We Must Mourn & Take Action In Our Own Backyard
People nationwide are traumatized over the horrible deaths of Ahmaud Arbery , Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Many ran 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud’s legacy on what would have been his birthday. We have been up in arms, posting on social media, signing petitions, and raising awareness. All these acts are positive; however, we cannot act nationally without acting locally.
Breonna and Ahmaud’s cases have shown the power of a prosecutor. The three elected prosecutors in the Arbery case – two who removed themselves due to conflicts of interest and the final prosecutor handling the case before it was reassigned by Georgia’s governor — allowed these men to go free for nearly three months. It was only after the public outcry resulting from the leaked video that the wheels of justice began to grind forward. Within thirty-six hours of the case being taken from the local Brunswick police and given to the statewide Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), arrests were made. In the Breonna Taylor case, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker was arrested for protecting their home with a legal firearm. He perceived the officers to be intruders, since the officers entered the home with a “no knock” warrant – which removes the requirement to announce that they were police officers as they entered. The elected prosecutor decided to drop the charges because of the clear evidence to support a successful stand your ground claim on his behalf.
In another horrific video that has gone viral, we saw a police officer kneel on the neck of George Floyd while he was on the ground post arrest. The world watched as the officer squeezed the life out of him, despite Floyd’s pleas as well as the cries from the crowd. The three officers with him did not intervene – new evidence suggests they may have knelt on him as well. At the time of this writing, the officer has been arrested.
The question is – are our local prosecutors upholding justice? Are we overlooking issues in our own backyard?
In Miami, I am running to be the next state attorney of Miami Dade County. Two critical injustices brought me to the decision to run.
First was the case of Darren Rainey. By now, many know the horrific story of Darren Rainey being killed while in a Florida Department of Corrections prison. He was a 50-year-old black man, burned to death while locked in a shower with up to 180-degree water at Dade Correctional Center. Darren was left in a scalding hot shower for close to two hours, until his skin fell off his body. The corrections staff waited 20 minutes after finding Rainey unresponsive to call a doctor.
While this happened in 2012, it took over 3 years for the autopsy report to be released, and it found the death to be “natural causes”, despite burns over 30 percent of his body. The police initially classified the death as unexplained, and the Department of Corrections never punished any staff. Only after two years and a Miami Herald investigation did the incumbent state attorney begin investigating. In 2017, the state attorney declined to bring charges against the guards who killed Rainey, who still work in law enforcement or corrections today. It resulted in a no-confidence vote by the Miami Dade Democratic Party, accompanied by a request for Rundle to step down from her position. This was a clear failure by the incumbent to seek justice.
The second case was Jesus Menocal. Menocal was a sergeant in the Hialeah Police Department. He was accused in 2015 of sexually assaulting five women and girls, using his badge as leverage. The survivors attempted to file charges with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor who investigated the case only spoke with one of the victims. She determined that the survivor was a bipolar manic-depressive runaway gang member – and unworthy of being believed. She declined to file any charges. If she had taken the time to speak to the remaining survivors, she would have seen a clear pattern of predatory behavior. This failure to do shows a failure in leadership. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida has filed charges against Menocal, giving the survivors another chance at justice.
Let these cases serve as your reminder of the power of a prosecutor. These are the names we know – but we must also protect those whose cases do not make it to the media. Instead of solely complaining and venting on social media, in honor of their memories, VOTE. Prosecutors are elected. If they do not face accountability at the ballot box, we will NEVER see the change we seek.
This Op-Ed was written by Melba Pearson. She is a Candidate for Miami-Dade State Attorney. If elected, she will be the first African American to hold this position in Miami history. Learn more about her at www.MelbaForMiami.com, and follow her on social media @MelbaForMiami.
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