Honoring Dr. King on his Birthday

Greetings RLD Family!

I hope your New Year is off to a great start.

Today is the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In that spirit, I explore his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – which provides powerful insight and lessons that we can draw from in today’s fight for equality. See it below!

In Solidarity,

M.

The System is Not Broken

I respect the decisions of the jurors in the Rittenhouse trial. The jury reached a verdict, but the process was flawed: the Judge was not impartial, which led in part to this outcome. He telegraphed from the onset, by way of his rulings, his racist statements about Asians, his inappropriate physical closeness to the defendant, and his conspicuous belief the defendant was innocent, We saw so many examples of actions by Judge Schroeder that communicated to the jury his support for the defendant, including having him in such a close proximity. This is highly unusual, and in 16 years as a prosecutor, I have NEVER seen this happen — it has certainly never happens with Black and Brown defendants. It raises issues of race, equality, and of judicial impartiality.

These not so subtle messages impact justice and verdicts. Judge Schroeder left any premise of impartiality at the courtroom door. 

That said, I see much deeper implications for the rule of law, race, equity, and justice in our country. Every day, defense attorneys nationwide fight to get their clients of color the same level of respect and dignity this defendant received in his trial. Prosecutors fight for  victims of color to be heard and respected. Kyle Rittenhouse blatantly benefitted from white privilege while many others in the system that are Black and Brown must overcome so much more just to be treated with a modicum of the decency they deserve, in a country that believes in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”

To me this case is just another example of systemic racism in our country. And it is a case that connects so many concerns —the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McCain, and the subsequent uprisings in the aftermath last summer. The procedural concerns impact, and further destroy,  the trust of some Americans in our criminal justice system. We are reminded of other cases in history including the violence the Freedom Riders, and others, faced during the first Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s where perpetrators of violence were not held accountable. 

This case also raises issues surrounding who can, and cannot, exercise their First and Second Amendment rights. It infringes on the true use and meaning of “self defense,” and renews concerns regarding the application of ‘Stand Your Ground” as well as vigilantism. Perception is reality — and if people do not perceive the system to be fair, less people will report crimes, testify in trials, or respect the rule of law.

Judges are an elected to office. Schroeder is the longest-serving circuit judge in Wisconsin. He was first appointed in 1983 and has continuously won election since, often running unopposed. Free and fair elections are the backbone of democracy, and that includes having a choice of who sits on the bench.

I’ll conclude this message with a challenge: get involved in democracy in your community. Vote all the way down the ballot, without skipping judicial races and other less discussed races. Join or start a CourtWatch program to learn about your local judges. Help build a bench: get to know stakeholders in your community and recruit and encourage them to run for office. Get involved. Mobilize. Most importantly, whatever you do – do not sit quietly on the sidelines. Do not accept the status quo. Stay vigilant, never complacent..

 If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We stand in solidarity with those who are hurting today. I hope you will join me in the fight for our democracy, and to push forward equality for all in the legal system in this country.
 

Though we strobed
That we came in peace
He was already at war.
We have battled hard to be.
Nothing —
Nothing —
Can keep you safe.
Silence least of all.
Look alive, everyone.
May such a prayer,
A people,
A peace,
A promise,
Be outs.
Be right
& radiant
& real.
— Amanda Gorman

In solidarity & sadness,

M.

Tips for Summer Travel with Elderly Family

Photo by Dimitri Dim on Pexels.com

Summer is underway as well as revenge travel season. Now that some COVID19 restrictions are being lifted due to increased vaccinations, you may be planning to take that long awaited trip that may have been delayed. Here are some tips for traveling with elder family members or folks with disabilities.

Pack your patience. No matter how you try, things don’t go according to plan. Everything will take much longer than you think — from getting to and from the airport, getting around or receiving services. Your loved one may get frustrated as well. So take deep breaths and allow yourself plenty of time.

Be realistic. You may remember your loved one as younger and more vibrant. Mobility changes over time, which can be hard for both you and your loved one. They want to be able to do more but can’t; you may possibly have expected them to do more than they can. For instance, if you normally have short visits with your loved one, and they are fine walking around the house, that is a far cry from having to walk long distances at the airport dragging a rolling suitcase. Also, with the pandemic, folks have physically been less active — even us as younger people! So bring your patience, plan, and think through the best way to get from points A to B.

Direct flights can be better. If at all possible, try to get a direct flight to your destination. It allows your loved one to get settled once, and you don’t have to worry about a delay causing a logistical nightmare with missed connections. We’ve seen how some airlines have cancelled flights at the last minute. A direct flight can prevent that dreaded sprint in between terminals with someone who is not as mobile. There are the carts that drive through the airport, but multiple stops for other passengers may also slow down the process.

Get a wheelchair at booking. Every airline allows you to book wheelchair assistance when you purchase your flight. But I have to share a cautionary tale. On a recent trip with my elderly dad for a funeral, my husband and I booked a wheelchair through American Airlines. We arrived at Miami International Airport two hours before the flight, and went to the designated area run by Envoy who handles the wheelchairs there. The lady at the desk informed us that we would have to sit and wait for 45 minutes. This is even before going through TSA and the long trek to the departure gate. When I expressed my shock, she pointed to an older lady who was sitting with her head in her hands looking defeated “well, her flight boards in 5 minutes” with a shrug. Not wanting to take the chance, we ended up walking very slowly with my dad to the gate, which was very physically draining for him. We were blessed that although he had limited mobility, he could walk — but what about those for whom that is completely out of the question? The absolute reverse was true when we left Jamaica (a place that some disparage as a “3rd world country”). The level of care and attention we received was outstanding. So with this experience, I would suggest calling the airport to see what the wait times are for wheelchairs. Consider purchasing a lower cost wheelchair for travel if you are able, so that you can get your loved one to the destination with limited aggravation.

Pack very light or check luggage. Between dealing with wheelchairs, seating and other logistics, dragging a bag behind you is another drama that may end up being a lot. Use curbside check in if possible, or wear a backpack so that your hands remain free for whatever is needed.

Wear comfy shoes. This is not the time to be cute when you have to sprint ahead and head off random travel disasters. Trust me.

Empty your loved one’s pockets. The side eye you get for holding up the TSA line is never fun. Don’t be that group if at all possible. Even after asking your loved one “are your pockets empty?”, search all of their pockets. Inevitably, you will find change, a phone, eyeglasses or something. It took about three trips before I realized I must handle that aspect.

While there are logistical considerations, the benefit of travelling for family gatherings, vacations or just to spend time together far outweighs the irritations that can be involved. Plan ahead, use these tips, and have a great summer! If you have other tips, please share in the comments!

This story originally appeared in Medium – check it out and send some claps if you are a member!

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.