New In HuffPo: My New Normal Post Philando Castile

New In HuffPo: My New Normal Post Philando Castile

police car

Yesterday, I was pulled over.

The reason given was that my license plate cover was too dark. I never thought it was, nor had I been warned for this previously.

In the past, I had my prosecutor’s badge to protect me — not anymore.

I’m the number two in the state for the most powerful civil liberties organization – the ACLU.

And I felt fear.

 

I placed my hands over the steering wheel, in full view of the officer. When he asked for my registration, I made sure to move slowly, with my hands continuously in full view.

 

He commented on my sports car, and my President Obama pin hanging from my rear view mirror. He also commented on my novelty license plate. My plate can be construed in several ways — commonly it is thought to support Black Lives Matter. In truth, the plate is a combination of mine and my husband’s initials. I don’t correct people, because I support intelligent policing. I always liked the double entendre.

 

Read the rest in the Huffington Post here.

Love is Love: Remembering Pulse & Loving

Love is Love: Remembering Pulse & Loving

pulse-orlando-wesh-1497229494

June 12 has become a very significant day.  Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia.  It is also the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where 49 innocent lives were lost.

Both are very closely intertwined.  On June 12, 1967, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia allowed couples of different races to marry — striking down the slavery era prohibitions to such unions.  This case was used as the foundation of the case that allowed gays to marry. That freedom to love and to be happy was attacked by a lone gunman on June 12, 2016.

life-photo-lovings
Iconic photo of Richard and Mildred Loving that originally appeared in Life Magazine

As I reflect on the significance of this day, I mourn the lives that were lost simply because of who they are or who they love. Interracial couples still face hurdles as well as racism (even though 1 in 10 couples in America are interracial).

I think about the rise in hate crimes under this current administration, and pray that the strong minded among us will join me in the fight against hate in all forms.

Evil flourishes when good people stand by and do nothing.

Please see my pieces — on being part of an interracial couple in “Love Winshere; my tribute to the Lovings here; and my reaction one year ago to the Pulse shooting in “It Could Have Been Mehere.

In solidarity,

M.

Nightclub Shooting Victims
Remembering the 49 lives tragically lost at Pulse Nightclub
Is Bill Cosby Headed to Prison?

Is Bill Cosby Headed to Prison?

PHOTO: Bill Cosby is seen leaving the Montgomery County Court House after a hearing on his upcoming sexual assault trial, Photo Date: 4/3/2017

Is Bill Cosby going to prison?
As actor Bill Cosby trial for sexual assault continues, everyone is asking the million dollar question is this it? Is the legendary actor that we all grew up with (Mr. Huxtable, Fat Albert, Jell-o pudding pops man) going to serve prison time for the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand?
Several factors come into play. 

First, he’s got to be found guilty. The prosecution has an uphill battle convincing the 12 person jury. There was a delayed report of the assault (one year later), no physical evidence, and no eyewitnesses. The alleged victim stayed in contact with Cosby afterwards. Jurors, in the age of DNA, need more than an accuser’s word more often than not. He also has a squeaky clean image, and was someone who seemed endearing on television. It may be hard to separate the character from the person. 

But, the prosecution is not walking in empty handed. There was much pretrial press, including television specials and magazine articles, of the long line of women (over 50 in total) who claim to have been victimized by Cosby. This includes supermodels, struggling actresses, and an airline stewardess among others. As much as the judge and attorneys for both sides asked probing questions during the jury selection process, this publicity will be in the jurors minds no matter what they may have said. Also, another victim will be sharing her experience with the jury — hearing from multiple victims is more powerful. Lastly, the prosecution will present expert testimony with the goal of enlightening the jury as to the different, unexpected ways victims of sexual assault may act or react. 

So, it is a toss up which way the case will go. If he is found not guilty, he walks out the door. If he is found guilty, he would not be sent to jail immediately. Sentencing would be set for several weeks after the verdict is read. At the sentencing hearing, the defense attorney would bring a host of character witnesses. We saw Keisha Pullman Knight come to court with him in support; she and other Cosby show co-stars have been vocal in their support. They will probably be called to testify, along with others who will discuss the positive things he has done for the community, for the field of acting, etc. The defense will be quick to remind the court that Cosby does not have a criminal history. 

Along with his lack of criminal history, the judge can consider Cosby’s age (79) and health. If he is truly going blind due to glaucoma, along with other physical ailments, the judge may determine that incarceration may not be the best punishment. The judge may feel that because of his age/physical condition, he is unlikely to reoffend, therefore not posing a risk to the public. 

Cosby faces a max of ten years in prison if convicted. But as we have seen in recent cases at Stanford University and in Colorado, judges may conclude that prison is not appropriate for a variety of reasons. Granted, historically, men of color have not had the best luck when it comes to sentencing, as seen by the disproportionate numbers in prison. But wealth is often the great equalizer, as seen in the OJ Simpson case. 

So is he going to jail? 
In my opinion, doubtful

They said it would get better….

They said it would get better….

They said it would get better,

After losing my mom.
They said it would get better.
In a way, it has 
I went from wailing to weeping, 

weeping to crying, 

crying to shedding tears. 

Each & Every Mother’s Day, 

six of them, 

since she’s been gone.
What I would give for one more day;

One more hour.

But, I did inherit her pragmatism.

I know in the end, the outcome will still be the same. 

It pains me to say Happy Mother’s Day to others. It’s not their fault; it’s my own pain. I never mean it to be cruel but it is hard for me to acknowledge this day

It’s harder for me than April 21, the day of her passing 

So I do what I know how to do best; 

Grind. 

Work.

In the hope that some where on the other side of the river Jordan, 

she sees and she is proud

I miss you Ma. 

Image

Diva on Channel 10: United, Police Shooting & Protecting Haitians

roundtable easter

This past Easter Sunday, I was back on the WPLG Channel 10 “This Week in South Florida” Roundtable, taking on some tough topics.  Check out what I had to say on the United Airlines fiasco, the charging of a police officer in North Miami for shooting unarmed caretaker of an autistic patient Charles Kinsey, and the importance of extending the temporary immigration protections for Haitians.

See the Roundtable here.

New on HuffPo: Victim Blaming & United

New on HuffPo: Victim Blaming & United

United-Airlines-CEO-Oscar-Munoz
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (left), Passenger Dr. Dao (right).                                                     Photo Credit: AP/Twitter

 

Hi RLD Family, 

Please my latest in Huffington Post on the continuing saga of Dr. Dao, who was violently dragged off of a United Airlines flight.

This week, many people were left in shock after viewing the troubling video of 69 year old Dr. David Dao being dragged from his seat on overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. Amid the public relations nightmare for the airline, another story has been emerging — that the doctor is a convicted felon. Dr. Dao was involved in issuing fraudulent prescriptions, possibly as part of a destructive romantic relationship. He was convicted in 2005, having lost his license to practice medicine when he was first indicted in 2003. After a long battle, probation, and paying his debt to society, he received his medical license again in 2015.

Knowing the background actually does explain why he was so reluctant to get off the plane. It was reported that Dr. Dao stated he had patients who he needed to attend to in the morning, which is why he refused to relinquish his seat. Dr. Dao was probably was thinking “I am certainly not missing my appointments so soon after getting my license back”.

But why is his past relevant? Why do we care?

Read the rest here.

HuffPo: 1st African American Head Prosecutor in Florida Wrongfully Removed

HuffPo: 1st African American Head Prosecutor in Florida Wrongfully Removed

aramis-ayala-1

 

Yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott overstepped his boundaries by removing Florida 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala from handling the Markeith Loyd murder case for her refusal to seek the death penalty. The defendant has been charged with the Orlando murders of his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton.

State Attorney Ayala explained her decision, stating that she was no longer seeking the death penalty in any of her cases, because “Florida’s death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil.” She further said capital punishment often leads to years of appeals and other court hearings, and that it costs more than a life sentence. Florida law gives every state attorney the discretion on whether or not to seek the death penalty.

Ms. Ayala holds the distinction of being the first African American state attorney in the state of Florida. Elected in November 2016, she assumed office at the beginning of this year. In her short time in office, she now also holds the distinction of being the only prosecutor removed in this fashion by this governor.

 

Read more here

Legal Divas of Color: Jasmine Twitty

Legal Divas of Color: Jasmine Twitty

The RLD Black History Month segment continues with our Legal Divas of Color.  Black history is always evolving, with people of color breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes.

Often when folks think of millennials, they think of a spoiled generation who lives at home for as long as they can.

jasmine-twitty

Jasmine Twitty challenged that perception by becoming the youngest judge in South Carolina history in August of 2015. At the age of 25, she has reached a goal that, as many can attest, others have spent their lives pursuing with no success.

Judge Twitty is a Greenville, South Carolina native.  She graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in Political Science.  Before ascending to the bench, she was a court clerk in Greenville’s 24 hour bond court.  She worked nights and weekends, learning about the court system.  In 2011, she decided that becoming a municipal judge was the path for her. As she put it in an interview with Jenna Regan  of the blog  “Smart Girls”, she became intentional about her goal.

She sought a judicial appointment in the town of Easley, South Carolina.  In South Carolina, the city council is the body that appoints judges for the municipal court.  It is not required that one be a lawyer, or a resident of the town in which they seek appointment.  After going through the interview process (which can be quite intense), she finally attained her goal in 2015. As a non lawyer, Judge Twitty had to complete a training program, and pass a certification exam.  She will have to take continuing education courses, and be re-certified every eight years.

See the interview Judge Twitty gave to local television station WSPA a few months after her appointment.

At the end of the day, you have to go for opportunities, and not self deselect.  So many times women, especially women of color, put extra requirements on themselves in addition to the qualifications they already have. “I’ll be ready to apply x position after I do xyz“.  She may be overqualified, and yet she is still doubting herself. Others fall into the trap of “I need to wait my turn”.  Judge Twitty is the perfect example — if you want it, go for it!

Best of luck to you Judge Twitty, and thank you for being  a Legal Diva of Color!

jasmine-twitty-900x506

Legal Divas of Color: Ada Louis Sipuel

Legal Divas of Color: Ada Louis Sipuel

Hello RLD Family,

Well, it’s that time of the year again! Every year during Black History Month, I do a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”. The purpose of the series is to highlight the accomplishments of female attorneys of color — women who have been trailblazers in their own right in the legal community. 


Many of you have heard of the landmark education discrimination case “Brown v. The Board of Education“. However, before the Brown case, there was Ada Louis Sipuel. Ms. Sipuel was born in Oklahoma in 1924. She endured much during her childhood due to growing up during the height of the Jim Crow era. Her house was burned; her father, who was a pastor, was jailed unjustly. Ms. Sipuel lived in a time where lynchings of African-Americans were the norm. All of these experiences gave her a burning desire to see justice served, and to become a lawyer. However, the law school in Oklahoma did not allow students of color. Students who wanted to pursue a law degree were forced to go out of state, most notably to Howard University School of Law. The concept of “separate but equal” meant that segregated schools were the norm. Of course, although equal on paper, the schools were not equal in reality. White schools had better resources, leading to a wider array of opportunities for graduates. In 1946, Ms. Sipuel applied to the law school at the University of Oklahoma. The law school president  reviewed her transcript, and indicated that there was no academic reason for her not to be accepted — only the color of her skin.  

With this information in hand, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund took on her case. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Supreme Court justice [the first African-American to do so] argued masterfully as to why these “separate but equal” laws were unjust. The court agreed;  Ms. Sipuel was allowed to enroll at the University of Oklahoma law school. The state of Oklahoma tried to get around this ruling by hastily building another school just for her but that plan failed. She then finally entered the law school with white students in 1949. Of course, knowing the time period, this was a difficult road for her. She was forced to sit at the back of the class with on the bench with a sign “Coloreds Only”.  Despite the obstacles, she persevered and graduated in 1952.

She decided to use her law degree as a teacher after briefly practicing law. She became a faculty member at the all Black Langston University, rising to become the chair of the Department of Social Sciences. Her alma mater finally righted the past wrongs by appointing her to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in 1992. Once segregated against, she then was able to run the school that had treated her unfairly.

Ms. Sipuel passed away in 1995. Hear more of her intriguing story as told by her son Bruce. 

Thank you Ada Louis Sipuel for being Legal Diva of Color, paving the way for millions of African-Americans to be able to attain legal degrees. I would not be here without your sacrifice.

Ada Sipuel signing the register of attorneys, 1952 Barney Hillerman Collection

I’m Angry & Ready: Now What?

I’m Angry & Ready: Now What?

As some of you may know, I ended my career as a prosecutor this week to become Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. I’m really excited, and this change could not have come at a better time. 

As a result of the current administration’s executive action against immigrants from specific Muslim majority countries,  many folks are angry and wish to help. 

But how?

Here are some ideas:

There is a need for legal observers to help immigrants stranded at airports nationwide. If you are an attorney located in Florida, please contact ACLU Florida Legal Director Nancy Abudu at nabudu@aclufl.org. Outside of Florida, please contact your local ACLU affiliate. See the national list here

Here is a practical list for everyone: 

  • Become a member of the ACLU. 
  • Recruit 3 new members to join the ACLU. 
  •  Sign up to get National and our ACLU of Florida Action Alerts, and respond to our requests for action in support of important ACLU issues such as reproductive rights, immigrant’s rights, criminal justice reform.
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter; share our Facebook and Twitter posts with your social media network.
  • Learn the names – and add the contact information – for your representatives in Congress and the Florida Legislature
  • Commit to writing a handwritten note to an elected official on a critical ACLU issue in 2017. You may want to write about Congress not taking aggressive action to override the President’s executive order. 
  • Talk to your family members and friends about the work of the ACLU. 
  • Get involved in an ACLU of Florida local chapter (see link for contact information for a chapter near you.) Help the local chapter with active work in the community that is in alignment with ACLU’s top issue priorities.
  • Staff a table at a local farmer’s market, art fair or similar event with ACLU materials and information on how to become an ACLU member.
  • If you are affiliated with a local ACLU Chapter, volunteer to help organize a public education forum on a priority ACLU issue, i.e. Immigration and sanctuary cities
  • Make a tax-deductible contribution to support the work of the ACLU: 
  •  Go to the ACLU online store, where you can buy ACLU clothing, stickers, pocket constitutions, and much more.

Want to protest? Before you go, know your rights. The ACLU Florida did a great Facebook Live chat; you can also read more information on your rights here. Be warned; some state legislatures are trying to introduce bills stating it is legal to “accidentally” run over a protestor in your way. If you are in an affected state, be sure to stay vigilant, and inform your representative that if s/he votes for this, you will pink slip them at the next election. And do it!!

You can always reach out to me with questions. Always remember that there is strength in numbers. Be careful, be strong, #resist. 

M.