BOSTON (AP) — Well before she launched her campaign for the top law enforcement post in Massachusetts, Andrea Campbell carried with her the weight of a life haunted by the specter of crime and the criminal justice system.
When she was just a child, Campbell’s father was sent to prison for eight years. Her mother died in a car accident on the way to visit him, forcing Campbell and her brothers to live with relatives and in foster care.
Much later, her twin brother would die in police custody, and her older brother would face charges in a string of alleged rapes.
Despite the trauma and dislocation, the Democratic candidate for attorney general — who grew up in the Roxbury and South End neighborhoods of Boston, the city’s traditional center of Black life — was able to find a very different path, fueled by success at school, the help of family members and teachers, and her skill at jumping rope.
“One thing I do frequently is share my story because I think there are so many who carry their story with a sense of shame and don’t want to talk about it, including the criminal aspects of my family,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But there is no shame in one sharing their story. There is power in it.”
Campbell’s Republican opponent, Jay McMahon, said a tragedy in his own life — the death of his son, Joel, from an opioid overdose in 2008 — was a motivating factor in his decision to run.
McMahon said his son served in the Army during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, making it all the way to Baghdad before being injured and prescribed oxycontin, to which he eventually became addicted.
Campbell, 40, attended the city’s prestigious public exam school, Boston Latin School, which led her to Princeton University, UCLA Law School and a post in the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick. She became the first Black woman president of the Boston City Council and launched a failed bid for mayor last year.
It was through the intervention of family members, employers and teachers that Campbell was able to navigate that path. She recalled one teacher and her husband who bought her clothes so that as she traveled to participate in Double Dutch competitions she could also visit colleges.
Campbell said she’s learned to turn personal pain into a larger purpose, even after her brother, Alvin Campbell Jr., was arrested for allegedly posing as a ride-hailing driver and kidnapping and raping a woman looking for a ride home after leaving a Boston nightclub. Other similar charges would follow.
Campbell said she had her young son in her arms when she learned of the arrest.
“I was holding him, literally getting ready to nurse him, when I got the call about my older brother and his arrest, and it was heart-wrenching,” Campbell said.
“And then immediately like I’ve done throughout my life, I had to say, ‘OK, now what are you going to do with this?’” she added. “Yes I have to deal with my own trauma and pain, which I encourage everyone to do, but it’s an opportunity to go deeper … to make sure we are breaking cycles of violence, of criminalization and so much more.”
She said she hasn’t spoken to her brother since his arrest.
“I view my older brother’s charges and what is happening there as just another brother lost, which is sad and tragic for me,” she said. “So now I have two brothers who are lost.”
Campbell, married with two young boys, said she applauds the courage of any woman who comes forward to share serious allegations of sexual assault, adding: “We need to probably start from a place of believing them. I’ve made that crystal clear.”
Although she didn’t run to be the state’s first Black woman AG, if she wins, the distinction matters, said Campbell, who has vowed to view her job through what she calls an “equity lens.”
“On the campaign trail, when people would say what are the top three issues you would address, I would never list racial disparities because living in this gender and this skin, it should be the norm of the office to always be closing racial gaps, to always be taking on sexism or gender or sexual discrimination,” she said.
Campbell, who said her faith is another source of strength, also has pledged to use the office to tackle issues that may have been overlooked by other AGs. Those include prison reform, juvenile justice, health disparities and economics in the state’s rural communities.
When she got into trouble at school, she said, she was treated differently than her twin brother, Andre. She was typically sent to talk to someone, while Andre often faced a suspension and expulsion hearing.
Many who live in communities of color are frustrated with what Campbell describes as a lack of accountability about how crimes are prosecuted, feeling over-policed and over-incarcerated. She said it’s too easy to cast those areas as overrun by mobs or gangs.
“I push back on that narrative because I live in one of those communities,” she said. “You have folks working two or three jobs, working hard every single day to make sure they are delivering for their families, for their children and for their community.”
On the campaign trail, McMahon has tried to portray Campbell as soft on crime.
“We have a crime wave right now and Andrea Campbell wants to take away qualified immunity and defund the police,” he said. “I’ll never defund the cops.”
Campbell said what she wants is to make sure no one is above the law, including public employees, elected officials and the police.
She also said she hopes her story can serve as inspiration.
“If you look at my life, it is a model and an example of what opportunity can do to move someone out of a very tragic upbringing of trauma, pain, suffering, loss to assist them in reaching their dreams and potential,” she said.