Top 5 Stories of 2018 on RLD!

Top 5 Stories of 2018 on RLD!

Whelp, another year is in the books.  2018 brought some interesting highlights — many of us were full on #WakandaForever in honor of the movie Black Panther; we dissected Danny Glover’s masterful video for the song This is America; and millions of activists found their voices as a result of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as due to the current presidential administration.  We lost Anthony Bourdain and Aretha Franklin. We joyfully welcomed a new Duchess of Sussex in Meghan Markle during a glorious royal wedding.

In my life, 2018 was a year of growth.  I became President of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, found my stride as Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida,  and was recognized by the American Bar Association for having one of the best Legal twitter accounts and for being one of the eight most inspiring members for 2018.

I didn’t get to write as much as I wanted to — but you, my RLD Family, hung in there with me! For this, I thank you.

Here are the top 5 pieces that you loved:

5. Missing the Little Things on Mother’s Day

Every year, I write as a form of therapy to cope with the untimely passing of my mother from cancer.  It’s a way to honor her, as well as to take my mind off of the pain.  It’s been six years — the grief is better than it was, but I know I will never be the same.  Over time, I’ve come to accept this new normal.  Not everyone is blessed to have had a great relationship with their mother — so I count myself lucky.

4. “You’re So Articulate” Is Not a Compliment to a Woman of Color

This article came out of the #BlackWomenAtWork Twitter hashtag from last year.  Women of color were discussing various microaggressions we face in the workplace, often from folks who seem so “surprised” by our presence, or for defying the stereotypes they have of us.  I shared an experience I had, and a conservative commentator decided to weigh in without completely understanding the context (or frankly, even trying to understand).  So, a tutorial ensued. The fact that it has been so highly read for two years in a row shows that the issue is one that is not going away any time soon.

3. The Flawed Concept of “But You Have Nothing To Be Depressed About!”

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Anthony Bourdain shooting ‘Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown’ on location in Salvador, Brazil on January 9, 2014.

In June of this year, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain passed away as a result of suicide.  It hit me hard — not only because I was a huge fan of his shows, not because we were in France at the same time — but because many people still struggle to understand mental health.  There are so many misconceptions tied to money, material things, and outward appearances — as to who should or can be depressed.  Money gives you access to better care, but it does not insulate you from the crippling effects of depression.  There is no shame in admitting you need help.  There were dark periods in my life where a good therapist helped me get back on track. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.  May he rest in peace.

2. Toxic Tribalism: Why Diverse Judges Are Needed More Than Ever

Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years this past January for molesting the athletes in his care over a span of 30 years.  Instead of the focus being on his heinous actions and betrayal of young athletes who were serving our country through sport, the attention shifted to Judge Rosemarie Acquilina for comments she made during sentencing. It was, what has sadly, become a pattern of the “boys need to stick together” mentality, even when one of the boys was dead wrong.  In this piece I analyzed her actions and the context. Little did we know that there was more to come in the form of continued #MeToo revelations, and a contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearing.  These occurrences are a constant reminder of the need for diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system, to ensure that everyone gets a voice — regardless of gender, money, power or privilege.

And the #1 story of 2018 is…

  1. Betrayed By The Bench?

A judge in Miami Dade County, who many of us knew for many years, lost his seat due to his use of racial slurs at work.  Many folks who are not of color wonder how to be an ally.  I laid out a few — but the key is not to remain silent.  Record everything, and don’t let racist instances slide.  The lives of many hang in the balance.

There you have it! Were there other pieces that you liked from this year? Anything you’d like to see me write about next year? Sound off in the comments!

Wishing you and yours a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.  See you on the flip side!

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Toxic Tribalism: Why Diverse Judges Are Needed More Than Ever

Toxic Tribalism: Why Diverse Judges Are Needed More Than Ever

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Judge Rosemarie Aquilina during sentencing. Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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.

To keep things in perspective, remember the reactions to the judge in the  Stanford rape case, and how a Montana judge thought that a girl could not be a victim because “she acted older than her age“.

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.

Lyin’ Lochte’s Tragic Overshadowing of the Olympics

Lyin’ Lochte’s Tragic Overshadowing of the Olympics

May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We’re going to have a problem here

Lyrics from “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem

Will the real swim shady please stand up?

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NY newspapers always keep it real….

Although the lights have dimmed and the closing ceremonies have finished, the amazing accomplishments by the athletes in the last week have been overshadowed by a drama of Olympic sized proportions.

Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers, spun a tale of robbery in Rio which turned out to be completely false.  However, the reactions of some on social media call into question where we are as a country.

Let’s put this in context.  During the week, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas didn’t raise her hand to her heart during the National Anthem after she received her team gold medal in gymnastics.

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Photo Courtesy of Jet Magazine

No one was harmed. No property was harmed. No lies were told. She apologized for her actions.

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Yet her actions were scrutinized to the point of sickness. The “we gave you a chance” narrative became front and center on social media, and she was accused of being “ungrateful”.

Hello, she earned it!! No one “gives” you a place in sports. You have to shed blood, sweat and tears to get a spot. Gabby gave up everything she knew — her town, her family and her time — to qualify for the US Olympic team.

By comparison, Ryan Lochte made the similar sacrifices and won gold. Yet he lied and entered into conduct unbecoming of an athlete. In a drunken episode with his friends, he urinated on the side of a gas station, and trashed a door. He then told the media and Brazilian law enforcement that he was robbed at gunpoint, even going so far as to say the gunman put the firearm to his temple.

If you look at the surveillance video from the night in question, it is clear that he and his companions are intoxicated. They did not even return to the correct taxicab after vandalizing the gas station property.  A man comes up to the cab, and it appears that he orders them to get out. They exit, with wallets out, as if to compensate for the damages.

He has since issued an apology, in which he still paints himself as a victim because he was held at gunpoint after committing a crime.

Whelp, that’s kind of what happens when you get arrested or detained.

Lochte urinated on Brazil literally and figuratively. He destroyed property and lied about it, assuming that everyone would believe his tale of being a victim of violence in a beleaguered 3rd world country. Purportedly this story broke because he told his mother a lie, his mother called the media out of fear/concern, and he continued the lie when asked by authorities in Brazil.

As a grown man, he should have known how his mother would have reacted.  There are stories that my mother went to her grave not knowing about my escapades, simply because I knew that she would panic or react in a certain way.  If Lochte had exercised this discernment, he would not have had this problem.

Even if he decided to lie to his mother, when asked by Brazilian authorities, he could have told them that this was a family misunderstanding, no robbery occurred, and end it there.  He did not. To be clear, he was sober at this juncture. This is another moment of poor judgement.

All of these moments of poor judgement add up to a criminal offense (as often happens).
His lapse of judgement is treated by some as a harmless “boys will be boys” prank. Most boys don’t commit crime. And FYI at 32, Lochte is not a boy. His criminal actions threaten to overshadow all of the amazing work that Team USA has done at the Olympics in Rio. Granted, there is an argument to be made that it is not the worst Olympic scandal in history (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan come to mind), but it is pretty close.

In the United States, falsifying a police report is a misdemeanor in most states, subject to a fine or a short jail sentence of less than a year.  It is a crime in Brazil as well, likely subject to similar penalties.

What disturbs me is the vitriol Gabby Douglas endured as a result of her actions, while there is a willingness to look past Lochte’s criminal behavior.  There have been some interesting articles on this that I would like to share, by  Emma Gray at the Huffington Post, and one by Charise Frazier at NewsOne.

The question is: is this white privilege at work?

Let me know your thoughts!