Stepping into 2021!

Well, it’s finally here.

We’ve waited, we’ve prayed, we fought, we cried…and now, 2020 is in the history books, replaced by the blank slate of the new year.

It’s a strange feeling in some ways. For me, 2020 was very much a mixed bag. There are some parts that I couldn’t wait to have behind me – watching friends suffer with their health as a result of COVID19; lockdowns; and toxicity brought on by the political climate. At the same token, it was a year of breaking boundaries as well as new beginnings.

On the positive side, I’m thankful more than ever for my health. It’s something we should never take for granted. I was able to work remotely, which is a privilege many people did not have, placing them and their families at risk. Thank you to everyone that went out to work because they were essential; I stand in solidarity with those who were forced due to corporate greed.

George Floyd protest in Miami

2020 was definitely a year of pushing boundaries and taking on new challenges. The biggest challenge for me was running for the office of Miami Dade State Attorney. In the best of times, running for office is intense, back breaking work. I knew it was going to be hard, but there was no real way to know how hard until I was in it. You spend hours on the phone asking for donations; then more time is spent trying to maximize what you have raised in order to get your message out effectively. It became clear to me why many of those in government either come from wealth, or are beholden to special interests who financed their campaigns. It’s simply very difficult to do without financial support. Add on the layer of a global pandemic, where there is uncertainty around people’s financial future as well as the loss of the ability to connect in person at local events or door to door — now it’s uncharted waters.

With all of the hurdles, we managed to leverage social media to elevate the discussion of key issues confronting Miami and America at large in the criminal justice system. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others encouraged national activism; but it also made people look in their own backyards to see what injustices may be occurring. The racial reckoning- painful as it was for me personally to watch people that look like me die for no reason – was a turning point in highlighting why change is needed locally and nationally.

With fellow activists at Women’s March Miami rally

Even though my bid was not successful- the jury is out as to whether I will do it again – it was such an honor to connect with people I never would have met otherwise. It also allowed me to thin out my contact list. Not everyone who says they are there for you really mean it. The lesson is one that is repeated often, but it is welcome in that it clears the path for new relationships to be forged. I am so grateful to everyone who donated, volunteered or assisted in some way. So many folks showed up and showed out – it was really appreciated!!! Special shout out to my beloved husband the Cowboy. His unconditional love and support made this possible.

Me and my Cowboy! Photo credit: LocShotz

Continuing on the topic of elections, I cannot wait to attend the swearing in ceremonies of Harold Pryor in Broward County (first African American man to be elected State Attorney in Florida), and Monique Worrell who will continue the legacy of Aramis Ayala as State Attorney in Orange/Osceola County. On a national level, the first African American female will be inaugurated as Vice President. The new presidential administration under Joe Biden will be not only a breath of fresh air, but very needed oxygen for us to rebuild as a country.

My new beginning came in September when I joined Florida International University as the Director of Policy and Programs for the Center for the Administration of Justice. My father always had a saying – “watch how you conduct yourself in the street because you never know who is watching”. The associate director of the Center had been watching my campaign and how I addressed the issues. He texted me on Election night when the results became final, and I began work a month later (after a much needed vacation!). It’s been great to work with prosecutors’ offices to show them how using data and alternative ways to measure success can bring more equity to our communities as well as our system. We are bringing on new offices this year, and will be expanding the work internationally. My greatest goal is to create several test sites as models of real community engagement between prosecutors and the people they serve.

So what is on deck for 2021?

There will be a lot more writing this year (yay!). I published a book on prosecutorial discretion last year; I’ll be continuing to promote it as part of the bigger dialogue as to what is next for the criminal justice system. I’m excited to be able to travel again internationally – for pleasure and for work – once the vaccine is widely available. There will be more work on a grassroots level around criminal justice – raising awareness and empowering people with the information they need to fight for change while holding those in power accountable. Make sure to tune in to Mondays With Melba every Monday at 6pm on Facebook Live. It is also posted later in the week on my Resident Legal Diva Instagram page.

Thank you for being a part of the RLD family. I wish each of you a healthy and prosperous New Year. Please let me know any topics you’d like for me to explore on the blog or via Facebook Live. Let’s make it a great year together!!

Image of Melba Pearson embracing joy on the waterfront
Happy New Year! Photo credit: LocShotz

The Sound Of Silence: Do People Of Color Have Gun Rights?

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Hey RLD Family! Check out my latest piece which appears on the ACLU of Florida blog. 

In the wake of mass shootings, there has been a narrative about who should and should not carry a gun in America. Politicians and high-profile gun groups like the NRA routinely rally to support gun owners and the Second Amendment.

But does their support include all gun owners? The silence is deafening when it comes to people of color and their gun rights.

Three high profile examples come to mind: Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and EJ Bradford.

In July 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in Minnesota. He was a licensed gun owner, and during the stop, disclosed this information to responding officer Jeronimo Yanez. When he reached for his license per the officer’s request, he was shot and killed by the officer. The usual smear campaign ensued – his driving history of minor civil infractions was trotted out before the public. The officer was discharged after being acquitted of criminal charges.

But where was the outrage from the NRA for the death of a licensed gun owner? Rather than vilify the victim, where was the support from the gun community? A spokeswoman from the NRA went so far as to blame Castile in his own death.

Last month, Jemel Roberson was shot to death by a police officer in a Chicago area bar. There was no question as to whether he was a good guy with a gun – he was a security guard at a bar who had just managed to subdue a shooter.  As he had the gunman pinned to the ground, the clothing that he was wearing bearing the label “security” did not save him from an officer’s bullet.

Emantic “EJ” Bradford was killed by a police officer in Hoover, Alabama earlier this month. He was shot three times in the back while fleeing a mall shooting. Reports indicate that when the shooting began, EJ pulled out his gun and was assisting other shoppers to safety.

What did the three men have in common?

Read the rest of the article here. 

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.

Diva Talks: Perception is Reality

My latest vlog post on the recent police shootings, and the continuing controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem. References to the incidents I discuss in this vlog are below; please leave your comments!

References:

Video of Terence Crutcher shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Protests of officer involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott leading to state of emergency in Charlotte, North Carolina

Young African American boy Tyre King shot by police in Columbus, Ohio

Huffington Post article with stats on the number of police involved shootings since Colin Kaepernick began protesting (15 African American men in one month).

Father of terrorist flagged him to the FBI.

The coming together of police and Black Lives Matter in Wichita, Kansas

 

 

Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

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It’s beginning to seem like another day, another police shooting video.  We’ve all seen the videos — Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  The videos go viral, folks become outraged, protests are sparked….but that outrage does not always translate in the court of law. 

Why is it, that if these cases get to trial, that the videos do not trigger a quick guilty verdict? Often the outcome is the exact opposite of that.

The simple answer is desensitization. The video is shocking the first couple times you see it, but after a while, the impact lessens.  The same way we see kids become desensitized to violence after repeatedly playing violent video games or watching scary movies, is the same way jurors become desensitized after the repeated playing of a troubling video.

There’s no real solution — but it is food for thought.  

Ben Hancock at Law.com wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon.

SAN FRANCISCO – Viral videos of police shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in their final moments have left much of the American public seething, saddened and convinced that deep-rooted racial bias led the officers to fire their weapons.

But as compelling as the videos are—and as important as they have become in the broader debate about law enforcement and race—they rarely have the same decisive impact in court that they have on the way the public perceives an event.

Lawyers who have been involved in police shooting cases and dealt with videos as evidence say that often a case rises or falls on what the camera didn’t capture. Attorneys representing accused officers point to a camera’s technical limitations, or the fact that it didn’t see the angle the officer saw, which can wither a criminal or civil rights case targeting the officer.

Sometimes, the more a video is played in court, the less impact it has, and desensitizing a jury to a video’s violence often emerges as a deliberate defense strategy—as does drawing the jury’s attention to uncertainty around what happened immediately before the camera was turned on.

See the rest here.