Tag: African American

I’m in the Huffington Post!

Check out my latest piece in Huffington Post “I’m Melba with the Good Hair”!

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Hair: a woman’s crown and glory.

As a little girl, I could not wait until I got to the eighth grade. For my eighth-grade graduation, my mother finally straightened my hair. To me, that meant I was a big girl. I can now do all those fun styles, rather than wear my hair in a more conservative braided style.

For six years after that, I struggled with my straightened hair. I roller set it, I did an “S” Curl (cousin to the Jheri curl) and did a variety of styles, none of which made me happy. Finally, in my junior year of college, I found braids. The heavens opened up and angels sang — what liberation! Other than the 14 hours I spent in the salon getting the braids done, I felt so free! Finally, I could wash and go. No curling irons, no blowdryers, no horrible smell of chemicals burning my scalp in an effort to conform.

See the rest here.

Perceptions on Race and Crime…

What’s the difference between a joyride and stealing a car?

The elements are the same: the taking of a car with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of its use. Unfortunately, what is considered a “joyride” in a white community becomes “grand theft auto” in a community of color. 

The outcome can be different depending on the defendant. If you have a white defendant that comes in with a fancy lawyer, who is arguing that it was a childish prank and points at the future the young man has ahead of him while the young man is crying in open court — the case may either be dismissed or result in a diversion program. 

Meanwhile, the defendant of color may not have anyone vehemently arguing on his behalf. His family does not have the money for a lawyer or to pay the fee for a diversion program. The overworked public defender cannot delve as deeply into the case.  He’s sorry for the stupid act; but maintains a stiff upper lip in front of the judge, because in his culture, men don’t cry — it’s perceived as weak. His outcome ends up being more severe with a criminal conviction. This now means he will have difficulty getting a job, obtaining student loans, living in public housing, or even joining the military. His life is over before it gets started. 

This is even assuming that the white defendant is even arrested — he may be brought home by the police with a stiff warning, and the car returned to the rightful owner. 

Similar scenarios play out across the country due to stereotypes some people have that people of color have no future.

So how do we make the justice system more colorblind?

All first time offenders of non violent crimes should be given a diversion program. All addicts should be placed into a drug court that requires treatment. It should not be a matter of whether or not your lawyer advocates on your behalf for a program. The Task Force on 21st Century Policung, convened but the White House after the events in Ferguson, issued a report that in part urges police departments to return to community policing, where they get out of their cars and get to know the residents. This way, you can bring young Johnny home to his family — or if there are issues at the home, the officer is aware and find another solution for a young person acting out. 

It happens regularly in white communities; with a little creativity the same can be done in communities of color. 

My friend Courtney Swan wrote a riveting piece on our criminal justice system from a Canadian perspective. She makes some great points backed by statistics that show the disparity brought on by the history of racism in America. She comes to similar conclusions as seen in my recent discussion on the War on Drugs. We are moving forward, but we still have some work to do! 

The War on Drugs is Killing Black America 

By guest blogger Courtney Swan

Since President Richard Nixon coined the term in a press conference in June 1971, the ‘War on Drugs’ has been a forceful weapon for nationwide, institutionalized discrimination and racism in the United States.

Nixon declaring to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” was the start of the country’s longest ongoing war, along with the notoriously detrimental effects of its repercussions.
Just to get it out of the way right now, because I know many of you are wondering what my stance is on it… the War on Drugs is a race issue. 
But please understand that this isn’t just my stance. This isn’t my opinion reflective of my own personal biases.
This is a cold, hard fact, and this series is going to extensively break down and analyze the many truths surrounding this.
The War on Drugs is a crisis which over the last 45 years has brutally and unjustly targeted and devastated communities of color all across America.
One of the most frequent responses to the pleas for criminal justice reform to solve the epidemic of mass incarceration of people of color is, “Well, the real issue we need to resolve is black-on-black crime!”
But, here’s the thing… black on black crime is in itself a twisted, and quite frankly racist expression used to represent the completely bogus idea that more black people are in prison because more black people are criminals.
This idea needs to be shut down.
What the idea of ‘black on black crime’ does is enable American citizens to turn a blind eye to this form of institutionalized racism by encouraging us to justify it. It allows us to diminish the value of black life and black freedom with implications that it is undeserved. . . that mass incarceration has nothing to do with systemic racism and everything to do with the shortcomings of black people in America.
So let’s debunk the myths.

Myth #1: Black on Black Crime Is Worse Than White on White Crime

Read the rest here

#LoveWins: Interracial Relationship Realities

Engagement picsLast Friday, Old Navy used an interracial family in a Twitter ad, and the Internet racist trolls lost their minds. The vile series of tweets were shocking to many, and a reminder that racism is real, alive and well. Many in interracial relationships took to Twitter with the hashtag #LoveWins to show support for the retailer being current in their ads. Jack McCain, son of Senator John McCain shared his photos with his African American wife, with a sweet note that told the racists to “eat it”.

I was no exception. — I shared this:

Tweet Love Wins

In our journey together, we have encountered the societal resistance from all races.

We get the white women who can’t possibly see what he sees in me, and will try to approach him. “He couldn’t meet a good blond woman like me, if I talk to him he will leave her” their eyes say.

African American men will give me blatant “side eye” on the street for “leaving my own race”. I’m a bit understanding of this, knowing how in the days of slavery, the slave masters would violate the sanctity of marriage and African American women’s bodies by raping them, leaving African American men powerless to stop it. This continued into the Jim Crowe era, when white men raped with no repercussions. That generational pain runs deep. However, times have changed. Ask Daniel Holtzclaw, the former police officer from Oklahoma serving 263 years for the sexual assaults of multiple African American women.

At an event, a judge told me a story of how on a particular Caribbean island, the women would marry white men so that their babies would be lighter and have better economic opportunities. He looked at me very pointedly as he told the story. I looked him evenly and said “how sad that the women felt they could not marry for love, and the economic conditions are so desperate”. This same judge refused on multiple occasions to acknowledge my husband.

My husband was dealing with customers one day at work. The companion of the customer felt the need to make a crack that “Obama is a thief“. My husband became unglued, knowing that the same would not be said of a white President. He angrily told him “Hey, my wife’s black“. The guy backpedaled, and said some ridiculousness.

But what sticks in my memory is visiting the small town in northern Idaho where my husband lived for a time. We still have a home there. We were at the grocery. There were a few unhappy looks, but I brushed them off. However, apparently the anger was so palpable to my husband that he became very concerned. He revealed to me in a discussion later that night that the town 45 minutes away was known for Ku Klux Klan activity.

I began to think in the dark, what would I do if someone burned a cross on the lawn? We were on five (beautiful) acres. No one could hear you scream. The police take at least 30 minutes if not more to respond.

If a cross burned, would we stay to prove a point? Or get on the next plane home?

Luckily, we never had to make that choice. But we did have the rifle in our wingspan.

Just in case. 

How do we deal with it all?

Much of it we ignore.  We laugh when we can, but we also have really intense discussions on race. My husband accompanies me whenever possible to see my work on social justice and the criminal justice system. We seek to open each other’s eyes on our points of view. I teach him about life as a person of color; he teaches me about how to further climb the ladder to success.

We were watching Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift one night. The main character was a young white man in a world of trouble with an Asian gang. Even though he was in a position of weakness, he demanded of one of the Asian crew to teach him how to race cars in their particular style (drifting).

I looked at my husband and said “that’s the ultimate in white privilege. How does he even think to do that?”

He looked at me, smiled, and said “Yep. You should try it sometime”. 

The lesson? Be bold, be brave, and step out of the box that people place you in. And don’t self-deselect.

It’s all about love, communication and having a true partnership.

Love is not about the color of one’s skin, but the content of their character.

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The Lost War on Drugs: What Next?

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Newsflash: we have lost the war on drugs.

Yes, we have made a lot of arrests.  Yes, drugs were seized and destroyed. But we have not stopped or stemmed the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.

As a prosecutor, I start to think about failed policies, and what to do next.

Instead of a war on poverty, they have a war on drugs so that the police can bother me.

This line was immortalized by the rapper Tupac. It was in his song “Changes” that he discussed the current conditions of his neighborhood in the 1990’s . He was defining the issues that were present in the African-American community. Sadly, in the years since that song, those who reside in lower income areas have not seen any changes.

It has recently come to light in an interview with Nixon aide, that the war on drugs truly was a farce. The idea purportedly was to “equate the hippies with marijuana, and the blacks with heroin” in an attempt to prevent the groundswell of political change that was occurring in the 1970’s.

In reality, the way to fix all that ails our society is really simple. We need to attack the demand, not the supply. The war on drugs was targeting the suppliers. But for every drug dealer and Pablo Escobar that was taken off the street, ten more rose to assume their place.

Why?

Because it is lucrative. Because there is a demand for drugs. Until we end the demand, we will never win the war on drugs.

So how do we end the demand? It is a bit more than Nancy Reagan’s “just say no“, –while simplistic, we need to educate the youth. We truly need to invest in addiction remedies. We need to invest in rehabilitation, making it widespread and easily affordable. If you do not have the money to go to Betty Ford, you should still be able to fight your addiction at a licensed rehabilitation center so that you can get your life on the right track. Once we have less addicts, then the drug dealers will have to find something else to do because selling drugs is no longer profitable.

Of course, this plan requires money. It requires the government to invest in such programs or private entities to subsidize these programs for those who are financially unable, or whose insurance does not cover it. But this is the only way we can truly move forward and truly win this “war on drugs”. Incarcerating masses of people is not the answer.

I was reading an interesting article regarding the relationship between the Clintons and the African-American community. Many view the widespread support Secretary Clinton enjoys as blind faith; however, many in the African-American community, frustrated at the violence that they saw in the streets, welcomed the aggressive policing tactics and hoped that this would alleviate the problems. So while President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill is looked upon as one of the main catalysts of the mass incarceration problem we see today, it was something that was originally sanctioned, even fought for, by the Congressional Black Caucus, the African-American faith based community, and many African-Americans at large. However, the unintended consequence was that an entire generation of young African-American men were lost to the prison system, and even more African-Americans remained mired in addiction and poverty. Check out another interesting article on the relationship between African Americans and the war on drugs here.

So now that we know better, we must do better. If we look at the response to the heroin epidemic in white communities, the focus is on treatment as well as looking at novel ways to enforce the law. The same must be done in all communities, especially communities of color who have suffered for too long.

At the end of the day, if there is a demand, the supply will follow. It’s simple economics; it’s simply business. So it is good business for us to invest in rehabilitation as well as mental health, because in some instances, addictions co-occur with mental illness as a way of self-medicating.

Bottom line: min mans solve nothing, they deter nothing. End the demand, and you kill the supply.

Give a listen to an interview I did on this topic with NPR and the article I wrote for the Miami Herald.

As always, please share your thoughts!

M.

 

 

Legal Divas of Color: Darcel Clark

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The third Legal Diva of Color this month is Darcel Clark. On January 16 of this year, Ms. Clark made history as being the first woman to become the Bronx  District Attorney, and the first African American female District Attorney in the State of New York!

Her path to success was certainly not an easy one. As a true “daughter of the Bronx”, she hails from the Soundview section of the borough.  Her parents both worked tough jobs, but took the time to be involved in their community.  These early lessons clearly rubbed off on their daughter. Ms. Clark attended New York City public schools, then went on to receive her undergraduate degree at Boston College, and her law degree at Howard University.

Upon graduation, she returned to the Bronx and never left. Ms. Clark was a prosecutor for 13 years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, rising to the rank of Supervisor of the Narcotics Bureau, and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Court Bureau.  In 1999, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed Ms Clark to the bench.  She served as a judge for a total of 16 years before winning the coveted position of District Attorney in a landslide election in November 2015.

Ms. Clark stated in her swearing in speech at Lehman College:

“I can say to any little girl, you know, if you work really hard, you can go on to law school, you can become an Assistant District Attorney, you can become a judge and then you can become District Attorney of the Bronx,”

The new District Attorney will focus on wrongful convictions, corruption, gun violence, and reforming the Rikers Island jail complex.

Thank you Darcel Clark, for making history, and being a Legal Diva of Color!

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