Jennifer Riley Collins: ACLU Director and Veteran Could Soon Be Mississippi's First Black and First Woman Attorney General

As the former Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Mississippi branch and a veteran who served more than 20 years as a U.S. Army Colonel and intelligence officer, Jennifer Riley Collins has dedicated her life to "protecting, defending and serving" the Magnolia State.

Now, however, as Riley Collins sets her sights on becoming Mississippi's first black and first woman attorney general, she's wondering why one key Mississippian is refusing to throw their support behind her and other Democrats running across the state.

With Mississippi's November 5 election just weeks away, current Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running as the Democratic nominee to become Mississippi's governor, has so far refused to endorse Riley Collins and other Democrats because he is too "focused" on his "own race for governor."

While Riley Collins told Newsweek that she has not "requested" Hood's endorsement, she has questioned why he would not seek to elevate his fellow Democratic nominees, as well as "why does it appear he is supporting my Republican opponent?"

'There's both sexism and racism...it's the intersection of that'

Despite decades of serving her state and country, Riley Collins, who is running against Republican candidate Lynn Fitch, said she is quickly discovering how difficult running in an election can be when you are not a "career politician."

"Because I have been a public servant and not a career politician, I don't have the name recognition like I would hope that I would," she said. "But, when people learn about my background and learn that I have been a longstanding public advocate, people are encouraged, they're inspired and they're engaged, so that is what I think will drive the vote out."

However, Riley Collins said, as a candidate running to be the very first black and first woman AG in her state, the former ACLU Mississippi chief, who resigned in the summer to run for attorney general, feels there are elements of racism and sexism at play, given how little media attention her campaign has received.

"I think that if you just look at it, it's one of those things where there's both sexism and racism... except [it's] the intersection of that," she said. "Would a white man...would he be getting more media coverage? I would say yes."

'The American Dream...I am reflective of that'

Despite some people calling her campaign a "longshot," however, Riley Collins said she is still "confident" in her bid.

"I believe that citizens of the state of Mississippi are ready to move forward for leadership to look like our state," she said.

"I'm quite confident. One thing we have learned in the last several elections is that black women's political power is growing and it's emerging at a crucial time in our country's history," she said. "We are standing up and taking our seat at the table because we know the issues that impact our lives and our neighbors' lives."

"I come from a family of seven and we were a poor family; we grew up next to the railroad tracks. My mother was a maid and my father was a truck driver, so one thing I bring to this race is not coming from a place of privilege," Riley Collins said. "When we think about the American Dream, I am reflective of that. I am an African-American child who grew up next to the railroad tracks and who grew up to become a colonel and to become a civil rights attorney."

As a civil rights attorney, the former ACLU Mississippi head said that protecting residents' rights would be among her top priorities upon becoming the state's attorney general.

Referencing the recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that saw hundreds of workers arrested at chicken processing plants across her state, Riley Collins said she did not believe "local resources" should be used to "further a political agenda that does harm to the community."

"Some of those people had been in the country for ten years and they were at work," she said. "Someone working and providing for their family and keeping their kids in school isn't creating safety concerns for Mississippi."

"I would never allow politics to prevent me from standing with people and I think that message resonates," Riley Collins said. "Because at the end of the day our government is supposed to be for the people and the law is supposed to be used to help and to heal and not to harm."

Correction (02/10/2019): This article has been updated to reflect that Jennifer Riley Collins' surname is not hyphenated as indicated by ACLU Mississippi, and that she has resigned from her role at the ACLU to run for attorney general.

Jennifer Riley Collins
ACLU Mississippi Director Jennifer Riley Collins is running for Attorney General of Mississippi. Jennifer Riley Collins
Jennifer Riley Collins: ACLU Director and Veteran Could Soon Be Mississippi's First Black and First Woman Attorney General | U.S.