Devin and Jason McCourty have made it a point to educate themselves on criminal justice reform, education reform, systemic racism and how they often intertwine. Through the Players Coalition and their own work, they have taken the time to learn and to listen, and on Feb. 11, the McCourtys did just that, as well as speak about their advocacy journey.
The McCourtys were guests on a panel hosted by the New England Innocence Project focusing on the subject of Netflix's docu-series, "Trial 4," Sean Ellis and systemic issues in the Massachusetts legal system. Ellis, his defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins also participated in the virtual discussion.
After spending two decades in prison for the murder of Boston Police Detective John Mulligan, Ellis, who has maintained his innocence, walked free in 2018. Prosecutors dropped the charges because of corruption in Boston Police Department, and "Trial 4" follows Ellis's preparations for his fourth trial, which would have began in September 2019 had the charges not been dropped. Since his release, Ellis has dedicated himself to help others who have been impacted by an unfair justice system.
For Devin and Jason's part, they want to continue to use their influence for positive change.
"I'm here because I want to be a part of the change," Devin said. "I'm very fortunate to play my 11 years with the Patriots and really have become part of the community, a part of the Massachusetts community. It's a second home for me, and I'm all about speaking out for the voiceless."
While there are multiple angles the current criminal justice system needs to changed, according to the panelists, from rehabilitation to accountability, Rollins said representation is crucial. Black and brown people are arrested and charged at vastly higher rates than white people in the United States, yet underrepresented on the other side of the very same system.
"We have over 80 Superior court judges in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Three of them are Black," Rollins said. "Rosemary, all of the defendants that you have with your extraordinary practice with violent criminal offenses that are charged, your defendants, are they 97 percent white? No, likely not. We aren't represented. We are overrepresented in a system when it comes to harm and significantly underrepresented in people who make decisions about what it is that's going to happen in that system."
From Ellis's experience, it has failed over and over again to be truly just and fair.
"The system that convicted me and the system that continues to convict black and brown people, not just here in Suffolk county, not just here in Massachusetts, but throughout the whole country doesn't work," he said. "I can say that from my own experience having been the victim and survivor and the systemic failures that exist. Some of it is codified in policy and some of it is in law."
This is precisely why the McCourtys wanted to get involved in the first place. They may not have law degrees, but they have an interest and a following. This disparity between people calling the shots being largely white also exists in their world, so on that front, they understand.
"We play a sport that is dominated by Black and brown people. Seventy to 80 percent of people that play in a game are Black and brown," Devin said. Head coaches, it's less than five head coaches, less than five general managers, no owners. When we talk about this system, it works the way America works. We can pick any top organization, anything you choose, schooling, that's the way it works."
Jason echoed this, explaining that as he learned, he become motivated to act. Conversations like this will, he hopes, ignite the fire in even more people.
"It's been crazy to not only learn about the criminal justice system, but to see how it starts so young. To go to some of the Black and brown communities and see what the education is like for them, how limited it is and how there's a lack of resources; to see the school to prison pipeline and to learn how it's all being built and how it's built to be run exactly the way it's running," Jason said. "It encourages us and inspires us to do our part to be able to lift it up and give a platform to the Sean Ellises of the world, to be able to tell his story so that people all across the world can turn on Netflix and learn about it."
While not everyone has the platform of Devin and Jason, Scapicchio said people can create change by voting, participating in jury duty and speaking out about injustices.
Devin and Jason know firsthand that using your voice works, helping advocate for laws in Massachusetts around education and criminal justice reform. Seeing these changes fall into place only encourages them to do more.
"I think this has been very fulfilling to jump in and help people out that people throughout society says, 'Throw them away,'" Devin said. "This has been very encouraging just to see some of the changes that have gone on around us lets us know that it is impactful."
"Trial 4" is available on Netflix.