It’s never a good feeling to lock the door to your home, and not know when, if ever, you can really return.
At present, my husband, my 81 year old father and I are hunkered down in a hotel in central Florida. Our home in Miami is in the path for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma; the storm may follow us to where we are, causing us to consider running again. We are luckier than most in that we are able to leave town, and not head to a shelter. Hurricane shelters, contrary to how one sheriff in particular portrays them, are not centers of crime and assault. It is literally a a building (often a school) in a safer area that allows you to lay a blanket on the floor until the danger is over. A shelter is safe but not at all comfortable.
Many of my friends have chosen to stay put in their homes. There are many reasons why folks do not leave. Some can’t afford the crazy airline prices out of town; others worry that it is too late to leave, and don’t want to get caught in the storm due to traffic jams on the major highways.
Recently, it has come to light that some in the media show great disparities in how they report the aftermath of hurricane, based on race. Many of us reflect back to Hurricane Katrina, where there were pictures of residents doing whatever they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, when white folks were depicted taking food or items from stores, they were portrayed as survivors. When people of color did the same, they were portrayed as looters.
Last Sunday, I had the honor of returning to Channel 10 news Roundtable, “This Week in South Florida”. It was an outstanding time. We got really deep in the debate as to whether or not Governor Scott was wrong to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case for her stance on the death penalty; the fact that no charges were filed in the death of Darren Rainey [the inmate who was boiled to death by prison guards], and lastly, the ongoing debate on healthcare. It definitely got heated at times but it was a healthy debate on the issues. In case you missed it, check out the link here and share your thoughts! The Roundtable begins at 26 minutes.
I was really excited and honored to be a part of WPLG South Florida Channel 10 Roundtable this past Sunday. On “This Week in South Florida”, my fellow panelists and I debated the topics of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as well as immigration. I had a great time, and will be on again next Sunday.
As the segment ended, we started to talk about the false narrative that immigrants commit more crimes then United States citizens. That is patently untrue; I saw this in the courtroom when I was a prosecutor. A recent study published in the New York Times said what I already knew – – immigrants commit crime at half the rate of natural born citizens. Please see the link to that article here.
Last night, I attended my first live debate. I witnessed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders do battle as to why they should be the Democratic nominee at Miami -Dade College. It was a rowdy, raucous atmosphere. The energy was electric, and we were all ready for the fireworks that were going to erupt on stage.
Now I’m no pundit or pollster, but these are my takeaways as a layperson/political news junkie.
The millennials love Bernie.
The energy for him was strong, he had rock star status for sure. They screamed, stomped and urged him on. The establishment Dems, however, weren’t so enthusiastic. Idealism vs Pragmatism? Maybe.
Ok I’m obsessed.
The moderator who was representing Univision (and was notoriously told by a certain candidate on the other side to “go back to Univision”) was tough as nails. In another life he would have made an amazing defense attorney with his masterful cross examinations, holding the feet to the fire of the candidates (mostly Hillary).
But Hillary did clap back when he asked her if she would step down if she was indicted over her emails. “That’s ridiculous, I’m not even going to answer that!”
I’ll be watching more of him for sure.
I guess my Spanish will have to improve though.
Biggest laugh of the night?
Bernie demanding the transcript of Hillary’s infamous $225,000 speech — “I’d think a speech so great, you’d want to share!!”
The crowd was more in favor of Hillary but the Bernie group was strong. Bernie BOMBED the question on if he regrets praising dictators like Fidel Castro and the Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega back in the ’80s. That was the wrong place and crowd to say ANYTHING nice about Castro. The same themes came up over and over — Bernie really despises Wall Street. He’s radical to the core. Hillary wants to work within the system to change things. So, complete anti-establishment in Bernie vs. middle of the road in HRC. I don’t think many minds were changed last night.
I’m still undecided
To be blunt, it has been said that both candidates are tone deaf to the concerns of African Americans. It’s more of we weren’t even part of the conversation. Granted, last night’s focus was immigration. Both candidates pretty much agreed, with onion thin differences. But Bernie weaves in his plan every chance he got to regarding getting Wall Street to pay for his lofty goals. He talked about investing in jobs programs, free public college, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and universal health care. He briefly mentioned the high level of unemployment of African American young people (51%). Hillary discussed breaking down barriers. But there was no discussion of public safety, criminal justice, investing in drug/mental health treatment, and other than Bernie’s jobs program, no specific details of how more jobs will be created. I question Bernie’s practicality; I question Hillary’s resolve to get things done. Will she back down in the face of adversity, or fight?
Last night, I met some amazing people. It was so awesome to be a part of our process, and watch how it works. I was truly honored to be in attendance.
But will I #FeeltheBern or #StandwithHerwhen I early vote in Florida this weekend?
I still don’t know. There will be a lot more research in the coming days. But rest assured, your Resident Legal Diva will be voting, because your vote is your voice. Too many people died for me and you to have the right to vote!!
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.
It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.
I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.
But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?
You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.
In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).
President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.
What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.
But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.
As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”
It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.
Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!
The president of the Miami Dade County Police Benevolent Association made some interesting statements in response to Mayor Gimenez making deep cuts in the budget. He basically said to the community “arm yourselves, because we aren’t coming”.
My opinion? Completely irresponsible thing to say.
Yes, budget cuts are serious. It’s tough all around.
But to cause panic and tell the criminals “have at it” is contrary to “protect and serve”.
And PS if you DO get a gun, get trained, and don’t assume “Stand your ground” will work in your favor. Some say “it is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6″….until you are doing LIFE under 10/20/Life.
A better option? Join your local Crimewatch. There isn’t one, create one. Get to know your neighbors and look out for them. Most importantly from my perspective — if you are a witness to a crime, don’t look the other way! Testify, cooperate with the process. If we can put these bad folks away for a long time, there are less bad folks to victimize you and your neighbors.
The second in a series of panels sponsored by the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) aimed at educating young men of color was held at Ponce Middle School in Miami. Please click the link above for this article, showing professionals and law enforcement working together to help the young men in the community. We have three more panels coming in the next two weeks.
Follow me on Twitter @ResLegalDiva, or email me directly for more information.
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”.
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
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.
Born in Miami, Florida in 1923, Gwen Sawyer Cherry was a trailblazer like no other. She earned three degrees between 1946 and 1965, while mothering two children. Her bachelor’s degree and law degree were from Florida A&M University; she also earned a master’s degree in science from New York University and studied at three other out-of-state universities. She later returned to FAMU to be a law professor.
Upon her graduation from law school, Ms. Cherry became Miami-Dade County’s first African American female attorney.
After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Ms. Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970. Ms. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida Legislature. While in office, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, chaired the state’s committee for International Woman’s Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas. Additionally, Ms. Cherry chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s Miami chapter.
Tragically, Ms. Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in 1979. In his eulogy, then Florida Governor Graham called Gwen Cherry ‘a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern.’
At FAMU, a lecture hall was dedicated to Ms. Cherry for all of her hard work and dedication. There is a park in Miami that bears her name, as a testament to her work to benefit the youth.
In 2005, what was previously known as the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County chapter was renamed Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in her honor.
I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for this organization.
Gwen S. Cherry, I thank you for being one of the ORIGINAL Legal Divas!!