The video of State Attorney Aramis Ayala being stopped by police has gone viral.
This shouldn’t be surprising: Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida, and she is experiencing heightened scrutiny for her stance on the death penalty. Ayala is currently in a legal battle with Florida’s governor who, after she made her stance public, reassigned close to two dozen of her death-penalty-eligible homicide cases to another state attorney.
As we reflect on the meaning of Independence Day, I can’t help but shake the feeling that true independence is not reflected in the landscape of America. As we think about the struggle to remove Confederate monuments throughout the South, and the backlash that has been received, we are reminded of the importance of history (whether it is truthful or revised). The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, gave an impassioned speech as to why the Confederate monuments needed to come down.
The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, whichis that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
And let’s not even touch the fact that the Confederacy was a bunch of traitors; they separated from the United States over slavery and the economic windfall they received from subjugating human beings. Every time a Confederate flag flies, it is not a sign of rebellion; it’s the sign of a traitor.
Sure the South came back. But the Confederacy is like a spouse who cheated. The couple may work out their differences, but it doesn’t erase the betrayal.
What made me start to think about this topic was a thread on Twitter by an activist of color named Samuel Sinyangwe. He had gone to Barbados for the first time and saw a monument named Bussa (aka the Emancipation Statue). It’s a beautiful, impressive and important statue celebrating a slave who led the largest rebellion against slavery in Barbados back in 1816. It is prominently featured in the center of the city. He is considered a national hero. Samuel mentioned he had never seen anything like that before, and certainly not in the United States. As a result of this comment, folks from around the Caribbean (including Cuba) shared their country’s monuments to the brave slaves who fought for independence. See the photos here.
So if Confederate history is so important that the fight to keep their monuments stretches all the way to the halls of Congress, why aren’t there monuments to the great slaves who fought for their independence, their freedom, and their humanity? What about a beautiful bust of Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner or Sojourner Truth? Or how about this — for every Confederate statue, build a monument to a hero of the Civil War (both soldier and slave)?
We do have a statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. While that is all well and good, that pales in comparison to the many who gave their lives very early in the struggle, paving the way for Dr. King to also give his life for independence and equality.
What does this fight tell our children? What does this debate tell people of color?
I leave you with this thought on Independence Day. Independence Day to me represents opportunity. It represents the chance to keep fighting, to keep pushing for equality. But I also use it as a day of reflection — looking at how far we’ve come, but how far we yet have to go.
The reason given was that my license plate cover was too dark. I never thought it was, nor had I been warned for this previously.
In the past, I had my prosecutor’s badge to protect me — not anymore.
I’m the number two in the state for the most powerful civil liberties organization – the ACLU.
And I felt fear.
I placed my hands over the steering wheel, in full view of the officer. When he asked for my registration, I made sure to move slowly, with my hands continuously in full view.
He commented on my sports car, and my President Obama pin hanging from my rear view mirror. He also commented on my novelty license plate. My plate can be construed in several ways — commonly it is thought to support Black Lives Matter. In truth, the plate is a combination of mine and my husband’s initials. I don’t correct people, because I support intelligent policing. I always liked the double entendre.
June 12 has become a very significant day. Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia. It is also the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where 49 innocent lives were lost.
Both are very closely intertwined. On June 12, 1967, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia allowed couples of different races to marry — striking down the slavery era prohibitions to such unions. This case was used as the foundation of the case that allowed gays to marry. That freedom to love and to be happy was attacked by a lone gunman on June 12, 2016.
As I reflect on the significance of this day, I mourn the lives that were lost simply because of who they are or who they love. Interracial couples still face hurdles as well as racism (even though 1 in 10 couples in America are interracial).
I think about the rise in hate crimes under this current administration, and pray that the strong minded among us will join me in the fight against hate in all forms.
Evil flourishes when good people stand by and do nothing.
Please see my pieces — on being part of an interracial couple in “Love Wins” here; my tribute to the Lovings here; and my reaction one year ago to the Pulse shooting in “It Could Have Been Me” here.
Is Bill Cosby going to prison?
As actor Bill Cosby trial for sexual assault continues, everyone is asking the million dollar question is this it? Is the legendary actor that we all grew up with (Mr. Huxtable, Fat Albert, Jell-o pudding pops man) going to serve prison time for the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand?
Several factors come into play.
First, he’s got to be found guilty. The prosecution has an uphill battle convincing the 12 person jury. There was a delayed report of the assault (one year later), no physical evidence, and no eyewitnesses. The alleged victim stayed in contact with Cosby afterwards. Jurors, in the age of DNA, need more than an accuser’s word more often than not. He also has a squeaky clean image, and was someone who seemed endearing on television. It may be hard to separate the character from the person.
But, the prosecution is not walking in empty handed. There was much pretrial press, including television specials and magazine articles, of the long line of women (over 50 in total) who claim to have been victimized by Cosby. This includes supermodels, struggling actresses, and an airline stewardess among others. As much as the judge and attorneys for both sides asked probing questions during the jury selection process, this publicity will be in the jurors minds no matter what they may have said. Also, another victim will be sharing her experience with the jury — hearing from multiple victims is more powerful. Lastly, the prosecution will present expert testimony with the goal of enlightening the jury as to the different, unexpected ways victims of sexual assault may act or react.
So, it is a toss up which way the case will go. If he is found not guilty, he walks out the door. If he is found guilty, he would not be sent to jail immediately. Sentencing would be set for several weeks after the verdict is read. At the sentencing hearing, the defense attorney would bring a host of character witnesses. We saw Keisha Pullman Knight come to court with him in support; she and other Cosby show co-stars have been vocal in their support. They will probably be called to testify, along with others who will discuss the positive things he has done for the community, for the field of acting, etc. The defense will be quick to remind the court that Cosby does not have a criminal history.
Along with his lack of criminal history, the judge can consider Cosby’s age (79) and health. If he is truly going blind due to glaucoma, along with other physical ailments, the judge may determine that incarceration may not be the best punishment. The judge may feel that because of his age/physical condition, he is unlikely to reoffend, therefore not posing a risk to the public.
Cosby faces a max of ten years in prison if convicted. But as we have seen in recent cases at Stanford University and in Colorado, judges may conclude that prison is not appropriate for a variety of reasons. Granted, historically, men of color have not had the best luck when it comes to sentencing, as seen by the disproportionate numbers in prison. But wealth is often the great equalizer, as seen in the OJ Simpson case.
Last week, when I was coming back from the ACLU staff conference in Phoenix, I had another disturbing encounter with TSA regarding my hair. For those of you that have seen my social media posts or know me, you know that I am on the road constantly. I’m steady racking up those frequent flyer miles. So it was a little surprising to me when I was randomly selected for a search. I went through the machine, joking with the TSA agent as to why I never get randomly selected to get $20 million. He responded “I’d even take $10,000”. We chuckled and I continued through the machine. A different agent told me I needed to wait for a female scanner to pat me down. I waited patiently.
Back in 2011, TSA was under fire for racially profiling women of color. I have gone through security many times; anytime I was pulled out of the line it was to do an inspection of my hair.
My hair is not a threat. I’m waiting to hear one story of a woman of color who smuggled a weapon in her hair.
All that comes to mind is the clip from the original blaxploitation movie from 1974 Foxy Brown, where the amazing Pam Grier in the lead role concealed a gun in her Afro to avenge her man’s killer.
But that is never happened in real life or at airport as far as I have been able to tell.
I know that we have made so many high tech advances; how come agents can’t scan and see that there’s no metal or weapon in my hair? I just find it more than a little annoying that my hair is perceived as a threat. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about safety and security. But there also needs to be a reasonable basis for a search, not just having different hair to perceived norms. If there has been no precedent for it, then what’s the issue?
At this juncture, I am not going to file a complaint. I’m more annoyed than aggrieved. But I will start documenting this issue to see if there is a pattern (area of the country, time of day, etc). So my fellow ladies with locs, we’re going to be have to be vigilant on this issue. Because profiling is never ok.
Please check out information from the ACLU about your rights at the airport.
Has anyone else experienced or witnessed this? Please share!
This past Easter Sunday, I was back on the WPLG Channel 10 “This Week in South Florida” Roundtable, taking on some tough topics. Check out what I had to say on the United Airlines fiasco, the charging of a police officer in North Miami for shooting unarmed caretaker of an autistic patient Charles Kinsey, and the importance of extending the temporary immigration protections for Haitians.
Please my latest in Huffington Post on the continuing saga of Dr. Dao, who was violently dragged off of a United Airlines flight.
This week, many people were left in shock after viewing the troubling video of 69 year old Dr. David Dao being dragged from his seat on overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. Amid the public relations nightmare for the airline, another story has been emerging — that the doctor is a convicted felon. Dr. Dao was involved in issuing fraudulent prescriptions, possibly as part of a destructive romantic relationship. He was convicted in 2005, having lost his license to practice medicine when he was first indicted in 2003. After a long battle, probation, and paying his debt to society, he received his medical license again in 2015.
Knowing the background actually does explain why he was so reluctant to get off the plane. It was reported that Dr. Dao stated he had patients who he needed to attend to in the morning, which is why he refused to relinquish his seat. Dr. Dao was probably was thinking “I am certainly not missing my appointments so soon after getting my license back”.
As I watched the #BlackWomenAtWork trend on Twitter, I was given life and inspiration. African-American women from all over the country, and arguably women of color all over the world, shared examples of times that they were belittled, insulted, or otherwise demeaned for being who they are. This hashtag was in response to Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Fox news host Bill O’Reilly as well as Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s degrading treatment of correspondent April Ryan at a White House press briefing. Both are women of color, well accomplished in their fields.
I shared my experiences on Twitter– which were previously shared on this blog (see here) — under this hashtag,
A conservative female attorney I am acquainted with responded to my thread, saying “well, maybe it was just a compliment; you really are articulate“. Her statement is symptomatic of the deeper problem of when something is brought to the attention of some in the mainstream, often folks feel the need to dismiss it, refusing to look at the deeper issue. In my response, I encouraged her to read through the hashtag, and understand the context in which this was being shared. I noted that one of her followers indicated “Some people have a chip on their shoulder and can’t accept a compliment“.
Here’s the deal. As the saying goes, don’t urinate on me and tell me it’s raining. Human beings are intelligent enough to know when they are being complimented, and when they’re being insulted. You will never see one white attorney compliment another white attorney and say “wow, you are so articulate”. That comment is rooted in a stereotype and surprise. The stereotype is that African-Americans are uneducated, live in the hood, and cannot form complete sentences. Mainstream media and BET have not helped that cause. And certainly the demise of the Cosby show didn’t help in that either. But be that as it may, that is the stereotype. The surprise comes in “oh wow you’ve beat the odds to actually be able to speak in full sentences“. That is not a compliment. A compliment would be “wow I really liked your presentation” or even “you really articulated that point very well“. But to tell a professional woman or man of color that they are articulate is at best a backhanded compliment. Wow, people that look like you never sound that way. It assumes of course as all stereotypes do, that you were poor, in the hood, and was never going to have a chance to succeed. That is simply not the case. If a similarly situated White person rose from poverty and made it, nobody turns to them and says ohyou’re so articulate. They actually assume that the individual came from a privileged background.
The entire context of the hashtag represents the assumptions and stereotypes that are made of women of color in the workforce. Here are a couple I found telling:
These assumptions and stereotypes can be based in racism, but others can be based in implicit bias. It is the unconscious bias that one may have towards a group of people. We all have a biases; it is how we act is a different story. The key is to be aware and if someone says “this is offensive to me” don’t tell them that they have no right to be offended. You learn from the experience, and move forward as a better person. I expect someone to correct me if I did something offensive, endeavoring never to repeat that mistake again. But it is the tone deafness, or simply the lack of care for your fellow person, that makes these hashtags necessary.
At times, I wonder if it serves more of a supportive dialogue within races rather than a dialogue between races. Only time will tell.