Tag: New York

Diva Reads: The Casual Racism Edition

diva-readsHi RLD Family, I hope everyone had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. I’ve rounded up interesting pieces that I have been reading from around the web.  Give them a read, and share your thoughts! The links are in the heading titles.

Senator Jeff Sessions

Senator Sessions is the new President’s pick for Attorney General.  If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Loretta Lynch. What disturbs me is the casual racism that was seen in some of his comments while serving as a United States Attorney in Alabama. As a USA, how can you even fathom that joking about the KKK is ok, even as you are prosecuting them? I get that as prosecutors/law enforcement, we often have a dark sense of humour to deal with the horrors we see regularly. But this comment shows a lack of judgment.

If he truly made the comment of calling a grown African American man “boy” — this hearkens back to the old days of Jim Crow and the 60’s– a reminder to “stay in your lane”.

Lastly, if he truly believes that the ACLU & NAACP force civil rights down the throat of others — how will that affect civil rights issues that are brought before him, possibly by these organizations, as Attorney General? The Attorney General runs the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Will they lay idle for the next four years?

A racist doesn’t necessarily say racist things daily. Some do. One can hold racist views and be polite. The true measure of a person is seen when the person is tested. A senate committee found his judgment too lacking to be a federal judge. In many ways, Attorney General is an even more critical position. Attorney General Lynch was more than qualified, but went through what can only be described as a hellified confirmation process.  I hope that the Senate will do their job and seriously scrutinize Senator Sessions to determine if he is fit for this role.

Lawsuit by Police Officer in California

In another example of casual racism — an African American police officer retired, and decided to join a new department. He found casual racism in this new assignment — such as officers referring to an area as the “n-word hill”, and using racial slurs in conversation, without even thinking it would be offensive.  When the officer sought to make it a teaching moment by challenging the norm, he lost his position.

We must never stop challenging racism when we see it. Racism must not be the new normal.

New York Governor Cuomo Takes Action

In response to the spike in hate crimes in New York since the election, Governor Cuomo has created a special unit in the police department.  He will also set up a legal defense fund for immigrants who cannot represent themselves but have been harmed.  Finally, he will be meeting with college students to remind them that New York is their home, and it should be a safe place for them.  Governor Cuomo is a major reminder of how local politics matters.  Your state and local officials set the trend; foolishness can be the order of the day in Washington, but at home, our elected officials can choose to set a different standard. I applaud the Governor’s efforts, and challenge others to do the same.

The Re-education of a White Supremacist

In today’s beacon of hope — an avowed white supremacist changed his views as a result of education, and getting to know the people he hated. His family had home schooled him, isolating him so that he can be indoctrinated into their way of life. He was an heir to a racist throne. It was a long process, fueled by his intellectual curiosity while away at college — but he renounced his connection to racism, and publicly stated that he no longer agrees with his family’s views.

I have always believed college and the military are great equalizers in this country. No one is born racist; and with mingling as well as education, the fallacy of race supremacy can fall.

Fidel Castro

Last night saw the passing of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Some view him as a tyrant; others view him as a freedom fighter who defied the United States.  I say “it’s complicated”.  I firmly believe in the saying “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter“. He may have started with good intentions — that of liberating his people and bringing about change (sound familiar?) but he got lost along the way.  This could be the ultimate case of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There are those that love him, and those that loathe him. Presently, celebrations are being held in the streets of Miami, with no signs of stopping. In the early days, Castro sent troops in an effort to liberate many African nations from colonial rule; but he was supporting Communist insurgents, not democracy. He was close to Nelson Mandela, a man who I greatly admire; but as I reflect on some of the inner turmoil in the African National Congress (ANC) where those who were viewed as traitors had burning tires hung around their necks, it is critical to note that the struggle for freedom is rarely a clean business. The poverty of those who remain in Cuba, as well as those who lost loved ones without so much as a trial is a terrifying part of the story. I know that this is a sensitive topic for my Cuban brethren, so I support whatever emotions they are feeling right now.

Legal Divas of Color: Darcel Clark

darcel sworn

The third Legal Diva of Color this month is Darcel Clark. On January 16 of this year, Ms. Clark made history as being the first woman to become the Bronx  District Attorney, and the first African American female District Attorney in the State of New York!

Her path to success was certainly not an easy one. As a true “daughter of the Bronx”, she hails from the Soundview section of the borough.  Her parents both worked tough jobs, but took the time to be involved in their community.  These early lessons clearly rubbed off on their daughter. Ms. Clark attended New York City public schools, then went on to receive her undergraduate degree at Boston College, and her law degree at Howard University.

Upon graduation, she returned to the Bronx and never left. Ms. Clark was a prosecutor for 13 years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, rising to the rank of Supervisor of the Narcotics Bureau, and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Court Bureau.  In 1999, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed Ms Clark to the bench.  She served as a judge for a total of 16 years before winning the coveted position of District Attorney in a landslide election in November 2015.

Ms. Clark stated in her swearing in speech at Lehman College:

“I can say to any little girl, you know, if you work really hard, you can go on to law school, you can become an Assistant District Attorney, you can become a judge and then you can become District Attorney of the Bronx,”

The new District Attorney will focus on wrongful convictions, corruption, gun violence, and reforming the Rikers Island jail complex.

Thank you Darcel Clark, for making history, and being a Legal Diva of Color!

darcel

Knowledge Trumps Racism Part III: Why Violence is NOT the Answer!

Featured Image -- 62604

Over the weekend, two police officers from the New York  Police Department, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were gunned down in their police cars at close range and lost their lives. The lone gunman had posted pictures on social media before and after the murder, and had made statements that this was in retribution for the recent police involved deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The backlash has been instant and fierce. Social media has been on fire, as well as mainstream media. The “us versus them” mentality has gone into full effect. I have seen statements from both sides that have been completely horrific. I have seen statements from police officers which basically amount to “it’s all out war on African-Americans” (and not put so politically correctly); I have also seen statement from African-Americans basically saying that those police officers deserve to die, or that somehow, their lives are less valuable as a result of the actions of the police officers that were involved in the recent high profile deaths of African-Americans.

Here is the danger in this thinking. We have now gotten to a point where we are in a standoff in our thought process. And from that standpoint, there can be no winners. There is no middle ground. The only way we can have progress is to find a middle ground.

At the end of the day, what do we really want? All of us, as a nation?

We want police working with the community; we want an end to senseless deaths in all forms; we want peace in our streets.

We want life to go back to normal where everyone can go to work and go about our business without looking over our shoulders, whether you are a police officer or a civilian.

By getting so entrenched in our positions and making statements that are so offensive to either side, we can never reach a point of compromise.

Because here’s the reality — unless we are willing to quit our jobs and do the job ourselves, we need the police to keep us safe.  And if we cast the police out, the police department ceases to exist.  So, we need each other, and MUST find a way to work together.

Let’s address violence as a solution.

Looking back in American history, violence has not been the route to success. During the civil rights movement, there was a debate as to whether  or not African-Americans should follow the early, more militant path of Malcolm X , noted for his quote of “by any means necessary”, or follow the nonviolent path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The path of Malcolm X seemed to be more energetic, and the quickest way to get results. Dr. Martin Luther King’s path was painful. There were more deaths and was a slower path to success.

However history told the final story. And in the end, it was Dr. Martin Luther King’s way that proved most effective. Malcolm X eventually converted to Dr. King’s way of thinking. I recently watched a special on PBS entitled “Many Rivers to Cross“. It was a very poignant series which covered the many decades of African-Americans in the United States. It discussed the history of the civil rights movement.

It also talked about Bloody Sunday.

When Dr. Martin Luther King led the march in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, he and the other marchers were confronted by police officers who brutally attacked them while they were protesting peacefully. The media documented this atrocity. As a result, the civil rights movement received many more supporters of all races, including leaders from the Jewish faith, from the Catholic faith (there were nuns in full habits marching with the civil rights movement!) and the movement towards voting rights gained more momentum. Alabama was exposed as a hotbed of intolerance. This incident was one of the catalysts of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The moments before...Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965
The moments before…Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965

Selma is an example of how the nonviolent path is so effective.  If the marchers had been violent, they would not have gotten the support from such a wide base, and the resulting laws would not have been enacted.

After the video of the death of Eric Garner was released, if you look at the protests that resulted, you would’ve noticed that there was a wide range of protesters from all races in the crowd. Many people were very disturbed by the tactics used in the video. No matter what your stand on the grand jury findings, this was an opportunity to discuss policing in the 21st century, and to explore whether or not current methods were working or needed to be changed.  The act of this lone crazy gunman threatens the positive dialogue that was being started.

So where from here?

This is the perfect time to show decency. Let the New York Police Department grieve, and support them in this time of sorrow. No family deserves this. This was a horrible act and no one should sanction it. And if your argument is “they wouldn’t do that for us“, I say, hold yourself to a higher standard! If you do, then you inherently challenge others to either do the same, or expose them for who they are. You’d be surprised at the results. I find once you elevate, people elevate with you.

We cannot hold an entire police force accountable for the acts of a few. The majority of police officers that I have met in my career are good decent folks who want to do their job and get home to their families.  The same applies to African Americans — the majority are law abiding citizens who want a good life for themselves and their families, and want to see justice in the world. Neither side should be painted with the same negative brush.

Change is a tough thing. We want it, but it comes at a cost. Change does not need to come at the cost of human life. We are a civilized country, and we hold ourselves out as such to the international community. Death can cause us to realize change is needed; but if we start to condone violent acts against each other, then we are no better then the foreign countries that we criticize. We need to distance ourselves from those who promote violence, and we need to stand tall and claim our human dignity. There is a time to grieve, and there’s a time to act. Declining to protest for several days until the funerals are over will not harm the movement. It would actually gain the respect of many people and would bring a conciliatory tone to the issues at hand. It would also highlight our strength and decency as a people.

I will end with a quote I will be using a lot in the coming days from Dr. Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.20140202-120430.jpg

Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

IFWT_Bill_De_Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio came under fire for regarding comments he made regarding what he has told his son about how to interact with law enforcement.

Mayor De Blasio, who is married to an African American woman and has a biracial son, stated in a recent interview:

“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio went on. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

The head of the New York City Police Union was infuriated, and stated that the Mayor “threw cops under the bus” and was not helping race relations.

Here’s the deal.

Mayor De Blasio a white man, and a parent, is speaking his truth.

He’s speaking of the discussion that thousands of African American parents have with their sons across the country on a daily basis.

He’s a responsible parent, making sure his child knows how to act appropriately in a police encounter. Be polite, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t do anything to escalate the situation.

He’s also being practical! As angry as Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch may be, does he really want people making sudden movements in police encounters, creating situations where officers will have to draw their weapons?

I should hope not!

Mayor De Blasio’s statement is actually helping race relations…because when African Americans make similar statements, it can be viewed as an overreaction. “Their kids must be doing something bad.” “They’re just paranoid”

But the Mayor says it…this draws attention to the fact that this is a real issue.

So before dismissing his comments, listen.

Knowledge trumps racism.

Understand what the other side is saying. Mayor De Blasio is speaking his truth. So speak yours and let’s have a productive dialogue on how to move policing forward as opposed to “us” vs “them”.

Not all kids of color are bad; not all police officers are bad.  If we start from that premise, we may actually get somewhere!

See my list of my practical tips on interacting with law enforcement here.

Feel free to weigh in!

M.