In just over eight months as US attorney for Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins has become well-known as a fierce advocate for equality and civil liberties, both values she championed as she discussed combating hate crimes and white supremacy during Friday’s Globe Summit.
“People can have repugnant ideologies, but when it moves to the level of threatening harm … we are going to do what is going to protect this community, and we are going to speak out against racist, bigoted, and potentially violent behavior,” Rollins told moderator Anica Butler, a deputy managing editor of the Globe, during a panel at the three-day conference exploring the theme of “The Next Boston.”
In acknowledgment of the roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants who were ordered to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a political stunt Wednesday — Governor Charlie Baker announced Friday that the migrants will be temporarily housed at shelters on Cape Cod — Rollins spoke first about the potential role of her office in handling what can often be sensitive, and highly emotional, national immigration cases.
“It is sad that we are in a state of affairs where political stunts are being utilized and human beings are being taken advantage of, quite frankly, for political purposes,” she said. “We are going to be looking long and hard ... to see any and all legal action that we might be able to take.”
Rollins said she has already reached out to the Department of Justice to ask for guidance based on legal action that other US attorneys have taken in states like New York and Illinois, and plans to offer her full support to the efforts of attorneys in Massachusetts working to protect migrant rights.
“I would like to be, if possible, a force multiplier there,” she said, adding that “if there are crimes that were committed [during the movement of migrants into Massachusetts] ... that is certainly something that we’d be speaking with the Department of Justice about.”
Keeping to the panel’s theme of embracing equity and safety, Rollins also delved into the work her office has done to respond to a statewide uptick in hate crimes, which includes the creation of a hot line dedicated specifically to discrimination-based offenses.
“We’ve had over 100 calls in the first month that we’ve opened up the line. And I’ll be honest, there are some people that clearly are calling because they’d like hate to continue, leaving choice words about me and my background,” she said. But, “we’re going to focus on the fact that many of those calls have resulted in the FBI or local or state law enforcement opening cases.”
Rollins underscored the role law enforcement — from municipal police departments to the US attorney’s office — must play in sending a message to community members that equal treatment under the law is a human right. That starts, she said, with addressing conduct within each of the agencies.
“Law enforcement, myself included, we need to be better at recognizing that things like the First Amendment and the Second Amendment, they apply to Black people, too,” she said. “We have to be able to talk about those things without people feeling like they’re being attacked, but just factually.”
“This is why certain communities are having a hard time trusting law enforcement,” she added. “And if we don’t work on that trust, we are never going to get better.”
Though Rollins brings roughly two decades of legal expertise to her work, the attorney emphasized the importance of her lived experience as a Black woman, which she said imbues her decision-making with both boldness and empathy.
“I am the first Black woman to lead this office, and that matters because of the lens that I come to the work with — that we are putting hate crimes first, that we are making sure that trans individuals receive the help that they need, and that we prosecute those crimes,” she said. “And honestly, that we are focusing our attention on making sure that our federal government actually reflects the amazing community that we are in the Commonwealth.”