It was early in the Suffolk district attorney candidates’ forum, and Devin McCourty wanted to keep the discussion moving, so he implored the crowd not to clap so loud.
“We don’t want to mess up everybody’s time,” he told the scores of people who were in an auditorium at Dorchester’s Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.
McCourty, the Pro Bowl New England Patriots safety, found himself navigating a different sort of playing field Tuesday evening: a lively political forum.
McCourty, along with his brother and teammate Jason McCourty and Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater, acted as the moderators for the two hour-plus discussion. The trio took the role seriously, asking an array of questions, including ones focusing on domestic violence, cash bail, drug prosecutions, and immigration.
The forum was hosted by the Players Coalition , a nonprofit group that works with professional athletes, coaches and sports club owners to “improve social justice and racial equality in our country.” The trio are members of the coalition, and Tuesday’s forum was the latest in a series of conversations with DA candidates the group is hosting throughout the US.
“You care because this is a community that you’re playing football in,” said Jason McCourty before the event. “These are people that watch your games on Sundays, that work hard everyday of the week to pay for tickets to come out and see you play and I think it’s important for us, as members of those teams, to show that you care, too.”
Said Slater, “The DA, at some point in time, can have a great impact on your life, your family’s life.”
Five candidates who hope to succeed Daniel F. Conley as the next top prosecutor for Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop, made their cases in the auditorium. Conley announced in Februaryhe would not seek re-election after leading the office for 16 years.
Evandro Carvalho, a state representative and former prosecutor, highlighted his local ties, saying he and his family chose to settle in Upham’s Corner section of Dorchester, and stressed his work on criminal justice reform on Beacon Hill.
“I know the difference between a criminal and someone who needs a second chance,” he said.
Linda Champion, who works as a lawyer for the state and is a former Suffolk prosecutor, talked about eliminating petty offenses from the dockets, creating wages that are fair and equitable for prosecutors, and the importance of handling “poverty-based” crimes in a humanizing way.
“For far too long we’ve prosecuted people without prosecuting the conditions that exist in our society that bring people to act out,” she said.
Michael Maloney, a criminal defense attorney, stressed that he had never served as a prosecutor and indicated he understood how the justice system is failing people.
“For ten years I’ve been plucking individuals out of a broken system,” he said. “Through no malfeasance, through no misintentions, through no ill will, but simply a broken system.”
Like Maloney, Shannon McAuliffe, a former public defender, said “an experienced prosecutor is not the answer to our problems.” She painted the justice system as a “mess” of mass incarceration and systemic racism and inequality.
“There is no one who can do more for you, your family, and your community to keep you safe, to save you money, and to make sure the system is fair for everyone,” said McAuliffe.
Rachael Rollins said she had seen criminal justice “from every angle.” She said she has worked as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, and had siblings “come in and out of the criminal justice system.” She talked about the importance of stopping the criminalization of “mental illness, addiction, and poverty,” and framed herself as a capable and experienced manager.
“I really believe that we have an opportunity right now to have a criminal justice system where someone from Mission Hill gets the exact same treatment in court as someone from Beacon Hill,” she said.
Before the candidates spoke, Devin McCourty articulated the event’s raison d’être.
“Our criminal justice is broken,” he said.Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.