Super thrilled that my latest piece appears on the blog Very Smart Brothas. They are doing a series “America in Black”. My piece explores the stereotypes and misconceptions held by all races of what it means to be a black woman.
“Every black person’s struggle takes a different path but has the same theme. In my legal career, the struggle is respect, being heard, and having the ability to make meaningful change to uplift communities of color. The bias looks the same—while some people of color may be hesitant to embrace you because you’re perceived as “bougie,” certain white folks marvel that you can afford a luxury purse or a high-end foreign car without being tied to illegal activity. I was once at an event when a judge joked to me whether or not my Michael Kors purse was a result of dropping cases as a prosecutor.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, the conversation should not only be about Hallmark cards and what gift to buy the mothers in your life. While it is extremely important to show honor to our mothers daily (not just on Mother’s Day), we as a society should be focused on supporting mothers too. We are in a country with an extremely high rate of mortality for Black mothers — 3 to 4 times that of white mothers. Serena Williams has been public about her near death experience after giving birth; the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, chose to have a doula present when delivering her baby. If high profile Black women are having concerns in the delivery room — let’s think about how much more dire this can be if a mother is giving birth behind bars.
The conversation has been elevated to include mothers who are in custody. Movements like #FreeBlackMamas and The Dignity Act illustrate the problems that face mothers behind bars. The Dignity Act was included as part of federal criminal justice reform bill, which just recently passed. It requires that women are not shackled while they give birth, receive menstrual care items, and searched by same-sex guards when at all possible. Sadly, states have been slower to pass these types of reforms.
A version of the Dignity Act passed in the Florida Legislature this month. However, this bill would not have helped Tammy Jackson — who was left to give birth alone in her jail cell for six hours in Broward County. Despite her repeated pleas to the guards, she was not provided medical attention. This is part of the greater problem where certain mothers are not valued. The fact that someone is incarcerated or in custody does not diminish their humanity. People who are in custody are the responsibility of the Department of Corrections; as such, it is the guard’s responsibility to ensure that those in their care receive the help that they need.
Additionally, medical professionals need to have regular implicit bias training. The assumption that Black women are stronger, therefore perceived to be less in need of medical attention, is a deadly fallacy that costs mothers their lives. This is something that is a relatively easy fix to the high mortality rates.
As for the guards who left Tammy Jackson to give birth alone in her cell without medical attention, it is my hope that her pain becomes a teaching moment in the road to criminal justice reform. No one should be judged by a mistake they may have made. 83% of people who go into custody come out – the trauma that was caused by this experience lasts, leaving repercussions on not only the person who was incarcerated, but begins a ripple effect from the immediate family to society as a whole.
As I do every Mother’s Day, I must wish my own mother a happy Mother’s Day in heaven. As I learn more about the medical traumas that mothers, especially Black mothers face, I marvel at her strength and appreciate her even more.
There has been so much misinformation around Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s actions in the Jussie Smollett fraud case. Time for me to share the real deal — from having been a prosecutor for close to two decades!
Much has been made over Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the case involving Empire star Jussie Smollett. Initially, Smollett was charged with 16 criminal counts for allegedly faking a hate crime, with himself as the victim. Foxx has been attacked for being too lenient, and for having contact with representatives of Smollett’s camp.
As a former prosecutor who handled homicides and violent crimes, it’s time to clear up some myths and misconceptions.
A prosecutor is expected to speak to a victim
While Foxx did have contact with Smollett’s camp when the case initially began, she ceased contact when it became clear that Smollett was being investigated as a defendant. It is impossible to investigate a case and determine its veracity without speaking to the victim. With a high profile victim, you often end up speaking to intermediaries. If it turns out the victim is not truly a victim, you end contact and prosecute if there is enough evidence. This is normal, and in criminal cases, there are twists and turns that one can’t predict.
I once had a homicide case that I thought was a slam dunk.
Every year for Black History Month, I produce a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”. The aim is to highlight female legal eagles of color, past and present, who blazed the trail for me (as well as many other sisters and brothers to follow).
Did you know that it was an African American female attorney that brought down mobster Lucky Luciano?
I surely did not!
A dear friend of mine Louise brought this to my attention on Facebook. She posted:
Just finished “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster” by Stephen L. Carter. The book is about Eunice Hunton Carter, the author’s grandmother. The granddaughter of slaves, she was a graduate of Smith College, and later became the first black woman to receive a law degree from Fordham University in New York City. In the mid-1930s when special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, she was the only member of his team who was not a white male. And it was her work that brought down Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history. This is a remarkable story about a truly remarkable woman.
So of course, I had to investigate!
Eunice Hunton Carter was born in 1899 in the city of Atlanta. Her parents, who were social activists, encouraged her to push boundaries. After graduating cum laude from Smith College with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1921, she pursed a career as a social worker. Later, Ms. Carter became the first African American woman to graduate from Fordham Law School in 1932.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her to “women’s court” to serve as a prosecutor of women perpetrated crimes — at the time, mostly prostitution. This made her the first African American female Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan.
While working in this court, Ms. Carter started to see a pattern — certain prostitutes kept getting arrested all over New York City, and were consistently bonded out by the same bail bondsmen, and represented by the same attorneys. The bondsmen and attorneys were connected to the mobster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. Lucky Luciano created the infamous “Commission” — which brought all five mob families together to settle disputes and carve up territory. He was ruthless, running rackets and “whacking” or murdering anyone who stood in his way.
Armed with her observations, Ms. Carter spoke to her boss, special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, and they began to build a case. They were able to prove that the prostitutes had to kick back half of their earnings for protection as well as representation. This meant Luciano was benefiting from prostitution. Due to her hard work, they secured a guilty verdict, and Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison. He served 10 years before being deported to Italy (after cooperating with authorities).
Ms. Carter continued to serve as a prosecutor until 1945, when she entered private practice. She married Lisle Carter, Sr., who is one of the first African American dentists in New York. She also advised the United Nations on women’s issues and was active with the United Council of Negro Women and YMCA until her death in 1970.
Get the book by her grandson Stephen L. Carter here.
Ironically, when I first became a prosecutor, my goal was to do mob and drug trafficking cases. Life took me on a different path, but I’m thrilled to see a sister who blazed the trail and was an unsung heroine in the fight against organized crime. With the knowledge that the mob (in general) did not have a high opinion of African Americans or women, learning about her work made it that much sweeter.
Thank you Eunice Hunton Carter for being a true Legal Diva of Color!
Please see my first piece on theRoot.com. I tackle the issue if whether or not Senator Kamala Harris’ time as a prosecutor should take her out of the race for president. I also share my perspective as a former prosecutor of color.
The piece caused quite a stir on Twitter and in the comments section of the Root.
To be clear, I am adopting a wait and see approach — with an open mind and proceeding with caution, as with anyone who wants to sit in the Oval Office. It seems like some politicians are allowed a “complicated” past while others are faced with a high level scrutiny. I think people are allowed (and should!) evolve and grow around issues of policy. Let’s see what the next year brings!
Since announcing her intention to run for president this past Martin Luther King Day, a firestorm has swirled around Sen. Kamala Harris. Some attack her for her personal life; others attack her based on her record as a prosecutor in California. Kamala served as San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and as California attorney general from 2011 to 2017. She joined the United States Senate in 2017, where she still serves today.
Some accuse her of not being “pro-black” because of her work as a prosecutor, stating that a prosecutor upholds a racist system.
Let’s get thing straight—you can be pro-black and a prosecutor.