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 Dawn of A New Day

My reflections on our historic Election Day, which appeared in the Miami Times.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

It was 11:45am. I was getting ready for brunch with a mentee. The news flashed across the screen of my phone – we have a new President. Immediately I screamed for my husband and shared the news. So many emotions ran through me  — joy, pride, tears, and laughter. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and vindication to see Joe Biden win the race to become our 46th president. In all of this, I felt the joy even more acutely due to a personal connection. I remembered when I first met Vice President- elect Kamala Harris nearly a decade ago. It was during the National Black Prosecutors Association conference in July 2010. At that time, she was the San Francisco District Attorney. During our brief interaction, it was clear Ms. Harris was so sharp yet incredibly kind. It’s wild to think that I had been speaking to the future Vice President of the United States.  To see a woman of Jamaican heritage like myself follow the path of being a prosecutor, then successfully running for District Attorney, California Attorney General, United States Senator, and now Vice President gave me so much hope and promise. 

By the same token, I still feel sadness. Knowing that more than 70 million Americans are either racist or racist adjacent (accepting of racism) is a hard pill to swallow. I knew it was out there, but seeing the quantitative data – a hard number – is tough. It broke my heart to really digest this about the country (as well as the county) in which I live. Hopefully it’s a temporary emotion that will subside with time while focusing on the hard work ahead to rebuild. But the Trump vote is a clear vote against police accountability, control of our communities and destiny, and voting rights, in favor of – supposedly – the economy; but in actuality, supporting white extremism and preserving the status quo. 

The road ahead is very long; we are in a period of time in this nation much like the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. There will be anger, followed by a lot of introspection. Hopefully, we emerge a little bit more conscious as to who we are as a country, with a new focus on who we want to be. 

As the millennials say, please “miss me” with any pronouncements that racism is over due to Kamala Harris being elected. Her opponent’s words and actions, as well as those of some Republican leaders, made this very clear. I am reminded of comments made by the Miami GOP chair who stated on Facebook Live election night, “if you do not want a Kamala Harris presidency- because you know that is what it will be – go out and vote.” That is a stark reminder of where we are. The dog whistle was clearly designed to motivate racists and sexists. Also, seeing recent events where the University of Miami Republican club made racial slurs regarding Kamala Harris, with no real public rebuke by university officials or the GOP leadership, shows the level of racism from the new generation on up to current leadership. 

Even more troubling, in this time of celebration, there are some African Americans (mostly men) who have made comments that Vice President-elect Harris’ status as a daughter of immigrants somehow doesn’t reflect the experiences of African Americans — suggesting their ancestors would not be proud of this moment in the same way. We saw an increase of support for the outgoing administration in the African American community (albeit small).  While we celebrate, we have to be cognizant of the work that needs to be done to heal the divides in our own community. Pitting Black immigrants against Black Americans does nothing to move our interests forward. We’ve seen it locally this election cycle. It’s insulting as well as destructive. The racists are betting on the effectiveness of the divide and conquer strategy; we cannot let them succeed. 

I did meet my mentee. 

We laughed, cried, celebrated and toasted to the victory. 

And now, the work commences.

Melba Pearson is the Director of Policy and Programs at the Center for the Administration of Justice at FIU, focused on prosecutorial reform. She is a former Miami homicide prosecutor and Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.