Celebrating Dr. King…

Celebrating Dr. King…

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As we celebrate the birth of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, let’s reflect on his words, and how they remain evergreen until justice is attained for all.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends

Dr. Martin Luther King lamented the silence of his friends in his letters from the Birmingham jail. He lamented those who would support him behind closed doors, but in the public forum where it really counts, he and other peoples of color stood alone.

Dr. King also was not only about racial equality, but economic equality. Many alliances were starting to be formed during that time between various races around the issue of economic empowerment; Unfortunately, the power structure at the time was designed to oppress, and in many ways, continues to do so. The common fallacy is that poverty only affects one certain segment. The reality is, if you are struggling you are struggling no matter what the race. Poor whites in Mississippi are no different than poor African-Americans in Alabama; poor whites in Milwaukee are no different than poor African Americans in New York. We must be wary of the divide and conquer tactic which has worked so well in many corners and we are seeing more of it today.

Many times during Dr. King’s walk, he was told wait.  Wait.  Give the system a chance to work.  We agree with your protests, but you shouldn’t do it in this manner.  Sound familiar? Think of today with the actions of Colin Kaepernick and sports players who choose to peacefully protest injustice by kneeling during the National anthem.  We agree with your cause, but you shouldn’t do it while we watch football.  Others are not that kind in their sentiments.

Here was Dr. King’s answer was to being told to wait, as he sat in the Birmingham jail for peacefully protesting:

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

He then goes on to say “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

So what does it mean to be a true ally? What can I do?

First, listen. Listen to the concerns of marginalized people. Set aside your own feelings of defensiveness or comfort that may come from tough discussions.

Secondly, show up. If it’s a protest, march. If it’s phone banking to call your local legislator about issues of concern, do it. If it’s sending an email to your legislator, do it. Download an app like 5 calls to help you make calls to action.

Thirdly, align yourself with others who have the same concerns. Join the local chapter of the ACLU or other organization fighting these battles. Donate to the causes that mean the most to you — whether it is reproductive rights, the rights of the LGBTQ community, immigrants’ rights, or civil rights in general.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Listen. Show up. Align. And give a full throated repudiation to those who speak racism.  By doing this, you will keep Dr. King’s dream alive.

In Solidarity,

The RLD.

Diva Reads: The Casual Racism Edition

Diva Reads: The Casual Racism Edition

diva-readsHi RLD Family, I hope everyone had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. I’ve rounded up interesting pieces that I have been reading from around the web.  Give them a read, and share your thoughts! The links are in the heading titles.

Senator Jeff Sessions

Senator Sessions is the new President’s pick for Attorney General.  If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Loretta Lynch. What disturbs me is the casual racism that was seen in some of his comments while serving as a United States Attorney in Alabama. As a USA, how can you even fathom that joking about the KKK is ok, even as you are prosecuting them? I get that as prosecutors/law enforcement, we often have a dark sense of humour to deal with the horrors we see regularly. But this comment shows a lack of judgment.

If he truly made the comment of calling a grown African American man “boy” — this hearkens back to the old days of Jim Crow and the 60’s– a reminder to “stay in your lane”.

Lastly, if he truly believes that the ACLU & NAACP force civil rights down the throat of others — how will that affect civil rights issues that are brought before him, possibly by these organizations, as Attorney General? The Attorney General runs the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Will they lay idle for the next four years?

A racist doesn’t necessarily say racist things daily. Some do. One can hold racist views and be polite. The true measure of a person is seen when the person is tested. A senate committee found his judgment too lacking to be a federal judge. In many ways, Attorney General is an even more critical position. Attorney General Lynch was more than qualified, but went through what can only be described as a hellified confirmation process.  I hope that the Senate will do their job and seriously scrutinize Senator Sessions to determine if he is fit for this role.

Lawsuit by Police Officer in California

In another example of casual racism — an African American police officer retired, and decided to join a new department. He found casual racism in this new assignment — such as officers referring to an area as the “n-word hill”, and using racial slurs in conversation, without even thinking it would be offensive.  When the officer sought to make it a teaching moment by challenging the norm, he lost his position.

We must never stop challenging racism when we see it. Racism must not be the new normal.

New York Governor Cuomo Takes Action

In response to the spike in hate crimes in New York since the election, Governor Cuomo has created a special unit in the police department.  He will also set up a legal defense fund for immigrants who cannot represent themselves but have been harmed.  Finally, he will be meeting with college students to remind them that New York is their home, and it should be a safe place for them.  Governor Cuomo is a major reminder of how local politics matters.  Your state and local officials set the trend; foolishness can be the order of the day in Washington, but at home, our elected officials can choose to set a different standard. I applaud the Governor’s efforts, and challenge others to do the same.

The Re-education of a White Supremacist

In today’s beacon of hope — an avowed white supremacist changed his views as a result of education, and getting to know the people he hated. His family had home schooled him, isolating him so that he can be indoctrinated into their way of life. He was an heir to a racist throne. It was a long process, fueled by his intellectual curiosity while away at college — but he renounced his connection to racism, and publicly stated that he no longer agrees with his family’s views.

I have always believed college and the military are great equalizers in this country. No one is born racist; and with mingling as well as education, the fallacy of race supremacy can fall.

Fidel Castro

Last night saw the passing of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Some view him as a tyrant; others view him as a freedom fighter who defied the United States.  I say “it’s complicated”.  I firmly believe in the saying “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter“. He may have started with good intentions — that of liberating his people and bringing about change (sound familiar?) but he got lost along the way.  This could be the ultimate case of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There are those that love him, and those that loathe him. Presently, celebrations are being held in the streets of Miami, with no signs of stopping. In the early days, Castro sent troops in an effort to liberate many African nations from colonial rule; but he was supporting Communist insurgents, not democracy. He was close to Nelson Mandela, a man who I greatly admire; but as I reflect on some of the inner turmoil in the African National Congress (ANC) where those who were viewed as traitors had burning tires hung around their necks, it is critical to note that the struggle for freedom is rarely a clean business. The poverty of those who remain in Cuba, as well as those who lost loved ones without so much as a trial is a terrifying part of the story. I know that this is a sensitive topic for my Cuban brethren, so I support whatever emotions they are feeling right now.

#TBT: Lessons from Dr.King

#TBT: Lessons from Dr.King

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.

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Please see my thoughts here.

As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts!

M.

Rest In Peace Former Director Bobby Parker

Rest In Peace Former Director Bobby Parker

bobby parker 2 This past Saturday, former Miami-Dade Police Department Director Robert “Bobby” Parker was laid to rest. He  retired in 2009 after rising through the ranks to become the first African American in the department’s top job. Director Parker was named Miami-Dade Police Director in 2004 by then Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Director Parker joined the force in 1976 and quickly worked his way up the ranks. He spent 33 years in the eighth largest police department in the US, doing what he did best — protecting, serving and mentoring.

My memory of him was sitting next to him in 2009, as we were giving commencement speeches to the police academy class. We had met casually before, but this was the first extended contact I had with him. When he gave his speech, he  reminded the young officers that the police uniform will bring new attention, so do not forget who you started out with. 

I thought to myself “wow, things are that hectic that the Director has to tell folks not to cheat on their partners?”

But, he was right, and it was sage advice.

Throughout my career I had seen (and continue to see) officers get caught up in power and following the crowd — in the process, destroying their families. Bobby’s words of staying grounded rang so true; I often wondered how many of those new officers heeded his advice.

Since that day, we ran into each other frequently at community events. He always had an easy smile, and a great demeanor. I saw the many causes we shared in common, and that he had a genuine concern for the next generation, especially young African American men.

I had been out of town the last few weeks at the National Black Prosecutors Conference, and attending family matters, returning to discover he had passed away…and at his own hand.

It was right after his 62nd birthday

My heart broke into a million pieces.

I don’t know what happened. All I can say is this. Never be afraid to ask for help, no matter where you are in life. There is no shame in going to therapy; there is no weakness in speaking to someone about your problems. Who cares what is “macho” or not!

If someone comes to you wanting to talk, don’t blow it off or turn them away. We need to take care of each other, and find coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of life before it overwhelms us. If you sense a friend is in trouble, just ask the question.  Put aside whatever “bro-code”. I know we have to respect the privacy of others, but also follow your gut if you sense something.

And yes I will say it. My fellow African Americans, we have to stop this stigma of “therapy and depression is a White people thing”. Because it’s not — it’s real. Depression doesn’t stop to check what race you are before it invades your mind and destroys your spirit. Depression is killing us in different ways; therapy, medications, and other healthy coping mechanisms can help sort things out.

And guess what?

There are African American therapists, so cultural sensitivity is not a problem.

My mother always had a saying “Once there is life, there is hope”.

There is no problem without a solution, you just may need help finding it.

So please. Help yourself. Help each other.

Bobby, rest in peace. You left us way too soon.

My deepest condolences to the Parker family, and to my brothers and sisters in blue who are grieving right now.

M.

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Study: 95% of elected prosecutors are white

Study: 95% of elected prosecutors are white

In case you missed it, here are some of my thoughts in a telephone interview on WPIX Channel 11 in NY on this study. Diversity in prosecution is critical to having a fair and balanced criminal justice system. Be sure to click on the link to watch the broadcast addressing this serious issue!

WPIX 11 New York

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NEW YORK – A new study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign shows little diversity among elected prosecutors. Just 4% are men of color, and 1% are women of color. 78% are white men.

“I think that excluding women and people of color from that really important function in the criminal justice system is just bound to lead to inequality,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, Director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Prosecutors can charge a defendant with a felony, or bring no case at all. When negotiating plea deals, they can push for a heavy prison sentence or probation.

“We have to be mindful of the fact that we have a tremendous amount of power that we are not to abuse,” said Melba Pearson, President of the National Black Prosecutors Association.

In just two weeks, the NBPA will hold a jobs fair for young black lawyers.

“We do see…

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Diversity Discussions….

Diversity Discussions….

20140519-151326-54806927.jpgBack in November, I had the honor and the privilege of speaking as President of the National Black Prosecutors Association on a roundtable at Harvard Law. Fellow participants included head prosecutors from around the country, and forward thinkers in the criminal justice world, led by the Vera Institute.  We discussed issues of racial disparity in sentencing, ways to ensure that everyone gets the same treatment for the same types of crimes/criminal history, and other ways to make our system better.  See my interview here on diversity and unconscious bias in the criminal justice system.

Diversity Discussions…

Diversity Discussions…

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In recent months, I have been asked regarding my opinions on issues confronting our nation regarding our criminal justice system.  I’d like to share some of these discussions with all of you, and give you the chance to weigh in.  My theme remains the same: diversity is a necessity.  There must be diversity among the actors in the criminal justice system in order for there to be balance within our system.  Perception is reality; critical messages can be lost if there is a perception that the system is unfair.

Political reporter Tony Pugh asked me what my thoughts were regarding the use of independent prosecutors to investigate and pursue cases involving police shootings.

“The true answer is to have diversity among the attorneys in prosecutors’ offices, and for prosecutors’ offices to continue working on their relationship with the communities they serve, so that there is trust and transparency in the justice process,” said Melba Pearson, the president of the National Black Prosecutors Association.

While an independent prosecutor may be a useful tool in some circumstances, “it isn’t necessarily the answer for all police shooting cases,” she said.

Some state prosecutors already have units or individual prosecutors dedicated to public officials, including police officers, who’ve allegedly committed crimes.

“This may be a good option to expand upon,” Pearson said.

Read the rest of the article here and weigh in!
M.
Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

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New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio came under fire for regarding comments he made regarding what he has told his son about how to interact with law enforcement.

Mayor De Blasio, who is married to an African American woman and has a biracial son, stated in a recent interview:

“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio went on. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

The head of the New York City Police Union was infuriated, and stated that the Mayor “threw cops under the bus” and was not helping race relations.

Here’s the deal.

Mayor De Blasio a white man, and a parent, is speaking his truth.

He’s speaking of the discussion that thousands of African American parents have with their sons across the country on a daily basis.

He’s a responsible parent, making sure his child knows how to act appropriately in a police encounter. Be polite, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t do anything to escalate the situation.

He’s also being practical! As angry as Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch may be, does he really want people making sudden movements in police encounters, creating situations where officers will have to draw their weapons?

I should hope not!

Mayor De Blasio’s statement is actually helping race relations…because when African Americans make similar statements, it can be viewed as an overreaction. “Their kids must be doing something bad.” “They’re just paranoid”

But the Mayor says it…this draws attention to the fact that this is a real issue.

So before dismissing his comments, listen.

Knowledge trumps racism.

Understand what the other side is saying. Mayor De Blasio is speaking his truth. So speak yours and let’s have a productive dialogue on how to move policing forward as opposed to “us” vs “them”.

Not all kids of color are bad; not all police officers are bad.  If we start from that premise, we may actually get somewhere!

See my list of my practical tips on interacting with law enforcement here.

Feel free to weigh in!

M.

Black Voters in St. Louis County Switching Parties?

Black Voters in St. Louis County Switching Parties?

Since it is 20 days away from election day, I’m shifting my focus to politics and the law. I am a firm believer in educating yourself on the issues and knowing what you are voting for.  All elections are critical, not just the presidential years!

vote-smart-button An interesting article was published by the Associated Press today, indicating that the frustrations of the community in St. Louis have risen to new heights.  There has been a movement by some African American voters in St. Louis County, in response to the events in Ferguson, to vote for Republican candidates in the upcoming election. The feeling is that the Democrats in power, from the local level to the governor’s office, have ignored the needs of the community that has supported them faithfully for decades.

The emotion that some voters have of being “used” is not uncommon.  Time after time, candidates and elected officials across the country appear in the communities that need them the most only during the election cycle; they are not seen again until the next election.  Certainly, those politicians should be held accountable.

But as the old phrase goes, “look deep before you leap”.

Make sure to research whoever you are voting for.  Votes should not be cast out of anger, or revenge, because it is the community who suffers in the end.  Take a look at each candidate, and look at where they stand on ALL the issues.  If they are in the legislature, pull their voting history.  Look at what organizations or charities the candidate dedicated his or her time to.  These are all signs of whether or not the candidate’s interests align with yours.

If the Republican candidate appeals to you across the board, fine.

If you find that your values are not compatible, then the next best strategy is to put pressure on the leaders of your local Democratic party, letting them know that the current slate is unacceptable.  Find a candidate and back them, whether via write in, or a grassroots movement. As we have seen in recent history, social media is a powerful tool in getting information, and creating campaigns. This is why it is critical to vote in your party’s primaries — the primary votes send a clear message to the party as to whether or not an elected official is on the right track.

Another article came out today indicating that a record number of African Americans are seeking elected office right now.  Some of those candidates are running as Republicans. See the article here. This is a perfect example of taking charge of your destiny, and being the change you want to see.

Food for thought!

M.

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

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It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.

But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?

You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.

In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).

President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.

What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.

But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.

As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.

Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!