The first Black woman to lead the US Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts was sworn in Monday as she faces an uptick in threats against her following a contentious confirmation process.
The violent and often racist threats against Rachael Rollins have been reported to authorities, and she is seeking protection from the US Marshals Service, sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The threats escalated shortly after the Senate narrowly voted to confirm her to the post in December, according to one source.
Vice President Kamala Harris had cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Rollins after Republicans questioned what they characterized as her “radical” track record, particularly her decision not to prosecute some low-level crimes as a district attorney.
The threats against Rollins have prompted calls for the Justice Department to do more to protect people of color in the federal judicial system, which has become increasingly diverse. Rollins joins the most diverse class of US attorneys in the department’s history.
Dozens of faith leaders and community organizations penned a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland in December, including the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor for the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Brown said US marshals should have provided her security as soon as she was confirmed.
“We have been through an era where others have been killed because of the stances that they were taking,” Brown told CNN, adding that women of color are bearing the brunt of such violence. “I believe the threats are coming because the atmosphere feels like they can easily target women of color.”
CNN reviewed several threatening messages posted in comments on Rollins’ Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as emails to her office. Just this past weekend, one social media message warned Rollins to “hide your kids.”
Brown said people had even posted threats against Rollins on his Twitter feed after he posted a congratulatory message to her.
“They were saying that she’s hotheaded and insane and accused her of identity politics, but what was really disturbing was the one that went directly to her where they would call her the n-word and the b-word and talking about putting a bullet in her head,” Brown said.
Drew Wade, chief of public affairs for the US Marshals Service, said in a statement that the agency “takes seriously its duty to protect federal judicial officials — including judges and prosecutors — across the country.”
Wade declined to comment on Rollins’ case. “We continuously review security measures for these officials, and take appropriate actions as warranted, but for safety reasons we do not discuss specific security protocols,” he said.
The Justice Department also declined to comment.
Threats against public officials, including federal judges and prosecutors, have skyrocketed in recent years, according to the US Marshals Service. The agency tracked more than 4,250 “inappropriate communications/threats to protected persons” in each of the past three fiscal years, compared with fewer than 3,000 in the two years before that.
The number of threats US marshals investigated nearly tripled in fiscal 2020 to about 1,050 cases, according to the latest annual report.
Of the 37 US attorneys President Joe Biden has nominated, 20 nominees are Black, including 15 who are historic firsts for their districts. In addition, Cindy K. Chung has been confirmed as the first Asian American to serve as US attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Prior to Biden’s nomination, Rollins had broken barriers when she was elected in 2018 as the first Black woman to serve as the district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
In that role, Rollins received similar threats on social media after she implemented policies that her critics said made her soft on crime, such as not prosecuting low-level marijuana possession charges.
Monday’s swearing-in ceremony served as a dual celebration for Rollins and her family — it was also her father’s 74th birthday. Rollins, 50, will be returning to the office where for 10 years she was an assistant US attorney in various divisions, including civil rights, criminal, public integrity and health care fraud.
“I’m inheriting a great office. But I’m also aware that we have a lot to do when it comes to educating the community about who we are and what we can do for them,” Rollins told CNN ahead of Monday’s events. “After we have coffee, I’ll give my family a tour of my office, and when they leave that’s when the work begins.”