From public defender, to professor, to director of Racial Justice Initiatives, Antonia Soares Thompson has spent her career confronting racial injustice in the legal system.
“My career has just been focused on looking at different aspects of the criminal justice system and how can we improve it and have better outcomes for people of color,” Soares Thompson, BC ’91 and BC Law ’94, said.
Soares Thompson was recently appointed the inaugural director of Racial Justice Initiatives for the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, BC Law ’79, discussed the need for this new position within the DA’s office.
“Over the last couple of years [we’re] really looking on our cases,” Ryan said. “Thinking about, always, how can we better apply an equity lens.”
Ryan believes that Soares Thompson’s extensive experience representing marginalized communities will both build trust within the Middlesex community and help the office to analyze cases to see where it can improve.
“It is a combination of Antonia being available … to others in the office to talk about cases, talk about policies, meet with our other partners, whether it be law enforcement or in the community,” Ryan said. “For instance, she has joined our Anti-Hate, Anti-Bias Task Force.”
The office created this Task Force in response to a growing number of bias- or hate-motivated incidents, Ryan said. Just as the creation of the task force was apt given the current racial climate, Soares Thompson said that the creation of her new position was a positive step for the office.
“I think it’s really important and timely, and what we’ve seen going around the country, there is a call to action to decrease the amount of people that are incarcerated, to look at different ways that we can divert people from the criminal justice system,” Soares Thompson said.
Ryan also highlighted Soares Thompson’s teaching experience and how it advantages her new position. Middlesex County has over 21 colleges within its borders, and Ryan hopes to increase the office’s work with these academic communities.
“Antonia brings with [her] that familiarity of teaching on college campuses, knowing how to work with academia, as well as her own experience teaching, and helping us with the training piece of our work,” Ryan said.
Beyond appointing Soares Thompson, Ryan hopes that the DA’s office can make it easier for people to report hate crimes.
“It’s very hard for somebody who has been the victim of hate to then come forward and come to a place … that traditionally based on where their home is, they don’t feel comfortable,” Ryan said.
For Soares Thompson, this work can be both challenging and rewarding. The difficulties lie in addressing the discontent within the community and effecting change without violence, she said. The most rewarding part of this work, however, is engaging with the community.
“The most rewarding part of the work, I think, is to break down barriers and myths and bringing people together to understand that we all are a community and we want our communities to be safe, and that we shouldn’t be fearful of the police,” Soares Thompson said.
Ryan recognizes that the criminal justice system holds significant power—the power to take away someone’s liberty. But this same system, she said, also acts as a resource for people who are victimized. She said that the criminal justice system must work to earn or re-earn the trust of the community.
“We are what holds people accountable when something has happened,” Ryan said. “And that has to be done in a way that is fair, that people have confidence in, and for us right now, it has to be done with a recognition that [the system] has been for too long baked in systemic racism.”
Soares Thompson encouraged BC students to become involved in racial justice work, stressing its importance in all facets of life.
“[Racial justice] should be part of everyone’s life,” she said. “It should be part of every discussion that you’re having as you mature through life and your careers.”
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor