AG Campbell calls for government to 'remove barriers' to justice

Attorney General Andrea Campbell talks to reporters Wednesday after her swearing-in ceremony at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. (Sam Drysdale/SHNS photo)

In a ceremony focused on the historic "firsts" of Mattapan resident Andrea Campbell's inauguration as Massachusetts' first Black woman elected to be attorney general -- and the family and community who helped her get there -- the newly sworn-in top law enforcement official promised to hold those in power accountable and to bring transparency to the state's criminal justice system.

Campbell took the oath of office Wednesday afternoon, administered by her aunt Lois Savage -- someone she described as a mother figure -- and her husband Matthew Scheier in front of hundreds of audience members in an overflowing Boston Convention and Exhibition Center room.

She made history in November as the first woman of color elected to statewide office in Massachusetts and the first Black woman who would become the state's attorney general. Campbell is a former Boston City Council president, 2021 Boston mayoral candidate and former advisor to Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Democrat said she stood on the shoulders of "trailblazers" who came before her, such as U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, the first Black attorney general of Massachusetts and of any state nationwide, and of other Black women.

"Black women, you have always been a necessary and essential part of the foundation, underpinnings and fabric of our American story as mothers, wives, caregivers, workers, freedom fighters, teachers, emotional confidants, innovators and leaders," Campbell said. "These are the shoulders I stand on and the people I represent who will always sustain my faith, my hope and my courage to forge ahead."

After taking the oath of office to become the 45th attorney general of Massachusetts, Campbell spoke in her inaugural speech about her family's difficult relationship with the justice system. Her father was imprisoned when she was a child and her twin brother, Andre, died in Department of Correction custody while awaiting a trial 11 years ago.

"Justice for all -- what a noble and elusive concept," said Stephanie Lovell, one of Campbell's transition team co-chairs, during the inauguration ceremony. "When I consider why Andrea Campbell is so well-suited for this office, and this time, I conclude that no person is more motivated to tackle 'for all' than a woman with such personal and painful experience with fairness and justice 'for some.'"

Campbell promised to challenge "the lack of transparency and accountability behind our prison walls and in our criminal and juvenile justice system."

The new attorney general also echoed campaign promises to tackle wage theft by employers, do more to protect transgender youth and reproductive rights laws, take illegal guns off the streets, address opioid use and food insecurity, and support the climate justice movement. She also addressed the residents of Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties, who she said "want a greater attorney general presence in their western, true western Mass. communities."

Campbell pledged to create reproductive justice and elder justice units in her office and to form an Office of Gun Safety Enforcement because, she said, "everyone, no matter where you live, should feel safe in their community." She said she also plans to ensure her office has broader linguistic and cultural competency to "to serve all of the people of Massachusetts."

According to Campbell's campaign website, the cross-bureau reproductive justice unit will span the AG office's Civil Rights Division, Health Care Division, Criminal Bureau and Government Bureau, and it will work to "protect abortion providers and funds from out of state consequences, enforce data privacy laws, develop new ways to hold crisis pregnancy centers accountable, and defend our laws from legal challenges that may originate in and out of state."

Campbell also said on the campaign trail that she would investigate "fraudsters" who target elders and immigrants for scams, and plans to increase oversight and prosecution of housing and health care providers that discriminate against the elderly.

In her inaugural remarks Wednesday, Campbell said there is "more to do" with public safety agencies, and wants to help ensure survivors of domestic violence and family violence "don't get re-traumatized navigating our courts and our agencies for protection and victim compensation."

"The good news is there are many laws that are meant to make society more fair and keep us from discrimination and hate on the books, but they must be championed and enforced vigorously to ensure our state's people feel that, experience that fairness," Campbell said. "We can ensure that the government is responsive to your needs and do it with integrity, empathy, and urgency. Government must remove barriers and not stand in the way of progress or justice."

The new attorney general also promised to hold the powerful accountable.

"We can take on corruption, we can hold those who misuse positions of power, or frankly, your money," she said to applause from the audience. "We can hold them accountable for all those actions."

When later asked by reporters how she will be different from past attorneys general who haven't addressed public corruption, Campbell responded, "For me, it's redefining what public corruption is."

"It's not just the misappropriation of funds or elected officials or public officials who are not acting accordingly," she said. "For me, it's also criminal legal reform, it's looking at our state agencies that are not meeting the mark, not transparent, and that may need to be held accountable. It's a broad vision, but it's one that the office is fully capable of."

Among the crowd were dozens of assistant attorneys general who were sworn in later in the day, law enforcement officials, judges, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Campbell's uncle and someone she described as a father figure, Ronald Savage, wiped tears from his eyes throughout the ceremony.

Gov. Maura Healey joined the audience later, toward the end of the event, after swearing in Secretary of State William Galvin and speaking at Treasurer Deborah Goldberg's inauguration at the State House earlier in the day.

After the ceremony, Markey told reporters that Campbell would be "the best attorney general" in the nation.

"While our constitution and laws guarantee equal rights, we and I certainly recognize the law has not always been the great equalizer. The U.S. Constitution once considered my very existence to be only three-fifths of a human being," Campbell said. "But this office, this office, and the special people that work in it, is indeed special and unique, because it has the ability to shape law and policy and thus, the future."

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