Death threats are real to senior officials of color. However, Rachael Rollins will not be protected today.


Inauguration Day, January 2009. President Barack Obama is sworn in as the first black president of the United States. 1.8 million people blocked the square to witness the monumental moment. Even the freezing 28 degrees did not dampen the excitement of the participants. Their pride and hope were fully displayed. Live TV audiences watched the new President and his wife, Michelle Obama, ride in the inaugural procession on Pennsylvania Avenue. Towards the end of the mile-long stretch, the two got out of the car for a short ride, following a tradition started in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.

I watched as they confidently walked down the street toward the White House, waving to the enthusiastic crowd – and tried to fend off a wave of fear I knew was shared by several million African Americans. . He was in the open, a ready target for someone who might try to kill him. I later learned that there were many who were literally screaming on TV, “Get in the car!” Get back in the car!

Recently, cellphone videos of brutally beaten or killed African Americans revealed to the rest of America what black people already know: Too many of us have witnessed or been victims of racial violence. In fact, some African Americans have said they will not vote for him because they feared then Senator Obama would be a bigger target if he won the presidency. If they could kill Martin Luther King and get away with it, some wondered aloud, why would Obama be any different? The FBI has documented a record number of threats against Obama and his family, more than any other president.

I thought about all of this when Rachael Rollins, newly confirmed by the Senate as US attorney for Massachusetts, requested federal security and was turned down. The former Suffolk County District Attorney, who was due to be sworn in today, barely survived a bruising confirmation process in which his professional reputation and character came under attack. The ongoing threats she frequently received at the district attorney’s office became more violent. Death threats like the email that said, “Someone out there is plotting to put one in your face or in your head!” Rollins delivered the emails to the US Marshals Service. According to the Boston Globe, the Marshals investigated and deemed the threats “low risk”.

Rollins, who will be Massachusetts’ first black American prosecutor, highlighted on GBH Greater Boston “A lot of people don’t realize as a woman… especially a woman of color, a black woman, the level of racist and hateful death threats we receive.” The US Marshals do not offer protection to federal officials unless they assess the threat as serious. However, former President Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – who is white – received protection after being taunted during a college visit.

The facts are that on the day of the inauguration, Obama’s security services were on high alert over a credible death threat. And the facts are, Rachael Rollins is not exaggerating the credible threats against her. As is so often the case when the issue is race related, the lived experience brings a unique perspective that is not always valued. Call it some kind of bitter irony. Rollins begins his new job today, tasked with protecting the citizens of Massachusetts by prosecuting violations of federal laws, including terrorism and civil rights violations – even though his own request for protection has yet to been satisfied.


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