I hope everyone is well, healthy, and on the way to being vaccinated!!
Things have been good and hectic in my world (yes, I know, shocker!), but lots of great projects have come to my world!
This week, I was featured in the documentary “Last Day In“, which critically examines the US criminal justice system. It was a project in collaboration with several filmmakers and the hip hop artist Kodak Black, who had several high profile brushes with the law before being pardoned by the last presidential administration.
We do not speak about his case; instead, we focus on what the average, every day person encounters after being arrested, and the collateral consequences that impact entire communities for generations.
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?
Cyntoia Brown, who garnered the support of many celebrities as well as grassroots activists, is now back home. She was serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in self-defense as a teen. Cyntoia was a victim of sex trafficking, but was not treated as such by the criminal legal system. But once the fanfare dies down, where is the support to help her and other folks coming home from prison? This type of re-entry support is critical to help prevent recidivism (returning to jail for new crimes).
See my thoughts on the issue in theRoot.com. I was also interviewed by Buzzfeed – see the video here.
I had the privilege of appearing on the American Bar Association podcast “The JustPod” this week. The host Emily Johnson and I chatted about what the ethical obligations of a prosecutor are from charging until trial. I also shared my thoughts on the Jussie Smollett case, then US Attorney Alex Acosta’s handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case, and other recent high profile cases. Lastly, I discussed my upcoming book on prosecutorial discretion that will be coming out early next year.