I shared this as a letter to the membership of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association.
I share this with you, because we are in a pivotal moment in our country.
Statistically, we are all either survivors of sexual abuse or close to someone who is. Be kind to each other. But even more important, take action.
STATEMENT ON JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION PROCEEDINGS
Like many of you, I saw the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh yesterday.
It was a tough day.
I remember 27 years ago when another victim came forward— Anita Hill. She was lambasted as a political plant and trying to “hold a good black man down”. Her story was dismissed, with her name being shamed. We later discovered there was corroborating evidence of her statement that was withheld in order to assure the confirmation of Clarence Thomas.
Here we are again. Multiple women have come forward, with one testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Ford reminded me of so many victims I worked with as a prosecutor— frightened, embarrassed, yet determined to tell her story.
But what is different than a criminal trial is that Dr. Ford was not facing a jury of her peers. She was facing a group of mostly older white men, who wished for her to disappear.
To be clear, GSCBWLA is nonpartisan. But we stand for justice and the rule of law. We join the American Bar Association in calling for the FBI to conduct a full investigation to ensure that the same mistakes made with Anita Hill are not repeated. This is the highest judicial office in the land, with the ability to change the country for decades to come. It can’t be rushed; it must be gotten right. I have to note that while there were intellectual disagreements about the viewpoints of Justice Neil Gorsuch, not one person came forward to question his integrity or decency. The same applies to every other sitting justice, with the exception of Justice Thomas.
Lastly, but most importantly, I must address those brave individuals — male and female — who have survived sexual assault or abuse. We stand with you. We believe you. Please practice self care, because the pain of watching the news this week can trigger the past and be emotionally damaging. Seek professional counseling if you need it. The Florida Bar has resources; if you attended the WLOC Summit, one of our presenters, Dr. Delvena Thomas, specializes in emotional trauma
These numbers are a reminder why we need to lift up victims, and end the cycle of rape culture.
If you want to take action, call Senator Marco Rubio (or the Senator in your home jurisdiction) and tell him to delay the confirmation at 202-224-3121.
Additionally, you can volunteer at a domestic violence or rape crisis shelter to provide help to women in need.
The takeaway for me is that more women need to run for office – especially the Senate – to end the chokehold of the old boys club. We have miles to go on the topic of sexual assault in America. But nothing is impossible – every journey starts with a single step.
Melba V. Pearson, Esq.
Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association
Hey RLD Family! I took a bit of a summer hiatus..but I’m baaaack! It’s time to explore the importance of wills, especially for people of color. This is my first piece published for the blog The 94 Percent.
Aretha Franklin. Prince. Bob Marley. Barry White. Marvin Gaye. Tupac. The list of celebrities of color that have died without a will goes on and on.
As we grieve the latest loss of musical icon, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, we should also take the opportunity to learn some lessons. Many in our community seem to think that wills are for white people. As a result, they do not seek the protections they need and often die intestate (without a will).
I was saddened to learn that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand. When the news broke, I was in Paris for a work trip; he was also in France filming his show “Parts Unknown”. He has always been someone I wanted to meet. I’ve read his novels (Gone Bamboo, Bone in Throat). I followed his shows from Travel Channel to CNN’s Parts Unknown. Anthony had the coolest adventures, dove into a country’s politics head first, and provided me with even more countries for my travel bucket list.
In the last few episodes I watched, I thought he didn’t look good. He was thinner, more gray, and seemed to be going through the motions. The joy was no longer in his eyes. He was less of a prankster.
The signs were there – something was wrong.
As I realized in the last couple of years in my own life, travelling for work can be perilous. It seems glam at first —but after the newness subsides, it gets really overwhelming. Another hotel, another bed, the air conditioning in the room is not quite right, preventing a good night’s sleep. By always being away, you miss friend’s birthdays, events, dinner parties. You start to feel isolated. Add depression to the mix, and it becomes a deadly combination. You do it because you love the work (hopefully), but it can be killing you.
It’s possible that’s what happened to Anthony.
People often look at celebrities, or regular folks and say “but what do they have to be depressed about?! So and so has money, fame, a beautiful house and spouse.” The trappings of material things do not address internal emotional pain. The mindset that one has “no reason” to be depressed often serves as a barrier to either giving or getting the help that is needed.
Depression can result from any of a number of things — a “reason” is not required.
Depression is incredibly horrendous. No matter how awesome your life may be on the outside or on social media, your heart may be breaking. When you’re deeply depressed, death speaks to you. It’s like the siren’s song. It says “come sweetie, I’ll make you feel better. I’ll end this pain”. After drinking, drugs, or a painful event, she’s even more seductive. You need the voices of friends and family to drown it out, as well as a great therapist — sometimes including medication.
Depression is not something that can be prayed away, or ignored. You don’t just “get over it”. It takes work, and you literally have to fight for your life. You will have setbacks. You will have days you can’t get out of bed. Sometimes the medication prescribed to you doesn’t help, and you need a new formula. The fight is worth it because it does get better.
If you have never been in this much pain, you are lucky. It’s not because you are strong or better than someone who has been there. It’s like being in a car accident. Some people never have had one; others have. Some people get horribly depressed, others don’t. But just the same way you do not judge someone for having a car accident, you should not judge someone for depression. It’s easy to say about Anthony “oh how selfish, what about his child”. In his pain, he may have thought he was doing her a favor. Remember, depression has a powerful voice in your head, grossly distorting reality.
Never underestimate the pain of another. Be kind to others. I read a beautiful thread on Twitter of how a group of friends came together to help a friend that was suffering from depression after the death of her father. Although she was shutting everyone out, they literally came to her house en masse, cleaned up, brought food, and made it a party. It helped her tremendously. It’s risky, but is an idea on how to help a depressed friend.
If you are constantly on the road for work, try to maintain your connections at home. Take time to rest, use your vacation time, and if possible, try to take your loved ones on the road with you.
If you are in pain, seek help, and disregard the opinions of others who try to dissuade you from therapy. Fight that mute button that depression places on your throat. It’s a hard battle, but know you are loved and you are valued. You will be missed, no matter what the voices in your head say.
I say this to my fellow social justice warriors and people of color. Please practice self care. Please check on each other. Get a therapist if you feel you need one. Being in the struggle for justice can take a horrible toll.
RIP Anthony Bourdain….and all others who have lost their battle with depression.
See resources on suicide prevention at http://www.sprc.org/.
If you are in the South Florida area and need resources, message me.
He is someone I knew well — I practiced against him when he was a defense attorney, and before him when he became a judge. I never had an inkling of any racial animus in the way he referred to his clients or those before him.
But, there you have it — an “unnamed attorney” reported the comments two years later.
You read that right — two full years.
If you are a defense attorney, charged with protecting the interests of your clients (who, due to many systemic reasons are overwhelming black and brown), why do you sit on that information for two years?
How does one let a judge who is purportedly racist sit on the bench for two years — presiding over cases, and the fate of other black and brown people when you allegedly knowthe person is racist?
To give some context, judges in Miami-Dade County easily hear hundreds of cases a week. So for 104 weeks, someone who purportedly held racist views was able to affect the lives of many defendants.
It was said that the attorney feared “repercussions” — what about the repercussions to the affected persons whose life and liberty hung in the balance?
This, to me, says one of two things: either 1) the attorney did not view the conduct as that egregious; or 2) there is an ulterior motive.
This is yet another reason why diversity in the legal field is so critical. When there are more defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges of color, we will have less instances like these.
It’s not a cure, but it’s a start.
If you are not a person of color, and want to be an ally in the struggle for racial equality, here are a few tips.
Don’t condone racial slurs. If it’s said around you, give a full-throated repudiation those statements. Folks continue to speak that way if they think it’s ok and can get away with it.
Use your voice and privilege to help the struggle. Shine a light on these issues, and raise awareness in circles that people of color do not have access to.
Be aware of your own biases, and work on them. Take the Harvard implicit association test, which helps show where your biases lie. Once you know, work on it. Pause before you make decisions — are you making a decision based on assumptions, stereotypes or pure hard facts?
Engage with people who do not look like you. Let’s be clear — having a “black friend at work” doesn’t cut it. You need to go to events, places of worship, and do things on your downtime that are outside of your comfort zone. It has to be a choice for one to say s/he is fully engaged.
In this instance, I blame the judge for his comments, and the attorney for staying silent for so long.
Both are different sides of the same coin.
Sitting idly by as injustices occur is not the definition of being an ally.
So I admit it. I am a fanatic of the show Scandal. Over the course of seven seasons, the show filled a hole in my soul that I did not know I had.
As a woman of color, it has been difficult to see myself in those who are portrayed on television. I grew up in the era of the Cosby Show; Mrs. Claire Huxtable, as nice as she was, didn’t cut it. I wanted to see women who looked like me grappling with real life issues. I didn’t want to see “perfection” – I wanted to see reality.
Then came Scandal. Scandal provided a double whammy in a good way – it gave me two strong women of color. One in Shonda Rhimes, who wrote/produced the show; the other was the strong female lead Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington).
I had the privilege of being on the Channel 10 South Florida Roundtable this past Sunday. We took on some tough issues surrounding the recent bill passed by the Florida legislature in response to the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. While some aspects are good (increased funding for mental health), many have concerns as to how this will eventually affect students of color.
Check out the footage here and share your thoughts!!
It was the night of our wedding rehearsal. The DJ was spinning great tunes, and friends/family from around the globe had joined us to celebrate our wedding the next day.
The news broke: Whitney Houston had been found dead in her hotel room.
My photographer had to step out of the room to collect himself. I was completely stunned. The DJ, herself in shock, agreed to play a tribute to Whitney during our wedding the next day. She did so — and we toasted her memory during our wedding dinner to the song “Exhale“. It was the perfect selection:
Sometimes you’ll laugh
Sometimes you’ll cry
Life never tells us
The when’s or why’s
When you’ve got friends to wish you well
You’ll find a point when
You will exhale
You may have noticed I write a fair amount of tributes to artists that pass away such as Prince and George Michael. This is because (cliche as it may seem), music is truly the soundtrack of my life. I often have a song lyric for any given situation. As with most people, music will rocket me back to a place, a time, or a person.
With Whitney, she takes me back…
…To summer camp as a teen in Toronto, where our project was to do a group lip sync performance to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“.
…To watching the 1988 Olympics and remembering how her voice in “One Moment in Time” would give me simultaneous chills and pride.
…To the New York City club scene in the ’90’s with the remix of “It’s Not Right, But It’s OK“. That song is still a timeless anthem that will bring down the house at a club, party, drag show, or just about anywhere else to this day.
And of course, to my wedding day.
How she met her end was tragic; in my opinion, no artist to this day could match her vocal range. Her legal troubles, drug use and troubled marriage highlighted the dark side of fame.
But in the end, she left the world, and me in particular, with a great soundtrack to life’s memories.
Sleep in Power, Rest In Peace Whitney Houston. We’ll always love you.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina drew headlines this week with her sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. All week long, we were riveted by the powerful victim impact statements made by young gymnasts as to the abuse they suffered at the hands of someone they trusted. Testimony was given by Olympians, faces we recognized (such as Simone Biles and Aly Raisman) and some we didn’t. Irregardless, the pain was the same.
Each woman had the same story. They were young (starting at early teens), and they received a sexual violation rather than treatment by this doctor.
As she sentenced the disgraced doctor to 175 years in prison, Judge Aquilina made note of several aspects — the desire of the defendant to silence the women by asking the judge to stop the stream of victim impact statements; the large number of women who had come forward with similar tales of abuse; and Nassar’s unrepentant attitude. She read portions of a letter he sent, in which he laid blame upon the victims, the investigators, the prosecutor and the media.
Judge Aquilina made the statements to the effect of “I wouldn’t send my dog to you for treatment” and “I’ve just signed your death warrant”.
There are some that claim her comments went over the line, and that she has taken this “too personally”.
One male judge stated that Nassar’s sentencing was “the most violative” sentencing proceeding he can recall.
Let’s look at the role of the judge. At sentencing, a judge may consider a wide variety of factors, such as how dangerous the defendant is, likelihood to re-offend, the facts of the underlying case, impact on the community, and remorse of the defendant.
The facts that came to light include that this doctor abused over 150 women during a time span of close to 30 years, with similar facts. It is clear that he is likely to re-offend. The impact of this case is obvious — it has rocked the Olympic world, and shocked the public. The president of the University of Michigan, where the doctor was employed, resigned in the wake of this case.
As for remorse — this defendant had none. He exhibited signs of a classic abuser and manipulator, attempting to explain his actions away. See excerpts from the letter he sent Judge Aquilina below.
The judge stating that “she signed his death warrant” is a fact. He will not live to see the end of his sentence. Stating that “she would not send her dogs to him” for treatment? This, to me, was a direct response to his assertion that his actions were not molestation, but were some form of treatment.
In reading the derogatory comments from some men regarding this case, it appears that toxic tribalism and toxic masculinity continues to thrive. These abuses happen, and continue to happen, as a result of some men believing that they are entitled to take liberties with whatever woman they choose. It is the very essence of the #MeToo movement — from Anita Hill, to the women allegedly victimized by Bill Cosby, to the female employees at the Ford Motor Company. The actual facts and abuse may change, but the pathology is the same. It is rooted in power, entitlement, and a misguided belief that women do not deserve the same respect as men.
We must continue to vote for diversity in the judiciary. In doing so, you have judges who are keenly aware of the impact of their decisions, as well as the impact of a defendant on a particular underrepresented community. This is not to say a male judge would not have reacted in the same way in this case; but this judge was able to acutely see the pain that these young women were showing in their statements.
It is time to put aside the theory of “us men have to stick together“, and shift to a “respect all equally” motto. In doing so, victims who were violated in the worst way possible will be supported.
As we celebrate the birth of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, let’s reflect on his words, and how they remain evergreen until justice is attained for all.
In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends
Dr. Martin Luther King lamented the silence of his friends in his letters from the Birmingham jail. He lamented those who would support him behind closed doors, but in the public forum where it really counts, he and other peoples of color stood alone.
Dr. King also was not only about racial equality, but economic equality. Many alliances were starting to be formed during that time between various races around the issue of economic empowerment; Unfortunately, the power structure at the time was designed to oppress, and in many ways, continues to do so. The common fallacy is that poverty only affects one certain segment. The reality is, if you are struggling you are struggling no matter what the race. Poor whites in Mississippi are no different than poor African-Americans in Alabama; poor whites in Milwaukee are no different than poor African Americans in New York. We must be wary of the divide and conquer tactic which has worked so well in many corners and we are seeing more of it today.
Many times during Dr. King’s walk, he was told wait. Wait. Give the system a chance to work. We agree with your protests, but you shouldn’t do it in this manner. Sound familiar? Think of today with the actions of Colin Kaepernick and sports players who choose to peacefully protest injustice by kneeling during the National anthem. We agree with your cause, but you shouldn’t do it while we watch football. Others are not that kind in their sentiments.
Here was Dr. King’s answer was to being told to wait, as he sat in the Birmingham jail for peacefully protesting:
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
He then goes on to say “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
So what does it mean to be a true ally? What can I do?
First, listen. Listen to the concerns of marginalized people. Set aside your own feelings of defensiveness or comfort that may come from tough discussions.
Secondly, show up. If it’s a protest, march. If it’s phone banking to call your local legislator about issues of concern, do it. If it’s sending an email to your legislator, do it. Download an app like 5 calls to help you make calls to action.
Thirdly, align yourself with others who have the same concerns. Join the local chapter of the ACLU or other organization fighting these battles. Donate to the causes that mean the most to you — whether it is reproductive rights, the rights of the LGBTQ community, immigrants’ rights, or civil rights in general.
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Listen. Show up. Align. And give a full throated repudiation to those who speak racism. By doing this, you will keep Dr. King’s dream alive.
Walking is a lot of things. It’s great exercise. It’s a cost-free mode of transportation. But for Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, evidence suggests that it’s leading to discriminatory encounters with police.
Black pedestrians in Jacksonville are ticketed a stunning three times as often for pedestrian violations, like jaywalking, as white pedestrians, according to ProPublica and The Florida Times-Union. In a recently published exposé, the outlets examined 2,200 tickets issued in Jacksonville between 2012 and 2016. They found that although representing only 29 percent of the city’s population, Black people received a whopping 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets. Disproportionate enforcement also occurred for lesser known offenses. For instance, 68 percent of people who received tickets for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” were Black.
In Jacksonville, crossing the street on a yellow light or walking on the street where there is no sidewalk can result in getting a ticket with a $65 price tag. If you are poor or working but struggling to make ends meet, this is an especially hard pill to swallow. Failure to pay may impact your credit score or possibly result in suspension of your driver’s license.
The disparate citation rates in Jacksonville raise serious concerns about racial profiling. The ProPublica/Times-Union story even includes pictures of police officers doing the exact same thing that Black pedestrians have been ticketed for.
The issue of disparate enforcement in the state of Florida is far from new.
The ACLU analyzed the rate of stops and tickets for seatbelt violations for 2014. Statewide, Black motorists were stopped and ticketed almost twice as much as white motorists based on data from 147 different law enforcement agencies. In some places, data showed Black motorists were as much as a staggering four times as likely to be ticketed.
In Tampa, Black children as young as 3 years old were targeted for stops while riding a bicycle and ticketed for things like “bike riding with no hands.” From 2003 to 2015, more than 10,000 bike tickets were issued — 79 percent of them to Black residents. Black people, however, compose only 26 percent of the Tampa population. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services issued a scathing report indicating that the tickets burdened Black cyclists in Tampa and did nothing to reduce crime or improve safety.
Does law enforcement have a compelling reason why they continue to overpolice communities of color? No, they do not.
The reason given by Jacksonville law enforcement for their pedestrian ticket enforcement practices is that it reduces pedestrian fatalities. But city officials in Jacksonville have not backed up that reasoning with evidence showing, for example, that the rate of pedestrian fatalities was actually lowered over time as a result of whatever practices are leading to such high rates of ticketing Black people for pedestrian offenses. Law enforcement has likewise not presented data showing that such interactions have reduced crime by, for example, leading to the apprehension of crime suspects or seizure of weapons and contraband.
Overpolicing of communities of color leads to one thing: the overpolicing of communities of color. That’s unacceptable and illegal. It’s time for Florida law enforcement agencies to make changes to the way citizens of color are treated. Only by embracing reform can police in Florida protect and serve everyone equally.