By Gwen McKinney
All eyes were on Fulton County, GA, where Donald Trump and 18 co-conspirators were processed like any run-of-the-mill criminal defendants. The charges against the former president weren’t a targeted assault for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, just turning loose Lady Justice in a blindfold.
Willis has drawn a national spotlight for her 41-count indictment of Trump and his co-conspirators for attempting to influence and overturn Georgia’s 2020 Presidential election. She has also fearlessly fired back at Trump attackers with what one commentary called “audacious legal poetry.”
Her road to the Fulton County District attorney’s office is paved by a 16-year career as a prosecutor and early exposure to the law from a father who was a member of the Black Panther Party and a criminal defense attorney.
Elected in 2020, handily defeating her former boss, Willis is among a rare collection of seven Black women elected prosecutors in Georgia. A whopping number, they all serve in large counties surrounding Atlanta and jurisdictions where large Black populations reside including Dekalb, Cobb, Clayton, Douglas, Rockdale, Macon, and Fulton counties. Outside of Georgia, the “sisters justice club” of Black women district attorneys and county prosecutors is about 1.3 percent of the total. And statewide, the nation claims a mere two Attorneys General (AG).
One of them is Andrea Campbell, elected in 2022. The Massachusetts AG stands on big shoulders, hoisted up by two trailblazers who shattered barriers redefining the meaning of law and order.
Campbell, self-professed mentee of New York Attorney General Letitia James, brings to three the number of Black women who have occupied the vaunted position of their state’s top prosecutor. All of them have won statewide races, busting open the old boys’ club and advancing a progressive vision for American justice.
It began in 2010 when Vice President Kamala Harris was elected California AG, becoming the first Black woman in the nation to command that post. Her tenure was marked by aggressive consumer protection and launching the Division of Recidivism and Re-Entry. She also fought for stronger privacy protection against big tech and championed the ban on the gay and trans panic defense in court. After six years as AG in the nation’s most populous state, she would be catapulted to the U.S. Senate, her springboard to the vice presidency.
While capturing headlines for her take down of former Governor Andrew Cuomo, James, called “Tish” by friends, fired the opening salvo in a barrage of state and federal indictments against Trump. The AG’s lawsuit alleges fraud of the Trump organization and is seeking $250 million that would effectively cease the company’s operations in New York.
Native New Yorker James – like Harris and Willis – is a graduate of Howard University. She spent her entire career advocating for the least of these. From the public defender’s office, to the New York City Council, to her current office that she first won in 2018, James is unyielding. Her prosecutorial reach includes the gun lobby, Big Pharma, drug lords, and corporate cheats.
She says her mandate is to protect the most vulnerable and stand up against anyone who believes they’re above the law – whether mob boss, governor or former president of the United States.
Campbell, 41, is one of the youngest AG’s in the nation. Her path was littered with both tragedies and opportunities. At eight-months her mother was killed in a car accident while traveling to visit her incarcerated husband – Campbell’s father. Both her brothers were snagged in the criminal legal system which claimed the life of her twin brother who died in police custody while awaiting trial.
Elected to the Boston City Council in 2016, Campbell served as council president from 2018-2020. She scored a resounding legislative victory as chief sponsor of the Community Preservation Act which generates over $20 million annually for affordable housing.
Campbell also championed mandatory police body cameras and the creation of a civilian review board to investigate police misconduct. Since becoming the state’s highest law enforcement officer, she has been an uncompromising champion of preserving Massachusetts abortion laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling that has opened the floodgates to denying reproductive rights in many states.
Like the two AGs who she follows, Campbell is always fighting for a seat at the table. “Representation matters,” she insists. “I know what it means for every little girl or anyone who feels left out and left behind.”