DA Rachael Rollins: The Intersections of Race, Health, and Police Brutality Explained

Rachael Rollins

By Roxanna Jarvis

BOSTON, MA – Boston District Attorney Rachael Rollins hosted a Zoom seminar Wednesday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to further explain the “Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission’s (TJRC) purpose and goals for the city of Boston.”

The ADA, which provided the foundation for improved access into buildings, workplaces, and all other public spaces for those in the U.S. with disabilities, also prohibits discrimination based on disability in these areas.

Rollins’ seminar was held in a period where a global health crisis and displayed acts of police brutality are at the forefronts of the nation’s issues.

Concerning the current COVID-19 pandemic, Rollins stated the disadvantages differently-abled individuals face in hospital settings: “When hospitals have to make hard decisions…looking at underlying health conditions, they are deciding whose life literally has value and whose doesn’t.”

Those with disabilities are the ones suffering most from these life-and-death decisions, she said, adding, “The disabled community was justifiably outraged.”

Rollins shifted course to discuss one of the systemic issues the nation has recently been forced to confront—police brutality, noting, “When we reimagine public safety, the criminal legal system has to remember that the ADA creates an obligation to accommodate for every governmental agency. That includes the police and law enforcement.”

Rollins went on to give the names of black individuals with disabilities who died at the hands of cops. Among them were 21-year-old Elijah McClain and 43-year-old Eric Garner.

Elijah McClain was killed by police officers last August who received a 911 call about a “suspicious person” walking, wearing a ski mask. When confronted by officers, Elijah told them he was different, “I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries,” he said.

Elijah was ultimately choked (in a carotid hold which restricts blood flow to the brain), handcuffed, and injected with ketamine. Elijah went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead that same night. Three days later Elijah was taken off of life support.

Elijah wore a mask because he was anemic and it kept him warm. He also suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder.

In 2014, Eric Garner was also put in a chokehold by a New York police officer after being accused of selling loose cigarettes outside of a store. Officers ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe” and continued to restrain him. Garner died due to the compressions from the chokehold. Garner had asthma, diabetes, and a heart condition.

“It is a mark of white privilege, quite frankly, to be able to be weird and quirky, or different,” stated Rollins.

The Grassroots Law Project has a goal to uncover and resolve the decades of racial and ethnic injustice caused by police violence and the criminal justice system at the local level with “Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commissions (TJRC).”

On July 1, the Grassroots Law Project announced the formation of TJRCs in the cities of Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Starting initially as pilot projects, TJRCs will create a process for District Attorneys and their communities to hear from victims of police and prosecutor misconduct, finding ways for those victims to recover.

“The system is not broken. It’s functioning exactly the way those who designed and built it intended it to function….It was built to oppress [marginalized communities], ” said Shaun King, co-founder of the Grassroots Law Project. “Moving forward, we must build brand new pathways for truth, justice, and reconciliation.”

The goal of the Boston TJRC pilot, according to DA Rollins, is to begin a conversation within the community and to examine and learn from the painful events of Boston’s history.

“There is nobody my age that could with a straight face say that busing and the Charles Stuart murders are not deeply ingrained in the history and core of our city–and not in a positive way,” expressed DA Rollins during her Zoom seminar.

Charles Stuart was a white, married man who lived in Boston, MA. In October 1989, Stuart called 911 reporting his pregnant wife had been shot, later identifying the assailant as a black man. A citywide manhunt ensued, with police tearing apart and terrorizing the racially-mixed Mission Hill community.

It was eventually discovered that Stuart killed his wife. The case is a clear example of how the criminal justice system has traumatized the lives of those belonging to marginalized groups and has long given preference to those who possess racial privilege, Rollins said.

Rollins stated that Boston and its law enforcement will not be able to move forward unless the histories of busing and the Charles Stuart murders are atoned for, adding, “When communities feel heard and listened to and valued; When their experiences are acknowledged with apologies and changes as a result, then there is finally an ability to believe the system is there for everyone and not just a select few.”

Rollins also commented on the unfair practice of bail hearings. “I want to move more towards a policy in practice where we are holding individuals because they are dangerous and not because they are poor.”

In full-realization, the Grassroots Law Project said it hopes that the local TJRCs will lead district attorneys to work with their communities to develop policies and structures that hold police accountable and change the legal system to one that treats everyone with dignity and respect.

Lee Merritt, Co-Founder of the Grassroots Law Project, summed up perfectly why TJRCs are necessary: “Creating new institutions to address historic atrocities and modern inequities embedded in the fabric of society is essential if we are ever going to turn the page on America’s bloody legacy.”

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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