This week brought good news for progressives who protested Boston's Straight Pride Parade: an appeals court has overruled a judge who came down hard on activists.
Last week, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins told a court that most of the LGBTQ+ people and allies who protested the Aug. 30 event should be released, since their actions weren't sufficiently disruptive to warrant prosecution. Thirty-six people were arrested at the Straight Pride gathering, which was reportedly linked to white nationalist groups.
But Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott refused to listen to Rollins' requests, upholding all charges and imposing bail. He also jailed an attorney attempting to defend activists who rallied against the event.
The Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court stepped in Monday, claiming Sinnott "had no authority" to override the District Attorney's office. In response to an emergency petition filed by Rollins to the state's high court, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano ruled that Sinnott "violated the Commonwealth's constitutional rights" and "the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and infringed upon the separation of powers enshrined within."
"The prosecutor's sole authority to determine which cases to prosecute and when not to pursue a prosecution," Gaziano added, "has been affirmed repeatedly by this court since the beginning of the nineteenth century."
That's a big victory not only for the protestors but also for Rollins, who has pursued a more progressive strategy of criminal justice, opting for more effective interventions like restorative justice over incarceration. The District Attorney sought community service for many of those arrested during a clash between activists and police.
Prosecutors in cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia have been experimenting with similar tactics in recent years, hoping to break the prison pipeline that disproportionately targets LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and low-income individuals.
Although Rollins called the ordeal "a colossal waste of time" in comments reported by the Boston Herald, she said there was now clarity about judges' authority to overrule prosecutors.
This doesn't mean that everyone can go free, however. Of the three dozen protestors arrested, eight will still face prosecution, including four accused of assaulting police officers. The District Attorney's office has remained vigilant about pursuing charges against violent offenders.