I was recently interviewed by Fusion on my path to becoming a senior African American prosecutor. In examining the criminal justice system as a whole, it is extremely important that all of the actors (judges, police, defense attorneys and prosecutors) reflect the community they serve. The article revealed some disturbing statistics; in addition to the previously reported statistic by the Women’s Donor Network that 95% of elected prosecutors are white men, Fusion found:
In counties in the U.S. where people of color represent between 50% and 60% of the population, only 19% of prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
In counties where people of color represent between 80% and 90% percent of the population, only 53% of the prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
Only in places where 90% of the population are people of color does the prosecutor pool reflect the diversity of the community.
Overall, in the 276 counties in the U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42%, or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of color.
This is why I am tireless in my efforts to bring more people of color into the career of prosecution.
Melba Pearson, a past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), is a woman of color and an assistant state attorney in Miami. She didn’t fully realize how powerful the role of prosecutor was until she became one — somewhat by chance.
Growing up, Pearson was pressed by her father to study the civil rights movement. He noted that heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to accomplish their work partly because “they had amazing defense attorneys to get them out of jail,” she said. “That’s something really ingrained in me since I was young.”
My latest vlog post on the recent police shootings, and the continuing controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem. References to the incidents I discuss in this vlog are below; please leave your comments!
I’m starting a #TBT (aka Throwback Thursday) series to share past posts that are relevant today. It was pretty crazy to realize I have shared 175 posts in the last 3 years on The Resident Legal Diva. The recurring themes of race, criminal justice, and living together as Americans are close to my heart.
So in light of my piece on Colin Kaepernick, and the debates we are having as a result of his actions as well as the elections, please take a look at my multi part series from 2014 “Knowledge Trumps Racism“. More importantly, I’ll start you at the end of the series, written on MLK day of 2015, which talks about standing up for what you believe in.
Being first generally means the most important, the most significant; it sets the tone for what is to follow. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment is integral to our Constitution and our fabric of our nation. Wars were fought to protect the Constitution as it stands. But there’s a funny thing about the First Amendment; folks forget that freedom of speech really means just that ― the freedom to express yourself however you see fit. As long as it is not coupled with an illegal act, or the possibility harming another person (the proverbial yelling fire in a crowded theater), then the speech is permissible.
So this makes the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner is very interesting to me.
A historic Harlem and American landmark is in danger due to gentrification. African American poet Langston Hughes’ home is in danger of being sold to developers. Several media outlets released the story this week, including Essence, News One and CNN. The effort to save this historic building is being led by local artists Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective. The current owner of the space, while wishing to sell, does not want to see the home fall prey to the gentrification trend that has been occurring in Harlem — turning beautiful old spaces into coffee shops and high priced condos. The artists wish to turn the home into an art and performance space, letting Hughes inspire yet another generation of creatives.They are working on raising $150,000 to rent the space via an internet campaign on Indiegogo.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a pioneering poet, playwright and writer, who was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of the average African American at the time, using his pen to record pain and injustice. Hughes’ work was written for the average person, not just for the elite. He promoted young writers and poets, giving many generations a voice as well as an outlet for their creativity. You may learn more about him through a great piece by the Bio Channel.
One poem of his that I find timeless and inspiring is “I Look at the World”
Even though his Harlem residence was given landmark status, the residence is still up for sale.
What is distressing to me is what is happening to Harlem in general.
Harlem to me as a New Yorker was the Apollo Theatre, a great place to get my hair done, to get African fabrics and hair supplies off of 125th. It’s the mecca for African American history in the North, which is where I hail from.
I knew it was bad when I went during Thanksgiving of 2012. My husband and I were meeting friends at an African restaurant in Harlem – and I noticed on my phone that the area was being referred to as “Manhattan Valley”
I said what the H? That area is straight up Harlem, why are folks renaming it?
There is only one reason – re-branding, and making the area more attractive to buyers. In the process, erase the rich history of the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Frederick Douglass Blvd, and make it something completely new.
A recent New York Times article detailed what I was seeing in my last trip to Harlem in 2012 — historic sites were being demolished, and long time residents were being pushed out for the sake of “progress”.
It’s insulting and upsetting.
Progress need not come with the destruction of history.
The same way we save Abraham Lincoln’s home and other treasures of American History, we must save Harlem and what made it critical to our cultural growth as a nation.
We need to save our history, because Black History is intertwined with American history.
I donated to the Indiegogo campaign — if you want to preserve American history, please do so by donating here!
May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? I repeat will the real Slim Shady please stand up? We’re going to have a problem here
Lyrics from “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem
Will the real swimshady please stand up?
Although the lights have dimmed and the closing ceremonies have finished, the amazing accomplishments by the athletes in the last week have been overshadowed by a drama of Olympic sized proportions.
Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers, spun a tale of robbery in Rio which turned out to be completely false. However, the reactions of some on social media call into question where we are as a country.
Let’s put this in context. During the week, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas didn’t raise her hand to her heart during the National Anthem after she received her team gold medal in gymnastics.
No one was harmed. No property was harmed. No lies were told. She apologized for her actions.
Yet her actions were scrutinized to the point of sickness. The “we gave you a chance” narrative became front and center on social media, and she was accused of being “ungrateful”.
Hello, she earned it!! No one “gives” you a place in sports. You have to shed blood, sweat and tears to get a spot. Gabby gave up everything she knew — her town, her family and her time — to qualify for the US Olympic team.
By comparison, Ryan Lochte made the similar sacrifices and won gold. Yet he lied and entered into conduct unbecoming of an athlete. In a drunken episode with his friends, he urinated on the side of a gas station, and trashed a door. He then told the media and Brazilian law enforcement that he was robbed at gunpoint, even going so far as to say the gunman put the firearm to his temple.
If you look at the surveillance video from the night in question, it is clear that he and his companions are intoxicated. They did not even return to the correct taxicab after vandalizing the gas station property. A man comes up to the cab, and it appears that he orders them to get out. They exit, with wallets out, as if to compensate for the damages.
He has since issued an apology, in which he still paints himself as a victim because he was held at gunpoint after committing a crime.
Whelp, that’s kind of what happens when you get arrested or detained.
Lochte urinated on Brazil literally and figuratively. He destroyed property and lied about it, assuming that everyone would believe his tale of being a victim of violence in a beleaguered 3rd world country. Purportedly this story broke because he told his mother a lie, his mother called the media out of fear/concern, and he continued the lie when asked by authorities in Brazil.
As a grown man, he should have known how his mother would have reacted. There are stories that my mother went to her grave not knowing about my escapades, simply because I knew that she would panic or react in a certain way. If Lochte had exercised this discernment, he would not have had this problem.
Even if he decided to lie to his mother, when asked by Brazilian authorities, he could have told them that this was a family misunderstanding, no robbery occurred, and end it there. He did not. To be clear, he was sober at this juncture. This is another moment of poor judgement.
All of these moments of poor judgement add up to a criminal offense (as often happens).
His lapse of judgement is treated by some as a harmless “boys will be boys” prank. Most boys don’t commit crime. And FYI at 32, Lochte is not a boy. His criminal actions threaten to overshadow all of the amazing work that Team USA has done at the Olympics in Rio. Granted, there is an argument to be made that it is not the worst Olympic scandal in history (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan come to mind), but it is pretty close.
In the United States, falsifying a police report is a misdemeanor in most states, subject to a fine or a short jail sentence of less than a year. It is a crime in Brazil as well, likely subject to similar penalties.
What disturbs me is the vitriol Gabby Douglas endured as a result of her actions, while there is a willingness to look past Lochte’s criminal behavior. There have been some interesting articles on this that I would like to share, by Emma Gray at the Huffington Post, and one by Charise Frazier at NewsOne.
I was approached as then President of the National Black Prosecutors Association to write an article for this collaborative project between the Marshall Project and Vice. It’s important to note, in a world where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, that diversity is a critical issue, especially in the upper echelons of the profession. As we explore criminal justice reform, issues in policing and lifting up communities of color, it is even morecritical that prosecutors reflect the communities they serve.
“The only way to help your people is to be a defense attorney.”
My father was the first to tell me that, but definitely not the last.
He went on to explain that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the civil-rights leaders of the 1960s had great lawyers to call whenever they got jailed for protesting. Without these lawyers, my dad explained, African Americans would never have advanced toward equality.
When I was in college and law school, I was also told that as a black woman, the only way to look out for “my people” and defend the Constitution was to become a defense attorney — and more specifically a public defender.
I followed that path, interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City while I was an undergrad. A couple of the attorneys I met there formed their own shop, and I later interned for them during law school. But during my final year, I got an offer to become a prosecutor in Florida.
Recently, you made comments in an attempt to “fact check” First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. In your comments, you concurred with Mrs. Obama’s statement that the White House was indeed built by slaves, but then you proceeded to state that the slaves were “well fed, and had decent lodging”.
As you purport yourself to be a student of history, it is unfortunate that you did not take the opportunity to educate your viewers on the realities of slavery. You seem, based on your comments, to be implying that slavery really wasn’t that bad, especially if the slave was lucky enough to work at the White House. First off, I am not quite sure where got your facts, because there is no documentation to say that the slaves who performed this task were in fact well fed and housed. There was no “menu” circa 1800 documenting what and how much slaves ate. Additionally, Abigail Adams, who resided in the White House during the latter stages of construction, debunks this assertion in one of her letters, stating “but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast” (emphasis added).
The question was posed as a result of all of the negativity we are seeing of late in the news. How do we as warriors for change refuel?
It caused me to pause, reflecting as to how and where I regain my strength.
It is in these instances: one, when I am listening to music. That could be in my car, in a spinning class, or on the dance floor (happening less and less these days).
Two, when I am on top of a mountain about to snowboard down.
And three, when I’m with my husband.
Music has always been my freedom. For as long as I can remember, music has the ability to transport me away from any problems or concerns I am dealing with. In my younger days (early 20’s) I would find escape with my friends in the nightclubs of New York and Miami. As I got older — with the days getting longer, and the job became more hectic, I found solace less on the dance floor, and more on a spinning bike. I discovered spinning classes around the early 2000’s; that same music and emotion present in a nightclub would take me away from my problems for 45 minutes on a stationary bike. For that time frame, I am focused on the task at hand; beat the bike! Of late, I have been going to SoulCycle down the block from my home. That has been such a blessing and helped me through some tough trials. Other times, taking a drive in my car with the music blasting helps me clear my head. Whether it be dance music, R&B, old hip hop, or even country (thanks to my husband’s influence), I can shift my energy to a better place in a couple songs.
Another great activity that brings me peace is snowboarding. Mind you, I am not the best at it; a good run is when I didn’t fall at all, but there is nothing like standing on the top of the mountain. You are literally on top of the world. The only thing you hear is the whistling of the wind and the sound of your own heartbeat. Then, you jump. As I coast down the slope surrounded by God’s natural beauty, I am utterly at peace.
Until I fall.
The well from which I get my strength is my beloved husband. I have talked about him in prior posts, but I always feel it bears repeating. I married him a little late in life, so it enabled me to really pick the right partner. There is nothing better after a long day or a long week to cuddle up next to him and talk, or even sit in silence. During that time I release all the stress from the day and just enjoy being in the company of the one I love. I have grown to cherish these moments more and more as life, as well as my chosen profession, throws me more challenges.
It is always critical to find what brings you peace or else your tank will run empty. Bad things happen when you get to that point.
So what brings you peace? Sound off in the comments!