I hope this email finds all of you healthy and well.
2020 has been quite a whirlwind for everyone without a shadow of a doubt. It was also the year I decided to run for Miami Dade State Attorney. The phrase “how oft go astray the plans of mice and men” rings so true. While I deeply wanted to serve my community in this way, life had other plans.
After the election ended on August 18, I was offered, and accepted, the position of Director of Policy and Programs at the Center for the Administration of Justice at Florida International University. I will be working on prosecutorial reform and other criminal justice issues nationally as well as globally. It’s really exciting!
In the meantime, it’s all about November. We are constantly being reminded how elections have far reaching consequences. With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we are seeing her reliably progressive voice being replaced by someone who is the exact polar opposite of her values. I wrote about Justice Ginsberg’s legacy in the Miami Times; see more here.
But in more positive news, I’m thrilled that someone who is a true trailblazer and role model for women of color – Kamala Harris – be on the ticket this November! It would be amazing to see her as the first female Vice President, and the first African American Vice President in our history! After going through a grueling campaign for eight months, I feel a special kinship with her. We faced similar criticisms, including having our “Black card” tested. Long time readers of the blog know how I feel about Senator Harris – but if you need a refresher, here are some of the pieces I’ve written about her work over the years.
As the year winds down, I will be looking for new ways to engage with everyone and give you the content you want to see! Please sound off in the comments – what would you like on RLD? More videos? Personal reflections? More legal analysis? Let me know!
Mondays With Melba continue weekly! Every Monday at 6pm, I discuss current events, politics and the law. Please go to either Facebook or IGTV to catch up on past episodes. Recent topics include how to vote safely, amendments on the Florida ballot, and legal analysis of the Breonna Taylor case. I’ll be adding more videos to the blog in the future too!
Since then, Kamala ran for President, but was unsuccessful in making it to the primary stage. In the early days of her campaign, I wrote an article in the Root that went viral about the case for maintaining an open mind about her record as a prosecutor. One thing is for sure — people either love her or hate her. I often wonder why Senator Amy Klobucher is not facing the same brutal treatment that Kamala received about her past. Not that I advocate for tearing folks down, but if it is really about records and nothing else, there should be equal levels of scrutiny.
But that’s a post for another day.
While unfortunate, it was a joy to see Senator Harris dancing with her staff as her presidential campaign ended. It was a vision of grace and resilience in the face of intense disappointment; and generosity in attempting to lift the spirits of folks who worked so hard for the dream.
Thank you Senator Kamala Harris for continuing to be a Legal Diva of Color by blazing trials, and challenging us to do better daily!
Although the campaign trail has been absolutely insane, I could not let the month of February go without my “Legal Divas of Color” feature! Every Black History Month, I feature trailblazing female attorneys of color who laid the foundation for us to succeed. Today, I’m featuring Pamela Carter, who was the first African American woman elected to be a state attorney general in the nation!
Pamela Carter was born in 1949 in South Haven, Michigan. She received her undergraduate degree at University of Detroit; her Masters in Social Work at University of Michigan; and her law degree (Juris Doctor) at Indiana University School of Law. Before seeking statewide office, she worked for Indiana’s Secretary of State as an enforcement attorney.
She decided to take on an incumbent (Linley Pearson, no relation) for the seat of Indiana Attorney General. It was a brutal race and an uphill battle – she was a Democrat in a heavily Republican State. Only one African American had been elected to statewide office in Indiana before her. Nevertheless, she persisted! She won 52% – 48% in November of 1992.
Her election was historic. She became the first elected African American state Attorney General in the country; the first African American and the first female Attorney General in Indiana’s history; and the second African American to hold statewide office. She was also the first Democrat to serve in that post in 24 years.
Ms. Carter served from 1993-1997. She centered diversity in her administration by appointing women and minorities to senior positions where there were none previously. In reflecting on her term, she said “we had a fabulous office. We won more U.S. Supreme Court cases and more Best Brief Awards than any other attorney general’s office in the nation”.
For me, the last ten years have been a period of major growth. In the last decade:
I met and married my soulmate…
I found my voice, stride, confidence and purpose. It took a few setbacks and closed doors to realize what direction I should go; but all of the disappointments came together to lead me to this place.
I became President of the National Black Prosecutors Association which exposed me to real criminal justice reform work – from sitting in the houses in our community to sitting in the (Obama) White House. I saw the injustices that got perpetuated not necessarily from ill intent, but from not knowing any better (myself included).
I made the big leap of leaving a comfortable sixteen year position as a prosecutor to becoming Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. My viewpoints on life were vastly broadened — from learning about the struggles of the transgender community to deepening my work on criminal justice reform and its intersection with voting rights.
I traveled to the Motherland. This year I had life changing trip to South Africa, where I walked in the path of the late great freedom fighter/leader Nelson Mandela. During that time, not only did I see the roots of what would become an international resistance movement, I was able to advocate for the safety of women on an international scale.
I survived heartbreak and heartache of losing my mom; but also learned to jealously guard my mental health. Life will throw things at you that you believe you can never overcome. There will be days you can’t get out of bed. But day by day, step by step, it gets better. Be patient, and seek help from a professional if you need it.
Losing her also taught me to be fearless. Life is short; “sit and wait your turn” means you may never get a shot. Seize the day, make your own path and opportunity. Because you may look up and realize that you have less time than you planned on, and what then? Sit in regret? Nope, not me!
As we begin the dawn of a new decade, let’s take one final trip down memory lane on the Resident Legal Diva. It’s been such a blessing to be able to write, and share my thoughts with a wider audience. I admit I did not post as much as in previous years — lots going on — but thank you for the love that was received for my writing this year!! Here’s what you read the most from me:
Every Black History Month, I feature female trailblazers of color in the field of law upon whose example I built upon. Jewel Lafontant – Mankarious made history as a trailblazer in the field of prosecution.
This is a piece that continues to resonate with so many professionals of color. It started with an argument on Twitter (yes, this is definitely something to be left in the last decade) where a fellow attorney tried to explain to me that I should not be offended. At the end of the day, folks need to accept the following: if someone tells you xyz is offensive, don’t double down and keep doing it. Just..stop.
Jay Z received backlash over a few things in 2019; this one I don’t believe was justified at all. As we look at economic equality and gentrification, people of color are always on the receiving end of the push out, and never on the benefits. When gentrification arrives, it’s people of color who have to move further away from their jobs or conveniences we take for granted. Companies expand into newly gentrified neighborhoods, but it does not provide the jobs and economic advancement for the people who originally lived there. So now what? More incentives should be provided so that people do not have to leave their neighborhoods. And, as people of color get more means, we need to buy up the block so that no one else does. We have to empower our own neighborhoods — as well as protect our history.
The Jussie Smollett case garnered a great deal of attention on the role of a prosecutor — and how discretion should be used. I analyzed the case in the context of having done this work. Was everything handled perfectly? No, nothing ever is. But the backlash was excessive, and rooted in racism.
Cheryl Mills is known for her defense of President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearing. She is the first African American to address the United States Senate in her capacity as Associate Counsel for the President.
Clearly my readers love the posts on history, and I will endeavor to share more in the coming year!
More challenges lie ahead in the next few years, but I am excited to be able to continue serving the greater good and putting my criminal justice expertise to work.
Wishing you an amazing New Year and new decade. Thank you for reading, your comments and your support. May you find prosperity, happiness, and grow in your purpose!!
In the final days of the year (as well as the decade!) I’ve been working on the issue of bail reform. It’s sad to think many people will be spending the holidays behind bars due to poverty — not because they have been found guilty of a crime. There are some solid models around the country on how to reduce this. Please see my latest in the Florida Phoenix on how we can make our bail system more equitable.
Bail reform has received a lot of buzz lately.
Numerous states have implemented or are studying ways to make pretrial release systems more fair and effective, while improving public safety. Taxpayers are saving tens of millions of dollars otherwise wasted by keeping people unnecessarily locked up. So far, Florida is behind the curve.
Monetary bail – also known as bond – is designed to ensure that individuals who are arrested will appear in court for their scheduled court date.
In order to benefit from our current bail system, individuals who have been charged with crimes, but have not yet had their day in court and have not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, must pay approximately 10 percent of the total bond issued by the court to a bondsperson in order to return to their lives and families, pretrial.
The underlying premise is “come back or lose the money,” but the devil is in the details, as those relying on bondsmen lose their money regardless. The 10 percent is not returned, even if the person complies with the terms of release and/or is found not guilty.
This raises significant concerns over who actually benefits from this system. Should an individual who has not been convicted of any wrongdoing have to pay in order to secure their freedom pretrial?