The Dawn of A New Day

My reflections on our historic Election Day, which appeared in the Miami Times.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

It was 11:45am. I was getting ready for brunch with a mentee. The news flashed across the screen of my phone – we have a new President. Immediately I screamed for my husband and shared the news. So many emotions ran through me  — joy, pride, tears, and laughter. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and vindication to see Joe Biden win the race to become our 46th president. In all of this, I felt the joy even more acutely due to a personal connection. I remembered when I first met Vice President- elect Kamala Harris nearly a decade ago. It was during the National Black Prosecutors Association conference in July 2010. At that time, she was the San Francisco District Attorney. During our brief interaction, it was clear Ms. Harris was so sharp yet incredibly kind. It’s wild to think that I had been speaking to the future Vice President of the United States.  To see a woman of Jamaican heritage like myself follow the path of being a prosecutor, then successfully running for District Attorney, California Attorney General, United States Senator, and now Vice President gave me so much hope and promise. 

By the same token, I still feel sadness. Knowing that more than 70 million Americans are either racist or racist adjacent (accepting of racism) is a hard pill to swallow. I knew it was out there, but seeing the quantitative data – a hard number – is tough. It broke my heart to really digest this about the country (as well as the county) in which I live. Hopefully it’s a temporary emotion that will subside with time while focusing on the hard work ahead to rebuild. But the Trump vote is a clear vote against police accountability, control of our communities and destiny, and voting rights, in favor of – supposedly – the economy; but in actuality, supporting white extremism and preserving the status quo. 

The road ahead is very long; we are in a period of time in this nation much like the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. There will be anger, followed by a lot of introspection. Hopefully, we emerge a little bit more conscious as to who we are as a country, with a new focus on who we want to be. 

As the millennials say, please “miss me” with any pronouncements that racism is over due to Kamala Harris being elected. Her opponent’s words and actions, as well as those of some Republican leaders, made this very clear. I am reminded of comments made by the Miami GOP chair who stated on Facebook Live election night, “if you do not want a Kamala Harris presidency- because you know that is what it will be – go out and vote.” That is a stark reminder of where we are. The dog whistle was clearly designed to motivate racists and sexists. Also, seeing recent events where the University of Miami Republican club made racial slurs regarding Kamala Harris, with no real public rebuke by university officials or the GOP leadership, shows the level of racism from the new generation on up to current leadership. 

Even more troubling, in this time of celebration, there are some African Americans (mostly men) who have made comments that Vice President-elect Harris’ status as a daughter of immigrants somehow doesn’t reflect the experiences of African Americans — suggesting their ancestors would not be proud of this moment in the same way. We saw an increase of support for the outgoing administration in the African American community (albeit small).  While we celebrate, we have to be cognizant of the work that needs to be done to heal the divides in our own community. Pitting Black immigrants against Black Americans does nothing to move our interests forward. We’ve seen it locally this election cycle. It’s insulting as well as destructive. The racists are betting on the effectiveness of the divide and conquer strategy; we cannot let them succeed. 

I did meet my mentee. 

We laughed, cried, celebrated and toasted to the victory. 

And now, the work commences.

Melba Pearson is the Director of Policy and Programs at the Center for the Administration of Justice at FIU, focused on prosecutorial reform. She is a former Miami homicide prosecutor and Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.

HuffPo: 1st African American Head Prosecutor in Florida Wrongfully Removed

aramis-ayala-1

 

Yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott overstepped his boundaries by removing Florida 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala from handling the Markeith Loyd murder case for her refusal to seek the death penalty. The defendant has been charged with the Orlando murders of his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton.

State Attorney Ayala explained her decision, stating that she was no longer seeking the death penalty in any of her cases, because “Florida’s death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil.” She further said capital punishment often leads to years of appeals and other court hearings, and that it costs more than a life sentence. Florida law gives every state attorney the discretion on whether or not to seek the death penalty.

Ms. Ayala holds the distinction of being the first African American state attorney in the state of Florida. Elected in November 2016, she assumed office at the beginning of this year. In her short time in office, she now also holds the distinction of being the only prosecutor removed in this fashion by this governor.

 

Read more here

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

Diversity Discussions — Baltimore

mosbyHere is an interview I did with Doug Donovan from the Baltimore Sun, regarding Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and the pressures she’s currently facing.  Feel free to weigh in!

As one of the youngest African American prosecutors in the nation, Mosby has faced added pressure in a city boiling with police mistrust from the black community.

“When you’re an African American prosecutor you’re going to have the scrutiny of your own people who will say, ‘Now that you made it, what are you going to do?'” said Melba V. Pearson, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association. “And you’re going to have law enforcement saying, ‘Whose side are you on?’

“That’s the challenge of being an African American prosecutor,” added Melba, a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, Fla. “You walk a very fine line.”

Read the rest of the article here

At What Cost?

KERRY WASHINGTON

Everything has a price. It may not be monetary; it may be physical, it may be emotional. But everything has a price. Success has a price. Happiness has a price. Freedom has a price. The question is, how much is something worth, and more importantly…are you willing to pay?

So for the last time (for this season at least), I’m plucking another example from the show Scandal. The fictional president in the show, Fitz Grant, won a second term in office. It was a great accomplishment; but in the process, his son was killed, his marriage collapsed, and he was estranged from the woman he loved. Of course, the woman he loved was not his wife…the show IS called Scandal. But regardless, in this moment of victory, he had an emotional collapse. He fell to his knees in the Oval Office, and was overwhelmed by the extreme sacrifice it took to get there. And he was not happy.

Fitz-knees-1

So switching gears to the real world. As Americans, we enjoy certain freedoms. As we know from history, it came at a price. We have the freedom of expression. But that freedom sometimes results in a lack of civility. We are free to express agreement, disagreement, and even hate. I am reminded of the awful shooting in Overland, Kansas this past week. The perpetrator is a white supremacist. He will likely face the death penalty for the three murders he committed.

kansas shooting

However, people are free to express their hate, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. As long as they are peaceful, this is a freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution. Although the majority of Americans are horrified by the fact such hateful people even exist, there is nothing that can directly be done unless a law is broken. We can ostracize extremists; law enforcement can keep a close eye on the activities of such groups just in case illegal activity is going on…but we can’t do anything more.

All we can do is educate our children that such beliefs are wrong.

This is a price we pay to have freedom of expression.

On another level, I look at those that work in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors, the public defenders and the police officers. They make the sacrifice on the daily basis so that the system keeps moving. They sacrifice high pay, sleep, and in some ways, a normal life. These are the people that spend time in the jails; these are the people who get out of bed at 3am to see death and its aftermath. For them, it is worth it so that justice can be achieved.

For me, as a prosecutor, I become reflective when posing this question.  Public servants are not always respected; I have been vilified by folks who just don’t get what I do. It is also not the most financially lucrative path in life.

But, I have the freedom to try über interesting cases. I have the privilege of holding the hand of a grieving mother, and bringing her a measure of comfort by putting the perpetrator in prison for a long time. I am able to volunteer in my community, and follow my passion of helping the youth. I also get to write. So I (and others) sacrifice for the ability to be free, do justice, and hopefully make a difference.

Is it worth it?

I can tell you this. The day the answer is no, is the day you will see a drastic change in my life.

So I ask you…what is worth it to you?

What price are you willing to pay…and is the price you are currently paying too high?

Comments welcome!