver the tie-breaking vote.
“Well, we’ll prove them wrong,” she said.
Braude pressed Rollins for her reaction to having no Republicans support her.
“It’s not worth a reaction,” she said.
“Homicides are significantly down” in Boston this year, she said, and “our numbers speak for themselves.”
Rollins will remain in her role as the district attorney for Suffolk County until she is sworn in and assumes her new post, but she is already outlining some of the plans she will pursue when she takes office.
Braude asked Rollins how she will handle criminal prosecutions involving marijuana, which remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government despite being legal for recreational use by adults and medical purposes in Massachusetts.
Rollins said her focus will be on targeting large-scale dealers and not individual users.
“I’m not looking to bother somebody, you know, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo who’s smoking a doobie somewhere,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re focusing on the people that are trafficking weight and significant amounts of marijuana.”
Braude asked Rollins if she has plans to continue a probe by the US attorney’s office into the Holyoke Soldiers’ home, where 70 veterans died in a COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. In November, a Hampden Superior Court judge dismissed criminal charges against two former top officials of the home in a case brought by state Attorney General Maura Healey.
Rollins said she was “deeply disappointed” by the judge’s ruling.
“My father is a veteran, and I believe those men and women should have been staying at the Ritz Carlton, quite frankly, and not at this place where they died,” she said. “So if that case is still pending, and I have not been briefed yet on all of the cases that are currently pending at the US attorney’s office, that is going to be a high priority for me.”
Rollins had kind words for outgoing acting US attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell, who she said was “excellent” in the job, and his predecessor, Andrew Lelling, who was nominated for US attorney in 2017 by former president Donald Trump.
“I think Andy Lelling absolutely brought some really important cases,” she said. “I like to point out that ... the Varsity Blues case, it’s a good example of showing the difference between what a DA does and possibly what the US attorney’s office does.”
Rollins said when she was asked to take the post, she was “humbled and honored.”
“It’s been a long road to get here,” she said, “but it is all the sweeter because of how hard it was.”