Stepping into 2021!

Well, it’s finally here.

We’ve waited, we’ve prayed, we fought, we cried…and now, 2020 is in the history books, replaced by the blank slate of the new year.

It’s a strange feeling in some ways. For me, 2020 was very much a mixed bag. There are some parts that I couldn’t wait to have behind me – watching friends suffer with their health as a result of COVID19; lockdowns; and toxicity brought on by the political climate. At the same token, it was a year of breaking boundaries as well as new beginnings.

On the positive side, I’m thankful more than ever for my health. It’s something we should never take for granted. I was able to work remotely, which is a privilege many people did not have, placing them and their families at risk. Thank you to everyone that went out to work because they were essential; I stand in solidarity with those who were forced due to corporate greed.

George Floyd protest in Miami

2020 was definitely a year of pushing boundaries and taking on new challenges. The biggest challenge for me was running for the office of Miami Dade State Attorney. In the best of times, running for office is intense, back breaking work. I knew it was going to be hard, but there was no real way to know how hard until I was in it. You spend hours on the phone asking for donations; then more time is spent trying to maximize what you have raised in order to get your message out effectively. It became clear to me why many of those in government either come from wealth, or are beholden to special interests who financed their campaigns. It’s simply very difficult to do without financial support. Add on the layer of a global pandemic, where there is uncertainty around people’s financial future as well as the loss of the ability to connect in person at local events or door to door — now it’s uncharted waters.

With all of the hurdles, we managed to leverage social media to elevate the discussion of key issues confronting Miami and America at large in the criminal justice system. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others encouraged national activism; but it also made people look in their own backyards to see what injustices may be occurring. The racial reckoning- painful as it was for me personally to watch people that look like me die for no reason – was a turning point in highlighting why change is needed locally and nationally.

With fellow activists at Women’s March Miami rally

Even though my bid was not successful- the jury is out as to whether I will do it again – it was such an honor to connect with people I never would have met otherwise. It also allowed me to thin out my contact list. Not everyone who says they are there for you really mean it. The lesson is one that is repeated often, but it is welcome in that it clears the path for new relationships to be forged. I am so grateful to everyone who donated, volunteered or assisted in some way. So many folks showed up and showed out – it was really appreciated!!! Special shout out to my beloved husband the Cowboy. His unconditional love and support made this possible.

Me and my Cowboy! Photo credit: LocShotz

Continuing on the topic of elections, I cannot wait to attend the swearing in ceremonies of Harold Pryor in Broward County (first African American man to be elected State Attorney in Florida), and Monique Worrell who will continue the legacy of Aramis Ayala as State Attorney in Orange/Osceola County. On a national level, the first African American female will be inaugurated as Vice President. The new presidential administration under Joe Biden will be not only a breath of fresh air, but very needed oxygen for us to rebuild as a country.

My new beginning came in September when I joined Florida International University as the Director of Policy and Programs for the Center for the Administration of Justice. My father always had a saying – “watch how you conduct yourself in the street because you never know who is watching”. The associate director of the Center had been watching my campaign and how I addressed the issues. He texted me on Election night when the results became final, and I began work a month later (after a much needed vacation!). It’s been great to work with prosecutors’ offices to show them how using data and alternative ways to measure success can bring more equity to our communities as well as our system. We are bringing on new offices this year, and will be expanding the work internationally. My greatest goal is to create several test sites as models of real community engagement between prosecutors and the people they serve.

So what is on deck for 2021?

There will be a lot more writing this year (yay!). I published a book on prosecutorial discretion last year; I’ll be continuing to promote it as part of the bigger dialogue as to what is next for the criminal justice system. I’m excited to be able to travel again internationally – for pleasure and for work – once the vaccine is widely available. There will be more work on a grassroots level around criminal justice – raising awareness and empowering people with the information they need to fight for change while holding those in power accountable. Make sure to tune in to Mondays With Melba every Monday at 6pm on Facebook Live. It is also posted later in the week on my Resident Legal Diva Instagram page.

Thank you for being a part of the RLD family. I wish each of you a healthy and prosperous New Year. Please let me know any topics you’d like for me to explore on the blog or via Facebook Live. Let’s make it a great year together!!

Image of Melba Pearson embracing joy on the waterfront
Happy New Year! Photo credit: LocShotz

The Diva on the Sunday Roundtable: Guns, Activism & the NRA

Hi RLD Family!

I had the privilege of being on the Channel 10 South Florida Roundtable this past Sunday. We took on some tough issues surrounding the recent bill passed by the Florida legislature in response to the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. While some aspects are good (increased funding for mental health), many have concerns as to how this will eventually affect students of color.

Check out the footage here and share your thoughts!!

M.

Knowledge Trumps Racism Part III: Why Violence is NOT the Answer!

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Over the weekend, two police officers from the New York  Police Department, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were gunned down in their police cars at close range and lost their lives. The lone gunman had posted pictures on social media before and after the murder, and had made statements that this was in retribution for the recent police involved deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The backlash has been instant and fierce. Social media has been on fire, as well as mainstream media. The “us versus them” mentality has gone into full effect. I have seen statements from both sides that have been completely horrific. I have seen statements from police officers which basically amount to “it’s all out war on African-Americans” (and not put so politically correctly); I have also seen statement from African-Americans basically saying that those police officers deserve to die, or that somehow, their lives are less valuable as a result of the actions of the police officers that were involved in the recent high profile deaths of African-Americans.

Here is the danger in this thinking. We have now gotten to a point where we are in a standoff in our thought process. And from that standpoint, there can be no winners. There is no middle ground. The only way we can have progress is to find a middle ground.

At the end of the day, what do we really want? All of us, as a nation?

We want police working with the community; we want an end to senseless deaths in all forms; we want peace in our streets.

We want life to go back to normal where everyone can go to work and go about our business without looking over our shoulders, whether you are a police officer or a civilian.

By getting so entrenched in our positions and making statements that are so offensive to either side, we can never reach a point of compromise.

Because here’s the reality — unless we are willing to quit our jobs and do the job ourselves, we need the police to keep us safe.  And if we cast the police out, the police department ceases to exist.  So, we need each other, and MUST find a way to work together.

Let’s address violence as a solution.

Looking back in American history, violence has not been the route to success. During the civil rights movement, there was a debate as to whether  or not African-Americans should follow the early, more militant path of Malcolm X , noted for his quote of “by any means necessary”, or follow the nonviolent path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The path of Malcolm X seemed to be more energetic, and the quickest way to get results. Dr. Martin Luther King’s path was painful. There were more deaths and was a slower path to success.

However history told the final story. And in the end, it was Dr. Martin Luther King’s way that proved most effective. Malcolm X eventually converted to Dr. King’s way of thinking. I recently watched a special on PBS entitled “Many Rivers to Cross“. It was a very poignant series which covered the many decades of African-Americans in the United States. It discussed the history of the civil rights movement.

It also talked about Bloody Sunday.

When Dr. Martin Luther King led the march in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, he and the other marchers were confronted by police officers who brutally attacked them while they were protesting peacefully. The media documented this atrocity. As a result, the civil rights movement received many more supporters of all races, including leaders from the Jewish faith, from the Catholic faith (there were nuns in full habits marching with the civil rights movement!) and the movement towards voting rights gained more momentum. Alabama was exposed as a hotbed of intolerance. This incident was one of the catalysts of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The moments before...Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965
The moments before…Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965

Selma is an example of how the nonviolent path is so effective.  If the marchers had been violent, they would not have gotten the support from such a wide base, and the resulting laws would not have been enacted.

After the video of the death of Eric Garner was released, if you look at the protests that resulted, you would’ve noticed that there was a wide range of protesters from all races in the crowd. Many people were very disturbed by the tactics used in the video. No matter what your stand on the grand jury findings, this was an opportunity to discuss policing in the 21st century, and to explore whether or not current methods were working or needed to be changed.  The act of this lone crazy gunman threatens the positive dialogue that was being started.

So where from here?

This is the perfect time to show decency. Let the New York Police Department grieve, and support them in this time of sorrow. No family deserves this. This was a horrible act and no one should sanction it. And if your argument is “they wouldn’t do that for us“, I say, hold yourself to a higher standard! If you do, then you inherently challenge others to either do the same, or expose them for who they are. You’d be surprised at the results. I find once you elevate, people elevate with you.

We cannot hold an entire police force accountable for the acts of a few. The majority of police officers that I have met in my career are good decent folks who want to do their job and get home to their families.  The same applies to African Americans — the majority are law abiding citizens who want a good life for themselves and their families, and want to see justice in the world. Neither side should be painted with the same negative brush.

Change is a tough thing. We want it, but it comes at a cost. Change does not need to come at the cost of human life. We are a civilized country, and we hold ourselves out as such to the international community. Death can cause us to realize change is needed; but if we start to condone violent acts against each other, then we are no better then the foreign countries that we criticize. We need to distance ourselves from those who promote violence, and we need to stand tall and claim our human dignity. There is a time to grieve, and there’s a time to act. Declining to protest for several days until the funerals are over will not harm the movement. It would actually gain the respect of many people and would bring a conciliatory tone to the issues at hand. It would also highlight our strength and decency as a people.

I will end with a quote I will be using a lot in the coming days from Dr. Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.20140202-120430.jpg

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.

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet in recent weeks, absorbing all that has been going on. One thing is incredibly clear; education is needed on both sides. If we don’t know the rules that govern us, as well as our past, we are doomed for the future.  If we don’t understand each other, we are doomed period.

So here is Part 1 of my series entitled “Knowledge Trumps Racism” — because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, knowledge is power.

I start from a historical perspective —  David Ovalle from the Miami Herald wrote a very thoughtful piece on the last time a police officer was indicted in Miami for a shooting death in the line of duty.  It was 25 years ago last Sunday, and left a long legacy.

In a city long torn by racial tension, a uniformed police officer fatally shot a black man. Days of upheaval and rioting riveted the nation.

A series of investigations scrutinized the officer’s use of deadly force. He claimed self-defense. Would the cop face criminal charges?

The case that exploded in Miami in 1989 still resonates today, echoing the murky, racially charged confrontation that has put a 24/7 media spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson.

Twenty five years ago Sunday, after a trial that lives on in local legal lore, jurors convicted Miami Police Officer William Lozano for shooting and killing a motorcyclist. It was the last time any police officer in Florida was convicted for an on-duty shooting.

Read more here.