#TBT: Revisiting Affirmative Action

#TBT: Revisiting Affirmative Action

This week, it was revealed by the New York Times that the Department of Justice, rather than focusing on actual civil rights injustices, will be attacking affirmative action.  The false narrative that DOJ is clearly following, is that White Americans are being discriminated against by affirmative action programs.

Really?

The Supreme Court disagreed  last year, stating that race can be one of the factors considered.  It should never be the only factor considered — that would clearly be discriminatory.

Additionally, the idea of legacy admissions — where children of wealthy donors/alumni are able to obtain admission to schools, regardless of whether their academic performance meets the criteria — seems to not be a part of the review process.

During oral arguments of this case, Justice Scalia made some pretty controversial (and in my opinion, racist) comments.  Here’s a piece I wrote at the time in response.

createherstoc laptop
Photo courtesy of CreateHerStock

I am not ashamed to say it. I am a product of affirmative action.

Was I slow? Have trouble learning? Issues adapting to my environment?

Absolutely not.

My grades were certainly competitive enough to get me from high school to undergraduate to law school. I went on to pass the bar exam, have a long career as a prosecutor, teach, and hold leadership positions in various community as well as national organizations.

My profile is far from unusual. Affirmative action may aid one in getting in; but one has to perform to stay in. But to lump all students of one race into the category of being “slow learners” because they entered a university based on a more broad based criteria is shockingly ignorant. That appears to be the thrust of your statement “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well”. There is a misconception that affirmative action scrapes the bottom of the barrel of African-American students in order to preserve diversity. That is not the case; all the African-American students I know were able to compete as well as or exceed their white counterparts. The test is a long term one – whether or not the student succeeds academically, graduates, and what they do afterwards.

Read the rest here.

Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

IFWT_Bill_De_Blasio

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)

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

20140217-103627.jpg

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.
Looking Back to Move Forward…

Looking Back to Move Forward…

20140323-142740.jpgSo, as we wait for election results, there’s no better time than now to be reflective.  My blog, The Resident Legal Diva, has recently had its one year anniversary.  Ironically, I took on a 30 day Blogging 101 challenge…because why not? Nothing like a challenge to step up your game! In the next 30 days, you will see a lot of posts from me covering a variety of topics (which remain a mystery to me at this moment)!

The first assignment was to talk about my blog.  Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? Who do I hope to connect with? What is the end goal a year from now? And what’s the story behind my tagline?

Whelp, let’s get started.

Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I am a prosecutor. (If not, welcome!) I love the law.  The law brings equality; the law brings change; the law brings justice. Often, the media gets it wrong (ratings are king). Often citizens get it wrong (due to just not knowing).  Sometimes the system gets it wrong. Facts and details get lost in the struggle between passion, history, and confusion as to how the system works.  My goal is to educate people about how the system really works, and what goes into the decision making process in cases.  Also, I want people to know what their rights are, and what remedies are available. This can only be done in a public forum.  With the internet reaching more and more people every day, what better way to educate the world?

Who do I hope to connect with? EVERYONE! My blog is not just for legal professionals (who are always welcome by the way). It’s for the students, the curious, the old, the young…anyone who cares about the world we live in and how the law governs us.

What is the end goal a year from now? I hope to have (and continue to have) great dialogues with folks from all walks of life.  My eyes have opened to issues as a result of discussions started on my blog.  I love to teach, but I enjoy learning as well.  The exchange of ideas is the only way our world will get better — it is the way to promote understanding.

And what’s the story behind my tagline? The Resident Legal Diva…I’m your in house legal expert.  And I love the word “Diva”.  I’m on a mission to reclaim the word from the negative connotations that come from reality television.  A Diva is a woman who is well spoken, well put together, and who carries herself with grace and elegance.  Most of all, a Diva is successful from her own intelligence, hard work and merit.  Notice there are no temper tantrums, outbursts, or generally “acting a fool” in that definition. What I described is the definition of a “hot mess”…which does not deserve air time (not on this blog anyway!).  And the rest “My Collection of Thoughts About Real Life and the Law”…is just that.  My thoughts…my opinions…but always open for discussion!

Looking back, the last year of blogging has been fun, uplifting, emotional, and really enlightening.  Here’s to many more!!

M.

The Time For Talk Is Over!

The Time For Talk Is Over!

I’m not much of a “let me take a selfie” kind of woman, but it’s all about the evidence (I am the Resident Legal Diva after all).

So here it is. I early voted today.

IMG_1400.JPG

On Miami Beach, it wasn’t too bad. Definitely more people than during the primaries; but certainly low numbers. I’m hopeful that the numbers will increase as early voting comes to a close, and as November 4 arrives.

There are two themes that keeps recurring. One is “I’m so tired of those nasty ads on television and radio. How do I know what’s true? One is as bad as the other”

The second theme is “I know I’m supposed to do my research, but I’m busy. Being an informed voter takes WORK. I have a job, family, kids….ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Well, here is my answer to both.

That magical thing called the Internet.

There is a great site called Politifact that is run by a group of non partisan journalists. They fact check the claims of politicians across the country, and rate them as True, Half True or False. You can even submit facts for them to check or requests for corrections. That’s a great way to see if what was said in debates or in the ads was true.

Also, go on the election website for your county. You can check out a sample ballot to see what amendments are on the ballot. Usually, the main newspaper in your area will break down the issues and endorse or object to an amendment. You don’t have to agree…but what you gain is the explanation in plain English. It makes it easier to make a decision from there.

Lastly, if there is one person in your circle that you trust, task them with doing the research. But also make them break it down for you so that you understand the issues. At the end of the day, YOU are responsible for your vote — make sure you are clear on what you are voting on!

Voting determines our destiny as a nation. If it wasn’t so important, voter suppression wouldn’t be an issue. Voting fraud wouldn’t be a crime. Voter ID laws wouldn’t be so hotly contested.

This is your life. Your future. So many are quick to complain, march and protest; while it is important that your opinion be heard, politicians respond to the power of the ballot box. Use it or lose it!

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.

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Shonda-Rhimes1
Shonda Rhimes

Which would you rather be called?

A b&$%!, or an angry black woman?

If you said neither, you’d be on the right track.

If you asked “aren’t they the same thing”?, then you would have hit the heart of the matter.

Folks are wondering why Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times Article about Shonda Rhimes is causing such an uproar. Stanley wrote an article about television writer Rhimes (of “Scandal”, “Gray’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” fame), and while complimenting her success, focused largely on Rhimes’ ability to get away with being an “angry black woman”.

For the record, Rhimes has not been known for any publicized rants or bad behavior; her characters are the furthest you can find from angry black women; yet somehow, the article focused on this aspect.

For African American women, the stereotype of the angry black woman is parallel to the struggle that White women have had with the word “bitch”. Some women embrace the word “bitch” to mean a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense woman that threatens men on their own turf in the corporate world. The majority of women view it by its actual definition – a female dog, and a derogatory term that has no connotation of respect. Women of all races have fought for the right not to be called that word (including the ongoing battle in the music industry).

The image of an “angry black woman” conjures up that of an angry ghetto chick, snapping her gum, screaming at someone for no apparent reason, and making a scene “just because”. It embodies that of a bitter nasty woman who you certainly would not want to be friends with, much less date.

It even justifies (in some people’s minds) domestic violence (well of course he had to hit her…you know how those angry black women are). This becomes even more relevant in the current discussions of the recent arrests of NFL players Ray Rice and Jonathan Dwyer.

The last image that comes to mind when one says the term “angry black woman” is an educated, polished professional woman, who is the top of her career, has great credit, is a pillar in her community, and is a loving family member/friend (which all of Shonda Rhimes’ characters are in some way or form). But from a quick reading of Stanley’s article, Rhimes, as well as her body of work, is reduced to a simple stereotype.

That’s the dangerous thing about stereotypes – it paints all with a very wide brush. This is not to say an African American woman can’t be angry. But there is no “angry White woman” syndrome, or “angry White man”….so why make such a big deal about how Shonda Rhimes defied the odds and is NOT an angry black woman? If we were not sure before, reality television certainly has shown us that EVERY race, gender and sexual orientation can be good, bad and downright ugly. Why not characterize the individual by how they behave, instead of by some perceived stereotype that you believe is the standard?

Stanley has since stood by her article, saying that she “complimented” Rhimes for defying the stereotype. To draw another analogy, it’s like calling the female CEO of a major corporation  “a smart bitch with a heart of gold”, and as folks recoil in horror, saying “but I said she was smart!”
As we explore Stanley’s description of Viola Davis’ character in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she discusses how she is not classically beautiful due to her dark skin (!!) but has a sexy but menacing quality. Menacing, angry…common theme? Certainly not the way any woman would want to be described.

In truth, Stanley does chronicle the television evolution from the “uh uh-ing” maid, to the beloved Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show, to the characters we see today. But she gave, and took away at the same time.

In summary: happiness comes from within, no matter what race you are.

So here’s a hashtag for you: #happyblackwoman.

Or better yet: #happy.

Weigh in with your thoughts!

M.

The Depths of Racial Profiling

The Depths of Racial Profiling

As the events in Ferguson continue to unfold, I am constantly reminded of the divide in the policing experiences of many Americans. The Pew Report came out with an interesting study regarding perceptions of the problems in Ferguson, and sadly, it went firmly along racial lines. White Americans thought justice will prevail; African Americans did not.

This gets to the heart of the issue. If you (or those around you) have negative experiences with police while growing up, you will never believe the system is fair.

Looking back, I can think of one such encounter. Growing up in a beautiful waterfront community in suburban New York, my father loved to take me to the park. He would play games with me, walk with me along the water, and listen to my little girl chatter. One day, a police vehicle drove by. The car returned, and began to slowly circle, watching us.

I, of course, was oblivious. It can be a joy to be young and naive.

My father, however, got the message.

The message wasn’t “oh how cute, look at this man and his little girl”

It was “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE“.

Rather than risk an unpleasant encounter, he cut our day short and took me home.

Maybe I didn’t mention it before — I grew up in a predominantly White community.

And another additional fact: my father never wore jeans or sneakers. To this day, he wears slacks, a polo or button down shirt, and a proper British hat, weather permitting. So this was not an issue of fashion, or fitting the description of a call regarding a criminal act.

This is an issue with no easy answers. I just encourage everyone not to assume, and LISTEN to what the deeper issues are.

Here is one man’s experience with profiling that really struck me. Even though he did everything society would expect, he was profiled as a student at Harvard. One quote from his article that struck me was that being racially profiled was a rite of passage as an African American into manhood, similar to a Jewish bar mitzvah. Read Madison Shockley’s article here.

My dad and mom circa 2004
My dad and mom circa 2004
What Do We Tell Our Sons?

What Do We Tell Our Sons?

The funeral of Michael Brown today is another chapter in an ongoing tragedy. In moving forward from here, the discussion needs to be had regarding what do we tell our children about how to interact with police? How should we interact with police?

Essence.com published my tips this weekend:

black-teen-closeup_400x295_36

In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, and the others killed by police in questionable circumstances, the question is “What do we tell our children about interacting with the police?” It’s not about assigning blame on the victims’ actions. It’s about arming our young people with knowledge that could help save them in the future.

Pull right over. If your child is driving a car, and sees police lights in the rearview mirror, he or she should pull over immediately.  If it is not safe to pull over immediately, slow your speed and signal that you are pulling over. Failure to pull over puts police officers on high alert that there may be a problem (even if there isn’t one). Think about it from a police officer’s perspective. Why wouldn’t you stop? Do you have an open warrant? Do you have guns or drugs in the car? Based on their occupation, police officers are trained to assume the worst in every situation.

Read the rest of the article here

Thank You Captain Ron Johnson!

Thank You Captain Ron Johnson!

Finally it seems we are seeing a break in the craziness. While I was saddened by the death of Michael Brown, I was hopeful that an investigation would shed light on the matter, possibly isolating one or two bad apples on the Ferguson police force. Instead, the police department behaved like kids do when they are in trouble. It appeared to be “everyone thinks we’re violent so let’s REALLY give them something to complain about!”

Thankfully, Captain Ron Johnson is turning the tide. He is showing how officers can conduct themselves with dignity, decency and determination. He is showcasing what is good about law enforcement; and for this I thank you!

The Feds in the form of the Justice Department have their hands full with this one. I predict a massive overhaul in that department when the dust settles….because we know one thing.

The Feds don’t play.

Read the rest of the Time article:
Tensions Cool in Ferguson

IMG_1343.JPG