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
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.
I think the theme for 2017 was WTH??? Definitely life as we knew it changed dramatically. It was a mixed bag — we saw a rise in hatred, but we also saw a rise in people fighting back. People raised their voices as a collective to say “this is not what America stands for”.
Now that the year is coming to an end, I actually had a moment to breathe, and acknowledge that my posts have not been as consistent as I would like. No excuses – just reality!
My new job at the ACLU of Florida has been amazing. With it, I received a very steep learning curve, of which I am still on the front side. However, I am learning from the best team in the country, so hopefully I’ll make more strides next year! The transition from prosecutor to full time social justice warrior has been interesting. I miss the courtroom and being able to work with victims of crime. But a whole new world has opened up to me. I get to speak regularly on issues that I care deeply about, with no fear of repercussions. I can keep it “100”, which is so refreshing. I’ve been writing for work as well — check out my death penalty piece in the Tampa Bay Times, as well as my work in support of State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s discretion in death penalty cases.
In the process of this new journey, I have not been able to share as much as I would like to on the blog.
There is also an emotional piece. When I was a prosecutor, discussing social justice issues was not my main job. I infused it when I could, but it was not a daily act. Now that it is my job, and in the current toxic environment, it’s become harder, and sometimes exhausting.
It’s no longer about educating folks on the system.
It’s now having basic discussions like Nazis are evil, pedophilia is a crime, and we need to believe victims.
It’s not about debating the finer points of policing. I’m now having to discuss my basic humanity as a person of color.
It’s left me like WTH? How did we get here?
But we were always here. It was artfully hidden by pretense, political correctness and the false sense of complacency after the election of President Obama.
So what now?
I keep fighting, keep resisting. I pledge to you to continue to bring you quality content when I can. But, the new year awaits — one of my goals is to focus more on writing — not just for RLD, Huffington Post and Blavity, but for newspapers as well. In order for me to grow as a writer, I need to be more intentional about how I work. Stay tuned!
Before we close the year that was, let’s take a look at the top 5 pieces on the Resident Legal Diva for 2017! Be sure to click the link in the title to see the original post.
I shared my personal experience with sexual harassment, which was super tough to do. I realized that I’m a wee bit more of a private person than I first thought; but it was critical (in my opinion) that more voices be heard. It originally appeared in Blavity, and received a ton of feedback wherever it was shared. As Gabrielle Union stated, and as we learned from the revelations coming from the floor of the Ford factory, sexual harassment is not a rich white woman Hollywood problem. It is a disease of power and entitlement — which can take many forms.
#BlackWomenAtWork was trending on Twitter, and many of us shared experiences of how some folks can be dismissive or downright insulting of our abilities, I shared how “you’re so articulate” is not a compliment — it’s backhanded at best and based in the stereotypes of where or how a woman that looks like me should be in life.
2017 saw the first African American elected prosecutor in Florida take office. She took the stance that she will not seek the death penalty in any murder case in her jurisdiction. Governor Rick Scott promptly took away her death penalty eligible cases, and the legislature later cut funding for her office. I believe that his was a gross overreach of his power — it should be the voters who decide what direction their community and their public servants go in. Prosecutors are given wide discretion for a reason; re-election (or not) is the way to send a message as to what is acceptable.
I shared my disturbing encounter with a law enforcement officer in the Huffington Post as well as the RLD. It was my personal reminder that following the rules to the best of your ability does not guarantee your safety as a person of color; this is NOT the way it should be.
Thank you to each and every one you who have supported, commented, read, shared, and suggested post ideas. As I enter my 5th year of the RLD, I look forward to making it stronger while continuing to educate folks on life and the law! If you have a question or a topic you want me to write about, tell me in the comments or contact me.
I thought long and hard before publishing this piece. Writing, sometimes, is the easiest part. But to share something personal, that is a source of pain and/or shame, makes hitting the “publish” button that much harder. But I hope that it serves to enlighten someone. Here it goes….
It was the 1990s. I was in my 20s, and part of a training class for a new job. There was a mix of us from all over — different backgrounds and races. The instructor was an older white man. One day, a group of us trainees decided to get together for drinks. We all went home and changed into casual clothes. Since it’s Florida and always hot, I threw on some shorts and cute mules (remember, it was the ’90s). I arrived at the bar and greeted everyone. I was surprised to see the instructor there, but carried on. He began making weird comments to me, and inquired of the male friend I was with (who I’d known for a long time through school) if we were sleeping together.
Sufficed to say we were all uncomfortable.
The next day in class, the instructor called on me and, in front of everyone, asked, “Isn’t it true you like to wear daisy dukes on your days off?”
I was mortified. The entire class gasped in horror.