Tag: federal

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!

BLACK PROSECUTORS SHARE LIFE LESSONS

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First row L-R: Miami Central Vice Principal Lita Thompson, Melba Pearson, Ronald Dowdy, Gera Peoples, Sgts Louis and Pierre, Principal Gregory Bethune.
Back row: Markenzy Lapointe, Bruce Brown and Brian Kirlew
Not pictured: Pastor Carl Johnson.

This past week, the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) hosted a series of panel discussions entitled “Real Talk: Lessons Learned from Trayvon Martin”. The panels were geared towards young African American men attending high school and middle school. Both Atlanta and Miami held these discussions in recognition of the two year anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. Six high schools in Atlanta participated, including Benjamin Banneker, and Southwest Dekalb High.

In Miami, 75 male students of color at Miami Central High School engaged in small group
discussions on the topics of Crime, Consequences, and Options. The Crime panel included
Miami-Dade Police Department Homicide Det. Closel Pierre, who talked about seeing the
tragedies that violence brings on a daily basis. Federal prosecutor and NBPA National
President Bruce Brown hammered home the importance of finding a positive influence. “My positive influence was my mom. One, because I was afraid of her, and two because I didn’t  want to let her down.” Sgt. Greg Louis of the Miami-Dade Police Crime Suppression Team opened up about his own challenges of growing up in a tough area. His focus during his youth was on sports activities. Sgt. Louis reminded the boys that “nothing short term is going to last. Where would I be if I had let people talked me into hanging out instead of going to practice? Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you”.

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The Consequences panel featured a state prosecutor, a federal prosecutor, and a public
defender. This panel encouraged the young men to think about the consequences of their
actions, and what the repercussions can be of being in the criminal justice system. Brian
Kirlew, a public defender, echoed the sentiments of staying away from crime, but also told the boys “America is a very forgiving place if you are willing to change your behavior. Don’t let past mistakes hold you back”. Federal prosecutor Gera Peoples took a different tactic, by informing the boys of the realities of going to prison. “Think about the consequences to your family”, he implored.

The last panel, Options, included a stirring message from Pastor Carl Johnson of the 93rd
Street Community Baptist Church, and Mark Lapointe, partner at the firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP. Pastor Johnson rallied the boys to action, stating “your ways determine your walk; get your personality on track, and don’t leave high school without a plan.” On the topic of violence he stated ” if you are confronted with violence, do not let someone draw you out of your personality and lead you down the path of wrong. Stand firm in who you are and walk away”.

Much like some students, a number of the speakers came from single parent families — but
found success through positive role models. The message that was reiterated by all of the
speakers was access. As the event closed, Principal Bethune informed the boys that all of the speakers agreed to be available at any time in the future to give guidance, and answer
questions.

The event was an overwhelming success, and will be repeated in Miami schools throughout the next few weeks. This program is critical to bringing encouragement to young men that are often labelled and forgotten.

Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @ResLegalDiva.
She is also the Southeast Regional Director for the National Black Prosecutors Association. For more information about NBPA go to http://www.blackprosecutors.org.

Richie Incognito: Hazing, Bullying or Hate Crime?

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Richie Incognito is not so incognito these days. Instead of receiving attention for his plays on the field, his career is possibly over due to his bullying of a teammate. Incognito is alleged to have made racist comments to Jonathan Martin, a fellow teammate on the Miami Dolphins, and bullying him to the point that Martin left the team. Ironically, Incognito appeared in a Dolphins public service announcement that is played at home games, asking fans to behave in a “civilized” manner, and not be unruly during games. 

It seems crazy. Martin is 6’5”, 312 pounds, and Incognito is 6’3”, 319 pounds. One would think the two players, trained to hit hard on the field, would just fight it out in the locker room and call it a day. However, it went deeper than that. Incognito was part of a group of veteran players, who hazed Martin, including forcing him to pay for them to go on a trip to Vegas, to a tune of $25,000. They played childish pranks on him, such as inviting him to sit with the group for a meal, then getting up and leaving him alone when he sat down at the table.

And then there were the racial comments. Incognito, who is white, called Martin “half a n—“, (Martin is biracial) and threatened his family. Not to mention the ultimate sin…talking about Martin’s mother. These threats were made in voicemails as well as text messages. As a result, now there is even talk of charging Incognito with a federal hate crime. Under federal statutes resulting from the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful to intimidate, or threaten someone because of their race and participation in a protected activity (such as voting, participation in a state or federally funded program).

Keep in mind, we watch football for fun; for the players, it’s their workplace. The same workplace rules apply in football as compared to any other field of work. However, the NFL workplace is a very different animal. The aspect that is making this case unique is that of the “locker room” culture.  Men are encouraged to be hard on each other emotionally, whack each other’s backsides with towels, and be macho guys.  As fans, we admire as well as reward their toughness on the field; however, there is no way to force players to turn that toughness off when they exit the field.

Also remember that Jonathan Martin is a rookie, having joined the team in the 2012 NFL draft from Stanford University.  He’s young (age 24), at a new job, and is now being pushed around by veteran teammates. He wants to fit in; but how much is enough? Martin was viewed as vulnerable by the senior players, as well as possibly the coaching staff. Clearly, Martin took all he could until he suffered an emotional breakdown. No one wants to be harassed at work. Bullying turns a dream job into a living nightmare.

I doubt Richie Incognito will be federally prosecuted; unless the Dolphins receive state or federal funding, it will be a stretch to find a link that would give Martin protection under the federal hate crime statutes. Secondly, there may be too much professional backlash for Martin, who has been traumatized to the point of taking a break from football and going to his home city for therapy. Without a cooperative victim, the case would be short lived. Lastly, from the tone of the transcripts released of the texts/voice messages, it may be difficult to show that the statements were more than Incognito being an obnoxious bully. There may be an argument to be made for some sort of stalking charge; but again, it would be weak at best.  New reports have surfaced that the Dolphins coaching staff may have egged Incognito on, encouraging him to “toughen Martin up”. If that is the case, there may be a viable civil lawsuit. Coaches need to look at what kind of environment they are creating, and act accordingly.

Should Incognito be prosecuted? No.

Fired? Absolutely.

Blacklisted from NFL? Everyone deserves a second chance. If he issues an apology, comes out publicly against racism and bullying, and stops acting like an idiot, there may be some redemption in a season or two. His PR agent has a lot of work in the years ahead.

 

Melba Pearson is an attorney, writer, speaker, wife and Resident Legal Diva. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.