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The DA who punched back at critics says she’s not here to fight

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins spoke at the scene of a shooting in Mattapan on Saturday. At left is state Representative Russell Holmes and at right is Police Commissioner William Gross.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Toward the end of her speech Sunday at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Dorchester, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said, “I’m not here to fight with people.”

You could’ve fooled me.

Just one day earlier, we had been led to believe that the tiff between her and Governor Charlie Baker’s administration had been resolved with an amicable, private telephone conversation. Rollins praised the governor for picking up the phone and apologizing to her for the way the criticism of her prosecutorial policy memo by his secretary of public safety, Tom Turco, had been handled.

She thought they sandbagged her, and she wasn’t going to stand for it. Then the governor called and they talked and Rollins said it was over.


“I have nothing further to say about the matter,” Rollins said on Saturday.

But by Sunday evening, buoyed by the support of other elected officials who agree with her prosecutorial priorities, Rollins had decided she had a lot more to say.

Rollins told the crowd that if Turco or the governor had at first talked to her privately, told her they disagreed with her policies, and then went public with their criticism, “you wouldn’t have heard a word from me.”

She pointedly singled out someone who did not publicly support her: Attorney General Maura Healey.

“Silence is assent,” Rollins said, suggesting that, by not publicly getting involved in a dispute that was supposedly over, Healey was taking sides.

That’s some curious reasoning, especially from someone who had just complained about people not giving her a head’s up before publicly criticizing her. In a telephone interview, Rollins acknowledged that she hadn’t talked to Healey before singling her out publicly, but that they would meet this week.

According to an audio recording of the rally, the DA described her reaction to the criticism of her thusly: “This is an example of when someone slaps you in the face and thinks you’re going to turn away and cry. And you take your earrings off, roundhouse kick them dead in the face, and then punch them to the ground.”


More troubling were the optics of the rally. Rollins climbed out of the SUV driven by her Boston Police security detail and was immediately surrounded by the Fruit of Islam, the uniformed security force of the Nation of Islam, who escorted her into the hall. Rollins thanked the escort during her speech, saying, “Walking me in today, I feel like a little queen.”

The Globe’s Maddie Kilgannon, who covered the event, didn’t get the royal treatment from the Fruit of Islam. Kilgannon said that when she tried to approach Rollins after her speech to ask questions, the self-appointed bodyguards blocked her way.

Rollins told me she wasn’t aware a reporter wanted to ask her questions, would have taken questions had she known, and did not authorize the Fruit of Islam to block anybody from approaching.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says “the deeply racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT rhetoric of its leaders have earned the Nation of Islam a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.”

Rollins told me she categorically rejects racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, and disputed any suggestion that having representatives of the Nation of Islam appear with her at a public event translates into support or tolerance of the group’s theology or rhetoric. She said she was unaware that the Nation of Islam was going to provide her an escort at what was a rally arranged by community organizers.

Robert Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was concerned enough to call Rollins on Monday.

“Anti-Semitism is a part of everything the Nation of Islam does, which is why we were concerned about seeing her surrounded by their security people at a public event,” Trestan told me.


But after speaking with Rollins, hearing her explain that she had not arranged the Nation of Islam’s involvement, and after hearing Rollins’s full-throated denunciation of anti-Semitism and hate, Trestan felt reassured.

“I’m glad she talked to me directly,” Trestan said.

Maybe that’s the lesson in all this. People should talk before kicking the stuffing out of each other.

Rollins told me that, in hindsight, after hearing the governor tell her things could have been handled differently, “I admit I could have handled things differently, too.”

When I asked if she was referring to her interjecting the case of the governor’s son being accused of sexual assault into the public debate, she said, “I’ll be honest. Looking back now, I do have concerns. That’s an example I used. I did not mean to disrespect the governor and his family.”

But, she said, she has seen disparity in the treatment of people in the criminal justice system, and she will continue to address those disparities.

During our conversation, Rollins was reflective, acknowledging she has a lot to learn about public life.

“I am a 3-month-old politician,” she said. “This has been a learning experience.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.