Aramis Did It Right: My Latest in the Orlando Sentinel

Aramis Did It Right: My Latest in the Orlando Sentinel

The video of State Attorney Aramis Ayala being stopped by police has gone viral.
This shouldn’t be surprising: Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida, and she is experiencing heightened scrutiny for her stance on the death penalty. Ayala is currently in a legal battle with Florida’s governor who, after she made her stance public, reassigned close to two dozen of her death-penalty-eligible homicide cases to another state attorney.

Read the rest here

New In HuffPo: My New Normal Post Philando Castile

New In HuffPo: My New Normal Post Philando Castile

police car

Yesterday, I was pulled over.

The reason given was that my license plate cover was too dark. I never thought it was, nor had I been warned for this previously.

In the past, I had my prosecutor’s badge to protect me — not anymore.

I’m the number two in the state for the most powerful civil liberties organization – the ACLU.

And I felt fear.

 

I placed my hands over the steering wheel, in full view of the officer. When he asked for my registration, I made sure to move slowly, with my hands continuously in full view.

 

He commented on my sports car, and my President Obama pin hanging from my rear view mirror. He also commented on my novelty license plate. My plate can be construed in several ways — commonly it is thought to support Black Lives Matter. In truth, the plate is a combination of mine and my husband’s initials. I don’t correct people, because I support intelligent policing. I always liked the double entendre.

 

Read the rest in the Huffington Post here.

#TBT: Best of 2016

#TBT: Best of 2016

voting 2016

 

 

Hi RLD Family,

As we bring 2016 to a close, I wanted to share the stories on the blog that were the most popular this year. I’ve put the link to the post in the title, so go ahead and click to read it again…or for the first time if you missed it.

Let’s begin the countdown!

 

 

#5. Don’t Leave America, Fight For It!

This Presidential election definitely brought out some strong feelings — and the outcome came as a surprise to many. I shared my thoughts as to “where from here” and my resolve to fight for what is rightfully mine as an American. My forefathers planted trees on this land, and I intend to stay and enjoy the fruit of their labor.

 

#4. An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly on Slavery

My response to the crazy and factually incorrect comments regarding slavery made by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly appeared in the Huffington Post. It remains the most commented on and liked piece that I have done so far.  We must be vigilant to make sure that those who wish to revise history, whitewashing it and trying to minimize the effect it had on this nation, are held to task.

 

#3. My Take on Police Shootings

This piece was published in the Huffington post as well. It was in response to some of the horrific shootings by police that we saw this year. Not every case merits an arrest;  if an officer can articulate legitimate reasons for being in fear, then the shooting is justified.  The focus must remain on deescalation tactics  to reduce the number of fatal shootings, and shining a light on those shootings that are not justified to ensure that everyone is equal under the law — facing consequences when the law is broken.

 

#2. #LoveWins: Interracial Relationship Realities

An innocent and sweet Old Navy ad featuring an interracial family drew the ire of Internet trolls. As a result of the racist backlash, many families started to post pictures showing what love is. I was no different;  not only did I post pictures of my husband and I, but I penned a piece to discuss some of the challenges that we face as a couple. At the end of the day, as long as you have a love and communication, you can overcome anything!

 

And the number one post of 2016 on the Resident Legal Diva is:

#1. Goodbye My Dear Friend…

This was one of the toughest pieces for me to write. Actually, writing it wasn’t that hard; reading and sharing it was the difficult part. My friend suddenly passed away earlier this year, and left a hole in my heart that can never be filled. This was a tough year for me with regards to friends and family transitioning to the next life. All we can do is cherish those we love while we have them, mourn those we have lost, and keep them alive in our hearts through our beautiful memories.

This year I also took a gander at vlogging! I did three videos — check out the links below.

 

So for 2017, what do you want to see on the blog? Do you want to see more articles? More Diva Talks videos? More Diva Reads where I discuss articles of interest that I have been reading?  I’d love to hear from you, sound off in the comments below.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous, and amazing New Year. I’ll see you on the flipside!

M.

 

createherstock-christmas167-isha-gaines
courtesy CreateHerStock

 

Diva Reads: The Casual Racism Edition

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.

Perceptions on Race and Crime…

Perceptions on Race and Crime…

What’s the difference between a joyride and stealing a car?

The elements are the same: the taking of a car with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of its use. Unfortunately, what is considered a “joyride” in a white community becomes “grand theft auto” in a community of color. 

The outcome can be different depending on the defendant. If you have a white defendant that comes in with a fancy lawyer, who is arguing that it was a childish prank and points at the future the young man has ahead of him while the young man is crying in open court — the case may either be dismissed or result in a diversion program. 

Meanwhile, the defendant of color may not have anyone vehemently arguing on his behalf. His family does not have the money for a lawyer or to pay the fee for a diversion program. The overworked public defender cannot delve as deeply into the case.  He’s sorry for the stupid act; but maintains a stiff upper lip in front of the judge, because in his culture, men don’t cry — it’s perceived as weak. His outcome ends up being more severe with a criminal conviction. This now means he will have difficulty getting a job, obtaining student loans, living in public housing, or even joining the military. His life is over before it gets started. 

This is even assuming that the white defendant is even arrested — he may be brought home by the police with a stiff warning, and the car returned to the rightful owner. 

Similar scenarios play out across the country due to stereotypes some people have that people of color have no future.

So how do we make the justice system more colorblind?

All first time offenders of non violent crimes should be given a diversion program. All addicts should be placed into a drug court that requires treatment. It should not be a matter of whether or not your lawyer advocates on your behalf for a program. The Task Force on 21st Century Policung, convened but the White House after the events in Ferguson, issued a report that in part urges police departments to return to community policing, where they get out of their cars and get to know the residents. This way, you can bring young Johnny home to his family — or if there are issues at the home, the officer is aware and find another solution for a young person acting out. 

It happens regularly in white communities; with a little creativity the same can be done in communities of color. 

My friend Courtney Swan wrote a riveting piece on our criminal justice system from a Canadian perspective. She makes some great points backed by statistics that show the disparity brought on by the history of racism in America. She comes to similar conclusions as seen in my recent discussion on the War on Drugs. We are moving forward, but we still have some work to do! 

The War on Drugs is Killing Black America 

By guest blogger Courtney Swan

Since President Richard Nixon coined the term in a press conference in June 1971, the ‘War on Drugs’ has been a forceful weapon for nationwide, institutionalized discrimination and racism in the United States.

Nixon declaring to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” was the start of the country’s longest ongoing war, along with the notoriously detrimental effects of its repercussions.
Just to get it out of the way right now, because I know many of you are wondering what my stance is on it… the War on Drugs is a race issue. 
But please understand that this isn’t just my stance. This isn’t my opinion reflective of my own personal biases.
This is a cold, hard fact, and this series is going to extensively break down and analyze the many truths surrounding this.
The War on Drugs is a crisis which over the last 45 years has brutally and unjustly targeted and devastated communities of color all across America.
One of the most frequent responses to the pleas for criminal justice reform to solve the epidemic of mass incarceration of people of color is, “Well, the real issue we need to resolve is black-on-black crime!”
But, here’s the thing… black on black crime is in itself a twisted, and quite frankly racist expression used to represent the completely bogus idea that more black people are in prison because more black people are criminals.
This idea needs to be shut down.
What the idea of ‘black on black crime’ does is enable American citizens to turn a blind eye to this form of institutionalized racism by encouraging us to justify it. It allows us to diminish the value of black life and black freedom with implications that it is undeserved. . . that mass incarceration has nothing to do with systemic racism and everything to do with the shortcomings of black people in America.
So let’s debunk the myths.

Myth #1: Black on Black Crime Is Worse Than White on White Crime

Read the rest here

Rest In Peace Former Director Bobby Parker

Rest In Peace Former Director Bobby Parker

bobby parker 2 This past Saturday, former Miami-Dade Police Department Director Robert “Bobby” Parker was laid to rest. He  retired in 2009 after rising through the ranks to become the first African American in the department’s top job. Director Parker was named Miami-Dade Police Director in 2004 by then Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Director Parker joined the force in 1976 and quickly worked his way up the ranks. He spent 33 years in the eighth largest police department in the US, doing what he did best — protecting, serving and mentoring.

My memory of him was sitting next to him in 2009, as we were giving commencement speeches to the police academy class. We had met casually before, but this was the first extended contact I had with him. When he gave his speech, he  reminded the young officers that the police uniform will bring new attention, so do not forget who you started out with. 

I thought to myself “wow, things are that hectic that the Director has to tell folks not to cheat on their partners?”

But, he was right, and it was sage advice.

Throughout my career I had seen (and continue to see) officers get caught up in power and following the crowd — in the process, destroying their families. Bobby’s words of staying grounded rang so true; I often wondered how many of those new officers heeded his advice.

Since that day, we ran into each other frequently at community events. He always had an easy smile, and a great demeanor. I saw the many causes we shared in common, and that he had a genuine concern for the next generation, especially young African American men.

I had been out of town the last few weeks at the National Black Prosecutors Conference, and attending family matters, returning to discover he had passed away…and at his own hand.

It was right after his 62nd birthday

My heart broke into a million pieces.

I don’t know what happened. All I can say is this. Never be afraid to ask for help, no matter where you are in life. There is no shame in going to therapy; there is no weakness in speaking to someone about your problems. Who cares what is “macho” or not!

If someone comes to you wanting to talk, don’t blow it off or turn them away. We need to take care of each other, and find coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of life before it overwhelms us. If you sense a friend is in trouble, just ask the question.  Put aside whatever “bro-code”. I know we have to respect the privacy of others, but also follow your gut if you sense something.

And yes I will say it. My fellow African Americans, we have to stop this stigma of “therapy and depression is a White people thing”. Because it’s not — it’s real. Depression doesn’t stop to check what race you are before it invades your mind and destroys your spirit. Depression is killing us in different ways; therapy, medications, and other healthy coping mechanisms can help sort things out.

And guess what?

There are African American therapists, so cultural sensitivity is not a problem.

My mother always had a saying “Once there is life, there is hope”.

There is no problem without a solution, you just may need help finding it.

So please. Help yourself. Help each other.

Bobby, rest in peace. You left us way too soon.

My deepest condolences to the Parker family, and to my brothers and sisters in blue who are grieving right now.

M.

bobby parker

A Moment of Reflection: Fill in the Blank

A Moment of Reflection: Fill in the Blank

20140323-142740.jpg
In  our busy lives, it’s always good to take a moment of reflection. It is always critical to remind yourself that not all _____ are _____. You have to always remind yourself not to generalize, in whatever situation you are in life. The “blanks” differ from person to person.  If you’re a single man going through dating horrors, not all women are crazy. When I was single, I had to remind myself of that about men 🙂 . From a political standpoint, not all Republicans are evil, not all Democrats are destructive. Fill in the blanks.

I found myself having to have to do that frequently in the last few weeks. After coming off the heels of a widely publicized scandal, in which police officers that I knew in Miami Beach, socialized with, went to battle shoulder to shoulder with in the court room, were discovered to have sent very vile racist and misogynistic emails, I had to take a step back and reflect. After getting past my initial hurt and anger, I had to think about constructive ways to confront what has clearly emerged as a subculture of racism in a department that I actually have the unique opportunity to effect change in. But I had to remind myself that this was not necessarily the culture, but a subculture. Because not all ______are ______. Not all police officers are racist. Not every single police officer in that department was involved. But it did take a moment to get to that place. I had to evaluate all of my interactions. I had always believed that myself and people who were racist pretty much had a clear understanding; we’d look at each other, and know that we were not on the same page.There was always a certain edge that is present. It’s hard to put into words, but just how one can sense when a person doesn’t like you, it’s the same type of feeling.  But it was clear in this case that those who held ignorant views did not always act in this fashion, and were capable of hiding it on a whole new level.
Interestingly enough, several weeks before the Miami Beach emails broke, I was teaching a class to police management, and we reached the topic of social media.  A similar scandal had occurred in 45 minutes north of us in Ft. Lauderdale, and an African American sergeant asked me my opinion. Mistake #1 — never ask my opinion, because I will give it to you raw.  I basically said that anyone who would sent such emails degrading African Americans and women was a subhuman racist. I noticed an interesting shift of energy in the room, and the sergeant looking at me with panic. He came up to me after, and said “while I’m glad you said that and I agree with you, the truth is, there are some officers who really think that stuff is funny.” I looked at him as if he was an alien.  Not even two months later, the news of Miami Beach Police Department broke.
After just coming off the heels of this analysis and coming to a fairly decent place, I was then confronted with the horrible images that we all saw of the McKinney pool party video, and the actions of former officer Eric Casebolt. He has since resigned, with his attorney later explaining that Casebolt had responded to two suicide calls that day, and his emotions got the better of him. I can only hope that once he saw the video, he realized that “oh my gosh, I have a daughter/niece/neighbor the same age as did Dajerria Becton”. I can only hope that he realized when confronted with the video that his actions were rooted in anger, not an attempt to arrest someone engaged in criminal activity. I can only hope that in looking at the video he realized that he escalated the situation, and that the boys he drew his gun on only reacted to his unprofessional conduct in hurling a bikini clad girl to the ground; that the fact his fellow officers rushed over unarmed was a sign that he was over saturated and needed to step away from his position. I firmly believe that there needs to be policies in place to deal with officer stress. It is still taboo for officers to seek counseling or to complain of over saturation, which can lead to incidents like this. I believe officers need to be rotated out of certain assignments to quite bluntly, keep them sane.
I reflect back on the amazing cops I know.  I think of the African American officers who endured horrible racism in the last 20 years, but did it because they love the job and the community.  I think of the great cops of all races that do the job every day because they believe in justice, who treat everyone with respect, and are decent, good people. And I don’t want their good works to be tarnished by a few rogue nasty elements who are not worthy of the badge.  And in order to be safe, in order to have justice, we need good cops!
Regardless, I felt that I needed to step back and take a moment to remind myself to fill in the blank.  Because again if we are to ever move forward, we cannot indict an entire population for the actions of a few.
And this cuts both ways.
Remember to always fill in the blank.
M.
No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old ManThe grand jury and the Department of Justice have both come to the conclusion that now former Officer Darren Wilson should not face charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown. This was not a surprise, based on the legal standard in police shooting cases, as well as the forensics in this case.

What is also not surprising to me is the rest of the Department of Justice report, which points out a plethora of civil rights violations in Ferguson and surrounding communities in St. Louis.

The reason why I am not surprised is the fact that the people of Ferguson had such a visceral response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and that they were so quick to believe that Officer Wilson shot the young man out of malice. Many like to believe that the residents of Ferguson were either racist, victims of “race baiters” (whatever that means), or just devoid of any independent thought.

I however felt differently. I believe that where there is smoke, there’s fire. I always questioned that there had to be something deeper under the surface. The shooting of Michael Brown was just the tip of the iceberg and now the Department of Justice has provided empirical evidence that support the residents’ claims of systemic racism and wrongdoing.

The reality is for many years, the Ferguson Police Department has been violating its people. They have been arresting African-Americans in that community at a higher rate; African-Americans in the community have been levied fines at a higher rate than their white counterparts; and they struggled to pay those fines, doing what they had to do to be responsible citizens. Yet, they found no relief. When the tragic shooting of Michael Brown occurred, this was the tipping point. That is why the people reacted in such a violent angry way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  While I do not in any way shape or form condone the violence or the rioting that occurred, it originated as the means and the method of people that feel they had no voice. The courts provided them no remedy — they were excessively fining them.  The police were abusing them (as proven by the DOJ report). Voting was ineffective, because the candidates they elected were not bringing their concerns to the forefront. When the people that are in power are exchanging racist emails,  joking about the ability of an African American man to hold a job for a prolonged period of time, or that aborting an African American baby would positively affect the crime rate, where is one to go to get justice?

So what now? What needs to happen is that law enforcement around the country must take a long hard look in the mirror at their practices, their recruiting methods, and how they are interacting with the community. Because like President Obama said in a recent speech, this is not an isolated incident. There are Fergusons throughout this nation. And if we do not take proactive steps to fix this, we are doomed to have a repeat of the horrible events we saw around the country in 2014. And no one wants that. It is critical to have diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system. I can assure you that the abuses would not have been as rampant in Ferguson if there were more African-Americans on the police department. The same goes for in the court system, as well as in the prosecutors and defense offices of Ferguson. The racist emails are a clear indicator that these actors in the criminal justice system do not care about the well-being of the people that they are tasked with protecting and serving. This is an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

scandal-lawn-chairIn last week’s episode of Scandal, writer Shonda Rhimes took on the issue of race and policing with a storyline of a police officer shooting an unarmed teen. In one of the closing scenes, the police officer goes off on a very anger filled rant, where he states some key points which I have heard before. He says “you people have not taught your children to respect me“, and secondly “I kiss my wife and kids goodbye, and drive 40 miles to protect these people, for what?
scandalepisode414cop
The reality is, African Americans (like most people), raise their children to respect law and authority. The “rub” is when you have a situation like Ferguson, where the trust and belief of the system has been eroded by abuse of authority. Then that respect that was taught,  turns to resentment, then anger. Once that trust is broken, it takes a very long time to rebuild, requiring a conscious effort from both sides.

The second point is the heart of the balance in policing. When officers do not live in the communities they police, an air of detachment forms. It’s going home to your palace, as others go home to their hell. There needs to be a more concerted effort for police to reside in or close to the communities they police; and when they start to get burnt out or resentful of the people they are charged with serving, then be rotated to a different area.

It is clear from the evidence that the DOJ has uncovered that the people of Ferguson had no voice for a very long time. Now, this study has given them a voice. Hopefully changes will come from this.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers — but we have to try. Lives depend on this. ALL lives.  Because all lives matter — civilian and police. No matter the color of the skin or the badge you are wearing, a mother’s tears are the same.

Clergy Members Launch #UseMeInstead Campaign In Response To Police’s Black Target Practice

Clergy Members Launch #UseMeInstead Campaign In Response To Police’s Black Target Practice

This story deeply moved me. In the face of blatant insensitivity, we have a movement of love, peace, and Christ-like principles. These clergy members directly attack the argument of “the officers need to practice facial recognition techniques”. Well done!

Diversity Discussions…

Diversity Discussions…

20140217-103800.jpg

In recent months, I have been asked regarding my opinions on issues confronting our nation regarding our criminal justice system.  I’d like to share some of these discussions with all of you, and give you the chance to weigh in.  My theme remains the same: diversity is a necessity.  There must be diversity among the actors in the criminal justice system in order for there to be balance within our system.  Perception is reality; critical messages can be lost if there is a perception that the system is unfair.

Political reporter Tony Pugh asked me what my thoughts were regarding the use of independent prosecutors to investigate and pursue cases involving police shootings.

“The true answer is to have diversity among the attorneys in prosecutors’ offices, and for prosecutors’ offices to continue working on their relationship with the communities they serve, so that there is trust and transparency in the justice process,” said Melba Pearson, the president of the National Black Prosecutors Association.

While an independent prosecutor may be a useful tool in some circumstances, “it isn’t necessarily the answer for all police shooting cases,” she said.

Some state prosecutors already have units or individual prosecutors dedicated to public officials, including police officers, who’ve allegedly committed crimes.

“This may be a good option to expand upon,” Pearson said.

Read the rest of the article here and weigh in!
M.