Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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.
Ft. Hood: An Issue of Gun Control or Mental Health?

Ft. Hood: An Issue of Gun Control or Mental Health?

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Please see my take on this tragedy, published on theLaw.tv yesterday.  Ft. Hood

This week, there was another shooting tragedy on the Ft. Hood military base. Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran and Army specialist, shot three people to death, injuring sixteen, before turning the gun on himself. A military policewoman bravely confronted him, which brought his actions to an end.

Unfortunately, Ft. Hood has been struck by tragedy before. In 2009, thirteen people were shot and killed by Nidal Malik Hasan. The difference in the 2009 tragedy is that Hasan had a clear agenda. He had been self-radicalized and took a terrorist stance against the United States. He was given a life sentence for his actions.

In the present shooting, the Army verified that the Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety, as well as being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Lopez purchased the weapon used in the shooting several days before. He lawfully held a concealed weapons permit.

So the debate re-emerges. Is this another case of a mentally unstable person getting access to weapons? Are our veterans being properly treated for PTSD resulting from combat?

Keep in mind, the majority of people that suffer from PTSD, or any other type of mental illness, are not violent. Some key components of PTSD involve an inability to sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty adjusting to civilian life outside of the combat zone. It appears that the Army was in the process of evaluating Lopez, and treating him accordingly. From what is currently known, it seems that the Army was in fact working with Lopez to address his mental health issues. What is not known is Lopez’s motivation for committing this horrible crime. The question will be if there were any warning signs that the shooter’s depression was turning violent and what, if anything, could have been done about it. The answer will hopefully be uncovered in the coming weeks.

The next inevitable issue is that of gun control. Many ask, “how could someone with mental health concerns be able to get a firearm?” This is a situation where the laws that are currently in place adequately addressed what was known at the time of purchase. When the shooter went to the gun shop, he was a current, serving member of the armed forces. He had not been officially declared to be mentally ill; there was no indication that he was suicidal or homicidal. There were no court orders against him, nor was he a convicted felon. If you look at his profile in a general sense, he is someone a gun store owner would have no hesitation in selling a firearm to. As such, he was lawfully able to purchase a firearm.

What is most troubling is that there is a policy at Ft. Hood forbidding firearms on the base. It is clear that this policy has not been enforced on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, Ft. Hood is a huge area, with 90,000 people. It may be physically impossible to search every person. The military is tasked with finding a solution.

At the end of the day, our vets have sacrificed so much, so that we can enjoy the liberties that we have as Americans. The biggest issue should be how can we help them? This is not a case of gun control going awry. It’s a case of human tragedy, with a reminder of how fragile the human mind can be.

This is an issue of caring for our veterans and making sure that those who suffer from mental illness have access to thorough care. And that is where our focus should be.

Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.

BLACK PROSECUTORS SHARE LIFE LESSONS

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”.

prosecutors trayvon panel miami central

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.

Real Talk About The Verdict…

Real Talk About The Verdict…

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Here is my point of view on the Michael Dunn verdict, and the surrounding controversy. It was published on Essence.com yesterday.  Please feel free to weigh in!

Jordan Davis: A Prosecutor’s Point of View

More Shootings…More Debates

More Shootings…More Debates

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So I awoke this morning to hear of two more shooting tragedies. One in a school in Roswell, New Mexico, and the other north of me in Florida.

Let me be abundantly clear. My husband and I own firearms.

Am I a sharpshooter? Furthest thing from it.

Can I handle a weapon in an emergency and hit a target? Better believe it.

Do I have an understanding and healthy respect for the power of a gun? Absolutely. 

Should everyone own (and carry) a gun? Not if you will not be responsible as well as ready to take a life…because if you point a gun, you better be ready to fire.  And accept the consequences of firing. 

Of late, I have been involved in some heated debates over gun possession. There seems to be a viewpoint that every man, woman and possibly teen should be able to possess a gun with little to no restrictions. 

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In the first case of Roswell, New Mexico, a 12 year old boy brought a sawed off shotgun to school, and shot two students. No one seems to know why. A courageous teacher got right in front of the boy, and convinced him to put down the gun.

So how does a 12 year old in New Mexico get a sawed off?

Not thinking that he got it at the local gun shop…it probably came from the parents’ gun cabinet.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was some discussion about letting personnel carry guns into schools, or having armed security in the hallways. So if the teachers had guns (which some folks are proponents of), would the situation have ended as it did?

I submit to you that there would have been a lot more death and bloodshed.

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In contrast, let’s look at the shooting in Wesley Chapel, Florida. The shooter, Curtis Reeves, is a retired police officer. He flipped out because the victim was texting in a movie theater.

Have we all been annoyed by that? Sure.

Do we feel the need to start a fight, then shoot someone? No.

I can script where this will go. His defense attorney has already claimed self defense at the bond hearing. The judge wasn’t having it and is holding him no bond until trial. Then what? Stand your ground. Again. Even though witnesses claim that the victim threw popcorn at the defendant, the defendant will claim he was in fear for his life (even though he started it), and that’s why he shot the victim Chad Oulson in the chest. I doubt this motion will be granted, especially in light of what the witnesses saw, and the woman that has come forward to say this defendant also harassed her during a movie because she was texting.

In all honesty, I will concede that gun control laws would not have changed the outcome of this situation, unless the defendant was found to be mentally ill at some point. He’s a former police officer, so he would fall into the category of someone who should be able to carry.

But looking at the extreme version of this. If the victim had a gun, then what? Shoutout at the movie theater? And what about people caught in the crossfire?

Too bad so sad?

All I’m saying is let’s be reasonable. If you need a permit to fish, a license to drive, and have to register to vote, why shouldn’t there be greater accountability for the ownership of something that, by its very design, is meant to kill? Why do we need to live in a society in which everyone needs to be strapped? 

There HAS to be a middle ground, between gun ownership, upholding the Constitution, and keeping citizens safe.  Let’s constructively talk about ideas, and respect that not everyone feels the same way about firearms.  

Please keep the victims in your thoughts and prayers….especially the 3 year old who does not have a dad anymore because he died for texting her.

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Food for thought.

As always, I am up for a good debate.  

M.