Black History Month Lunch Menu?

Sambo

This week a California elementary school got into some trouble for a Black History Month lunch menu, which included fried chicken, corn bread and watermelon.   For the last few years, one of these menus has made its way to the Internet every February and received some backlash. For the most part I think these menus are honest attempts at celebrating Black History Month and do not find the general idea of them offensive.  February is an opportunity to celebrate Black history and culture.  Food, primarily soul food, is a huge part of our culture and has strong roots in our history.  African slaves were given the scraps from their white masters for food.  With a bit of creativity, slaves turned these scraps into edible dishes that still appear on African American dinner tables today.  My favorite example of this is pig guts, which are doctored up and called chitlins.  I personally have never eaten chitlins, but I appreciate the history behind it.

For those who were offended, we have to remember that we celebrate every holiday or occasion with food.  Holidays like Cinco De Mayo are not complete without a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant for tacos and margaritas.  St. Patrick’s day is full of green foods and typical Irish fare.  Having a soul food menu for Black History month seems to be the same idea.  Now I do take issue with the addition of watermelon on the lunch menu.  If you are acknowledging African American history with this menu, then how could you miss the part with Sambo, Mammy and a pickaninny eating watermelon? The connection between African Americans and watermelon is generally offensive!  Personally the only connection I make in my mind with watermelon and black folks is the picture above.  The cooks in my family, whom I affectionately call the bootleg caterers, specialize in all things soul food and I cannot say that watermelon is a fixture on their menu.  So the lesson here is celebratory Black History month menus are okay, but avoid foods that some could deem offensive, like watermelon.

 

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Genealogy Pt 2: Ancestry DNA tests

I’ve been meaning to update my blog about my recent genealogy efforts.   For my birthday this year I purchased myself an Ancestry.com DNA test. The results came back a lot faster than I expected.  One thing with ancestry.com versus other websites is that it links your DNA with your family tree on ancestry.com.  It also will show people who are related to you in their system.  When I got my results, the first person on my list was labeled as a potential first or second cousin.  Well after speaking with her I discovered that she was my dad’s first cousin.  I knew nothing about her, had nothing about her family on my tree and yet ancestry.com connected her correctly to me. That gave me confidence that it was pretty accurate.

 

My genetic break down was 77% West African, 13% British and 7% Finnish initially (the rest was unknown), it has since changed as Ancestry.com updated their system.  I loved that my African ancestry was so strong. So often in the black community people assume that more European features or lighter skin means that you have a higher percentage of European ancestry.  I’ve studied my family’s genealogy enough to know that outward appearance is not always a strong reflection of genetic makeup.  Or when you think about African Americans who descended from slaves, we know that all of us have some white ancestry somewhere down the line so complexion and features may not always be a good indicator.

 

My main goal for doing my DNA was the genealogy connections it could provide. I initially did my own and connected with people who showed up as third or fourth cousins.  The problem is I had no clue what side of the family they were on. To help isolate who was who, I also tested my mother and grandmother.  That was a huge help! From there I was able to tell who was from my father’s side and my maternal grandfather’s side as well without even testing them. It definitely has helped narrow down how I am connected to some people and thus enabled us to find our common ancestors.  I have yet to find any for sure common ancestors yet with those who are more distant cousins, but that has not stopped me from trying.  I think eventually some of us will find the connection and if not, it’s cool knowing we are related.

 

This month Ancestry.com update their DNA profiles and provided more details and more breakdowns. Before it would just say West African, now it gives you more specific regions and the modern day country.  I also now have more details on my European Ancestry. Whereas before it only showed British and Finnish, now it’s showing those two plus, Irish, Italian, Scandinavia and Iberian Peninsula. 

 

I remember as a child my dad telling me that there was an Italian ancestor and low and behold a less than one percent of Italian showed up on my DNA profile today with the extended profile. It did not show up on my mother and grandmother’s profile, so I assume that falls in line with the story my dad told me when I was a little girl.  It was great to see that the oral history that has been passed down for generations appears to be supported by DNA.

 

Oh and what you are not going to see is a large percentages of  “Native American”. Contrary to popular belief African Americans do not have the percentages of Native American that we’ve been led to believe.  On my dad’s side, they have pretty well documented Native American ancestry.  I do have small percentages of Asian ancestry, less than one percent, which may be account for the Native American ancestry.  Some theories are that Native Americans in North America came over from Asia forever ago so it’s very possible that is where it comes from.  You hear so many people claim to be a quarter Native American and I can say from the three profiles I’ve done and the others African American profiles I’ve seen on ancestry.com, I’ve yet to see anyone with a  large percentage of anything that can be linked back to Native Americans so I’m going to call that a myth.  

 

I plan on doing one of the more expensive DNA tests through National Geographic or another company eventually.  I will post to my blog when I do.  I also plan on testing a few other family members to see what we find. For example I have a cousin who has African American and Vietnamese ancestry so I will be interested to see if the test picks up on that accurately.   Overall I would say I think it’s worth it.  It may not be as accurate as they claim it is but it’s interesting for a person like myself. 

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My Email to Senator Cruz

So I live in Texas which means that Senator Cruz is one of my senators.  I admittedly did not pay much attention to the Senate election last year as I was focused on the Presidential election.  My mistake.  Senator Cruz won a hard fought primary then had little competition in the general election.  Somehow that emboldened him and he went to Congress guns blazing Texas style.  Less than a year later he’s not only running the Republicans in the Senate but seems to be calling the shots in the House too!  It’s kind of amazing that a freshman Senator is wielding this much power so early in his first term.

Anywho below is my email to Senator Cruz. They make you fill out a form with your name/address/email etc through his website so of course I didn’t want to say anything too crazy.  I kept it PG for the Secret Service but threw in a little shadiness where I could :).  We will see if I get a response.

Senator Cruz

I am a lifelong Democrat but I was reminded that despite my party affiliation, as a Texan you still represent me in Congress. I wanted to personally email you and say that the current crisis that you, on your own, have created in Congress is ridiculous. The current government shutdown benefits no one, especially not Texans, the people who YOU were sent to Congress to represent. We realize that you are planning for life beyond the Senate and that’s great but please do not forget our needs as you aim for higher office.

On top of not benefiting Texans, this government shut down plan does not even seem to benefit the Republican party! If Obamacare is so horrible it seems to me the logical thing to do would be to implement it and watch the country “fail” as you claim it will. If that were to happen, which I personally doubt, America would be running to vote the Republican party into leadership in Congress, then you could claim a referendum and repeal it in a truly democratic fashion. This current plan is not what our representative Democracy is about and seems to ignore the will of the people. We elected and re-elected President Obama, with healthcare reform being one of his biggest campaign promises.

As a fellow member of the Texas Bar I admire your educational and legal background. It is undeniable that you have a brilliant mind, at least a brilliant legal mind. I do not think this government shutdown scheme is a true reflection of what good you are likely capable of in Congress, quit pandering to extreme factions of your party by dumbing it down.

After reading this email, I also hope you quit saying your constituents are not in support of Obamacare and want it stopped at any cost including a government shutdown. I know many Texans, from both parties that are not in agreement with the current actions of Congress. Above all I hope both parties can reach a reasonable decision that leaves intact legislation that is now law and above all constitutional.

Sincerely,

Erika Harrison

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Americans Want Obamacare!

Once again our divided Congress cannot come together, act like adults and make a decision on the budget or the debt ceiling. Republicans continue to provide Democrats options to prevent a government shut down related to either defunding Obamacare or delayin it.  In defending this stance I have heard countless Republicans state that the American people do not want Obamacare.  I swear if I could scream from the mountain tops on that one I would.  I have continued to break this down from every angle I can think of but I for one cannot find any evidence that indicates that the majority of Americans do not want Obamacare.

Let’s start with what is called the silent majority. Do not be misled by the loud and vocal Obamacare protestors or the town halls that seem to be enraged by the impending implementation of Obamacare.  Just because you are the loudest does not mean you are in the majority. Ironically at some points we have viewed the silent majority as the conservative faction of our country. You know the older “typical Regan supporting American” who is not to into the whole grassroots organizing thing like Liberals, but what they will do is vote and that is when it matters.  Well I am starting to feel that the Obamacare supporters, likely liberals are now the silent majority in this country.

During the 2008 election, Healthcare was a hot button issue. Seems crazy now looking back but Republican candidates put forth plans on changing American’s health care system too.  Back then it seemed like a necessity for winning under that climate.  When we mention President Obama’s campaign for office from a historical standpoint, without a doubt his campaign pledge to provide universal healthcare would be included.  When presented with his plans to overhaul American’s healthcare system majority of Americans sided with President Obama over John McCain effectively voting for universal healthcare as well. So in 2008 I would say we had a majority of Americans in support of Obamacare.

Moving on to 2012. Now with the Healthcare bill passed, Republican candidates continued to make this an issue but now instead of providing a different plan, they campaigned on repealing the current plan.  In Romney’s case we can argue that there was a conflict with his health care statements during the election, and what he did while Governor of Massachusetts and that might account for the discrepancy in voting but this is who you selected during the primaries.  One of the key things, if not THE key thing Mitt Romney ran on was a repealing Obamacare and once again a majority of Americans sided with President Obama, giving their approval on healthcare again.

Back in 2008 election, it was essentially a referendum on President Bush so the Democrats held majority in the House, Senate and captured the White House.  During midterm elections, the Republicans took over the House and have held control ever since.  In 2012, the Republicans would have loved to gain ground in Washington by taking over the Senate or the White House. They failed to do either.  Even though they maintained the majority in the House, as a combined total Democratic candidates received move votes in all the House elections than Republicans.  Another majority for you. More Americans cast votes for Democratic, Obamacare supporting candidates, in 2012 legislative elections. So districting, or gerrymandering, allowed Republicans to maintain the House in 2012.

The only “strong” win I see for Republicans  is the midterm elections from 2010. I recently heard President Clinton state that we see two different Americas during a midterm election and a Presidential election which could easily account for the varied results.  Just from a pure numbers stand point we know that voter turnout is significantly lower during midterm elections. So I ask again, where are they getting this majority of the country does not want ObamaCare from?

It is crazy to me that Republicans continue to make this “majority of Americans” argument when the facts are not there. They are not holding up our country on a principle argument or by doing what the “majority” wants. In short, if the majority of Americans agreed with you, you would not be in the minority in Washington. I get it, these candidates ran on repealing Obamacare and if they want to keep their jobs in Congress they have to do what they said they were going to do in Washington. That is fine but lets not confuse what is going on here.  Time and time again, on a national level, majority of Americans have indicated that they want and support Obamacare.  Now if you those who elected you from your small district in Ohio or your entire home state in the case of Senators do not support it that is fine, but let’s not prevent our country from handling it’s business just to stop what the majority has continued to vote in support of.

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Making Use of My Kitchen Aid Mixer Part II: Buttercream

My favorite thing to make with my Kitchen Aid mixer is homemade buttercream! I’ve tried so many different recipes, tools and methods until I finally found a combination that I liked.  I killed a cheap hand mixer trying to make buttercream during my first few attempts.  I went and bought a nicer one with more power but honestly nothing matches the power of my Kitchen Aid Mixer.  For my basic Vanilla Buttercream I use a variation of the fluffy buttercream recipe from the cooking classy website.  I love this buttercream! I use it on every type of cake possible.

Here is my version of the recipe

1 ½ cups of unsalted butter i.e. 3 sticks at room temperature

32 ounce bag of powdered sugar i.e. 4 cups

1 tsp Vanilla extract

1 tsp Almond extract

up to 3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream

I use the paddle attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer when making buttercream. First I whip the butter.  The cooking classy recipe is the only one that recommended whipping the butter and I must say it makes a HUGE difference. Whip the butter for about 7 minutes until it is almost white.  I personally think the sugar blends better when it’s mixed this way.

whipped butter

A good example of “whipped butter”. My kitchen lighting is horrible so it looks yellower then it actually was.

Then I add the powdered sugar in increments.  Add about ¼ of the bag or 1 cup and then blend.  Repeat until almost all of the powdered sugar is mixed in. I keep a little extra for the next step as a “just in case”.   In between make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and scrape the bottom of the bowl.  Little amounts of powdered sugar tend to get trapped under there in my machine.

Then I add the almond extract and vanilla Extract.  Do not forget the almond extract. It is a must! Ever since my wedding cake baker told me that was her secret ingredient, I don’t make any buttercream without it.

Finally I add a 1 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream at a time. If you like more of a whipped consistency with butter cream, add all 3 tbsps.  I prefer a more traditional buttercream. If it becomes a little too “whipped” I add the last little bit of powdered sugar to even it out.   Again, if you like whipped buttercream add all of the heavy whipping cream and continue whipping until it is the consistency you like.

Buttercream

 Kind of messy but that’s how it looks in the end!

Cake in domeThe finished product, Vanilla Buttercream (with red food coloring)

Few other things

-When I am not going to use the buttercream right away I keep it in the refrigerator. It tends to keep well for a few days.  I leave it out until its room temperature before applying it to cakes. This recipe creates a great buttercream that is easily spread on cakes when it’s at room temperature.  I also leftovers in the fridge and snack on it.

-I added a little bit of cream cheese the last time because I was making a red velvet cake.  I am fan of the more sugary cream cheese icing so I only added a few spoonfuls from the small container of Philadelphia Cream Cheese after mixing all of the other ingredients, it came out great. I did notice that after adding the cream cheese my buttercream looked more like what I like to call whipped buttercream.

Cream Cheese addedButtercream after the cream cheese was added. Looks different doesn’t it??

Cream Cheese

And my final cake with the cream cheese version of the icing! Again my kitchen lighting is horrible just know it looks better in person, LOL.

-I use real butter and not Crisco when I make buttercream.   The Crisco version is more like faux fondant and I imagine you can mold it better than regular buttercream. Problem is that this version is very greasy and many recipes even have you add imitation butter flavoring to get the real butter flavor. I prefer real butter.

- Also if you like that salty sweet contrast, salted butter is a good way get that taste.  I prefer pure sweetness so I stick to the unsalted.

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America The Melting Pot

Melting-pot_1208688065-142qagk

 

Yesterday the President eloquently spoke about that Travyon Martin case and what it means for Black America.  For many African Americans including myself it felt as though our truth was being spoken at the highest level possible.  It was almost a relief to hear someone acknowledge what so many of our sons, fathers, brothers and friends have endured as African American men in this country.  For a second I thought, here is a Harvard educated man, raised by his White mother and grandparents, and the leader of the free world, surely no one will be able to refute HIS own truth.  Wishful thinking.
It is mind boggling to me that others have now attempted to disagree with his statements as if to say HIS truth cannot be true. If that sentence sounds odd to you realize it is because this viewpoint is not logical and not due to a poor choice of words.  A reasonable person could cite incidents in history and even current events for the basis of this opinion so it is not far fetched for the President to feel this way. More importantly, no one has the right to question another person’s experiences as an American because we all experience it differently.

 

Our country is so diverse and with that comes vastly diverse experiences.  I cannot tell an immigrant how it feels to come to this country and attempt to assimilate all while trying to hold own to the culture.  Nor can I fully express how it feels for Hispanic citizens of this country to be profiled as illegal or not belonging.  I cannot tell them about their own experiences in this country because they are not my own and are outside of the realm of my own experiences as an American.

 

When I think about this diverse country that I call home I remember as a kid watching the “Melting Pot” episode of School House Rock and loving what it symbolized.  It described how for the most part we all come here from different places, different cultures and even speak different languages but we “melt” together and form this great cultural fabric that is America.  When I think of this “melting “my favorite example is food. Consider the number of Italian restaurants or Mexican restaurants in your area.  These cuisines are so engrained into the American culture I almost forget that they are not labeled American cuisine. Despite that distinction you would be hard pressed to find an American who could not name a staple that would be served at an Italian restaurant.

 

The melting of different cultures is one of the things that I love about this country.  Unfortunately I think we can lose sight of what this melting actually means.  When we melt together it does not mean that we create one homogenous country similar to how many of us view Sweden.  We of course likely share similarities as Americans and value certain freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion.  Citizens of other countries who do not share these freedoms may find this odd but for us it is part of our shared identity as Americans.  Despite similarities we still can differ in many ways and it is our differences that make this country great in my opinion.  Our differences ensure that on a Friday night you can find a restaurant with an authentic cuisine from probably anywhere you can imagine in the world.  It is intellectually dishonest to not recognize these differences as a reality and how they shape the way many of us define being American.

 

As Americans I think we should not only be aware of this fact but be accepting as others open up about their own unique experiences even when it exposes a dark truth about our country.  During his speech the President alluded to our forefathers by stating that we are becoming a more perfect union not a perfect union. These imperfections have various impacts on us all.  If we are not honest and open then that means we are not moving towards a more perfect union as the President describes.

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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him is still in the land of the living as a free man.  I am still wrapping my head around this reality. I am proud of our nation for standing up and fighting for justice for Trayvon Martin. Without the public’s initial disgust with no arrest, this trial would have never happened.  We would have still been dealing with what ifs. So that I say that is a step in the right direction.  Just hard because it does not feel like Trayvon Martin and his family got the justice they so rightly deserved.

My mind always looks at trends or deviations from history. After this verdict I immediately thought of cases from the 1960s such as Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.  Both black men killed in the South by white men.  Their murder trials were brought before an all white jury who would ultimately fail to return a guilty verdict.  These cases happened 50 years ago but I cannot help to see the similarities with Trayvon Martin.  We think about how far we have come but moments like this remind us about how far we still have to go as a nation.

As an attorney I hoped and prayed that our justice system could show not just Black America, but also the world that we are no longer the same system of the past but Lady Justice is truly blind in America for once.  I cannot say that happened tonight.  Hardest thing for me as an attorney is to concede to people that the system does not always work. It does not always put the guilty behind bars and does not always free the innocent.  African American men as defendants and victims in this justice system face different realities and are so often those who face the unjust “justice” system.

The NAACP is already calling for the Department of Justice to pursue federal charges.  The Federal government could chose to bring charges under civil rights statutes against George Zimmerman and not violate double jeopardy.  From the beginning I hoped the Department of Justice would be able to make a case.  I just do not think that they will be able to.   They need to show that he killed Trayvon Martin simply because he was black.  While his reasons for initially following Trayon would leave many of us to believe that, it is a leap in logic to use that to pursue federal charges.

In today’s society, being racist is not the politically correct thing to do.  The man who murdered Medgar Evers in 1963, Bryon De La Beckwith was very open about his hatred of African Americans.  We do not always see that today.  The scariest racist is often the one who you cannot see, the one who does not fully articulate their hatred. They may harbor ill will or truly believe certain stereotypes. In addition, they may act on these beliefs in ways that can be explained away with some legitimate reason such as you just were not qualified for the job as opposed to they did not want to hire a black person.  To some degree it is even unconscious for them. This is the racist of today and I think they are even harder to convict under a Civil Rights statute.  That is the difficulty I see here.  Even now, we do not fully understand George Zimmerman’s thought process that night. He very well could be harboring hatred towards African Americans but he never stated that and more importantly his actions can be explained away by “self-defense” and not purely a hate crime.

Going forward I think the best plan of action for those who want to ensure this never happens again through lobbying within the state of Florida to change some of their laws. With the nation watching you guys have dropped the ball twice, once with Casey Anthony and now George Zimmerman. Time to reexamine some things Florida.  First I think self defense should be rolled back to the common law version of self defense that worked just fine forever.  Under that, you have the duty to retreat if possible unless you are in your home. You cannot “stand your ground” and essentially have a modern day duel.  One of the biggest things that new legislation should highlight is that the initial aggressor cannot then use self defense after creating the situation.  Another interesting thing Florida could do,

Florida should also increase the number of members of a jury.  Six people is clearly not enough to get a fair cross section of the community.  I say clearly because the jury consisted of five white women and one woman who’s race has been debated.  She has been described by some as a Hispanic woman or black woman and others as a biracial woman.  When you have underlining issues of race I think it is even more important to have a diverse jury.  They all bring different experiences in with them to the jury box.  The prosecution also dropped the ball on their selection in this case as well but with only six spots there is only so much you can do.

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Fisher v. University Texas: Upcoming Affirmative Action decision

Affirmative Action image

This week marks the final week that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will release their decisions from this session. There are a few major cases that America is waiting. These cases will decide major issues for our society including affirmative action in higher education, voting rights, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 relating to gay marriage in California. The last two cases are known collectively as the same sex marriage cases.

SCOTUS blog suggests there will be three days of decisions this week. Monday, possibly Wednesday and Thursday.  So they do not blow up the internet specifically twitter, I hope that each issue get its’ own day. Perhaps affirmative action on Monday, Voting rights on Wednesday and the same sex marriage cases on Thursday.  The case that I am most anxiously awaiting is the Affirmative Action case, Fisher v. University of Texas. I am a beneficiary of Affirmative Action in higher education and I see the value that it provides going forward.

Like the petitioner in this case Abigail Fisher, I attended high school in the state of Texas.  In Texas there is a top ten percent rule that allows all the students in the top ten percent of their senior class automatic admission into public universities including our flagship school University of Texas.  I graduated high school well before Ms. Fisher but I know that by my sophomore year our counselors and teachers made it clear to us that if you wanted to get into University of Texas we needed to be in the top ten percent of our graduating class.  Well Abigail Fisher was not in the top ten percent and when she did not get accepted into one of the few remaining seats she sued claiming race was why she did not get in.  For the remaining seats UT uses race as A factor not THE deciding factor to determine admittance. More importantly the top ten percent rule was used as a race neutral way to ensure diversity at the top University.  For example the top ten percent of a predominately black High School would presumably include black students. So it is a way to bring in top diverse students into the school.  With majority of the class being filled with students at the top of their respective Texas high schools it seems to me the real reason that Abigail Fisher was not admitted into the UT was because did not fall into the top ten percent of her class!

Another frustration for me in any affirmative action case is the need to point to the student of color as the reason why you did not get into the University.  There are so many people who are entering top Universities for reasons other than their academic merit.  The University’s athletes are not held to the same stringent rules and requirements as other students. Why don’t you point to them?  Also some schools are really big on admitting children of alumni.  When I applied to Texas A&M there was a large portion of their application, for their legacy program.   After complaints by minority groups, the school officially ended the legacy program but I would be surprised if it was not still occurring in some degree off the record.  In addition to alumni, you also have the children of large donors.  I cannot imagine a University saying no to the child of a large donor simply because they do not meet the academic requirements.  So again why are people not up in arms based on these students “taking their spot” in the incoming freshmen class?

Sometimes we lose site on why a diverse classroom is essential.  I think of a class discussion about Affirmative Action for example.  What if every student in the classroom came from a Protestant home, upper middle class, two parents and white.  Without a doubt our backgrounds shape our opinions and rightfully so.  So if everyone is from the same background how interesting would that discussion be? What could we learn from each other? Now if you mix in a variety of people from different races, gay and lesbian parents, single mom or single dad, different social economic backgrounds, religions, regions of the country and genders then the opinions would be just as diverse as they are! This is how we learn.  When I look back at my collegiate experience, learning from my classmates who came from different backgrounds was a huge part of that.  More importantly the world is diverse and our workplace is becoming more and more diverse. It is better to have exposure to that in college rather than getting into the workplace and being completely ignorant about people from other backgrounds.

Many people believe affirmative action is dead in the water at this point because the Supreme Court has a conservative majority.  In addition, the fact that they even took the case leads some to believe that they must have something to say on the issue. So we have nine justices, four liberal and five conservative.  Justice Kagan recused herself from this case so there are only three liberal justices and five conservatives making the decision.  If it is a four to four decision, meaning a conservative stepped over to the liberal side, then it is not strong precedent and will not mark much change. If all five conservatives agree with Fisher then we will likely see the end of Affirmative Action in higher education as we know it.  I honestly hope they do not even get to the Affirmative Action issue at all.  University of Texas has stated that even if Abigail Fisher was a person of color based on her scores she would not have gotten in.  She has since graduated from LSU and has a job in Austin.  Also as I said before, I believe the main reason Abigail Fisher did not get into UT is because she was not in the top ten percent. That is life, 90% of Texas high school students found themselves in the same predicament but they did not sue.  I would also LOVE if the opinion ended with Ms. Fisher, life isn’t always fair and we don’t always get what we want but we make the best of it and realize everything happens for a reason. 

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Could the Miranda Warnings Create an Issue for Boston Prosecutors?

Following the arrest of the surviving Boston Marathon suspect, Boston officials announced that the suspect did not immediately receive the standard Miranda warnings.  This of course created a large debate on twitter and on news outlets with many Americans wondering what implications this could have on the prosecution of the suspect.  Now this is kind of a moot point because more recent reports have indicated that the Miranda warnings were eventually given to the suspect. I am guessing that occurred after he was formerly charged in his hospital room.  But let’s just say that he made a few incriminating statements before receiving the warnings, here is a breakdown on what implications it could have during trial.

First let me start by saying that Miranda warnings are not just that catchy phrase that cops on procedural crime shows say in the last ten minutes that of the show after catching the bad guy.  I saw several “twitter attorneys” arguing that Miranda warnings are just symbolic, not true.  The Miranda warnings have real implications in our legal system and serve to advise an arrestee of their constitutional rights, including the right not to self incriminate and the right to an attorney. If you have ever wondered how a failure to apprise an arrestee of their rights could impact a trial, you can look no further than Ernesto Miranda’s case, the namesake for the Miranda warnings.  Miranda was a rapist whose confession was thrown out because he was not made aware of his rights. With the confession now deemed unconstitutional, the state of Arizona was forced to retry Miranda. The state convicted him again during the second trial without the confession.  Their failure to inform Ernesto Miranda of his rights before interrogating him had real serious implications and ultimately could have resulted in a rapist going free.

Another point about Miranda rights worth noting is something we in the legal world call the fruit of the poisonous tree. Essentially if the source of the information was received by unconstitutional means then any and everything that this information led to will also be excluded. An example would be if the hospitalized suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing gave a full confession and stated where the police could find more undetonated bombs around Boston all without receiving a Miranda warning first, then the confession and any discussion of the other bombs could not be used in court. Failure to give this warnings could lead to an the exclusion of viable evidence beyond just a confession.

So how does this all apply in this case? Many assume that the police have more than enough evidence to convict without a confession. The footage from surveillance cameras for example seems to be solid evidence for the prosecution.  As the Miranda warnings states, this information can and will be used against you in court. If the prosecutors decide not to use the information obtained prior to the warnings at all, then there really won’t be an issue. Although the information may not be necessary for the prosecution, it could be valuable information to prevent future terrorists attacks as well as determining a connection between the two brothers and a larger terrorist organization abroad.

During the press conference federal prosecutors cited an exception to the Miranda rights rule called public safety exception.  Now in my opinion the officials seemed to contradict themselves during this press conference. First they assured Bostonians that  there were no more threats to their safety but then cited a public safety exception. Which one is it? On top of that a quick reading of the New York v. Quarles case, the source for the public safety exception raises more concerns.  Frankly the Quarles case does not fit with the Boston situation! In this case an officer approaches an assailant who matched a description he received.  After frisking the assailant he realized that he had an empty holster and asked where was the gun, all before giving him his Miranda rights.  The Supreme Court decided that there was a clear threat to public safety and allowed this exception. The sense of imminent danger we see in the Quarles case was not present here. The suspect was now in police custody and officials stated that all threats were gone.

Although I do not think the current exception fits, I also do not see a court not carving out an exception for a terrorist case. Maybe the federal prosecutors will argue a wider threat to public safety because of their potential connection to other terrorists. ]Whether we agree with it or not laws such as the Patriot Act have enabled law enforcement to use means that normally would be unavailable to them to combat terrorism. I would be shocked if an American court did not allow the use of this exception even though as it stands today it does not work with the previous case. Overall it seems that the Miranda rights issue will not pose an issue for the prosecution in pursuing this case but I do look forward to how the defense attorneys will try to make this an issue.

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An Ode to my Grandmother

A twitter conversation got me thinking about the smartest or most influential people I know and what impact they had on my life. My parents came to mind first and then my grandmother.  Now that I am older I can really appreciate the mark she has left on me.  My grandmother mother to eight children, grandmother to seventeen, great grandmother and great great grandmother to more kids than I am willing to count, is probably one of the smartest people I know.  Life took her on a path that did not include much formal education after the age of fifteen but still she instilled in me things that my two degrees never could.

One of the first lessons I can remember was about being black. I learned this before I was old enough to fully understand it.  Her words when I was about twelve are forever imprinted in my mind.  When I asked her about our family ancestral history, if there were European ancestors, maybe even Native Americans she responded, “You are just black” She told me “Some members of our family may be lighter than others but that is because the slave master was raping his slaves, I don’t see that as anything to be proud of, so you are black, that’s it.”   Let’s just say I had not gotten that far in American History just yet but those are words have stuck with me to this day. Whenever I see the color divisiveness in the black community, I’m grateful that I had a grandmother who broke this down to me a young age, very bluntly might I add but I never forgot it.  Also it made me feel confident in saying I’m black and that in itself is something to be proud of.

During these same summers my grandmother spent hours telling me the crazy stories of her childhood and even her parent’s childhood. She imparted on me the mysteries of long lost family members as well. Mysteries that in adulthood I’ve sought to solve doing my own research with some success.  The oral telling of history is how African Americans passed on history for generations and generations. I’m grateful that I got to experience that as a kid.  In college I ended up majoring in History and spent a lot of time in African American history courses.  That summer spent with my grandmother definitely piqued my interest and I cannot imagine that I would have ended up on this path without it.

Then I think about little lessons.  Things such as being strong and independent.  She raised eight kids mostly on her own and worked hard to make sure they had more than she did.  Or having a little fight in you and standing up for yourself when you were  wronged.  Some of her funniest stories are explaining how as a young mother she had to stand up for herself when others tried to walk over her.  Also the value of education formal and informal I would say.  Playing dumb wasn’t considered cute around my grandmother and achievements in education were always praised.  That’s probably another reason why I was never ashamed of being the smart girl. When I look back at all of these lessons it makes me beyond grateful for my grandmother!

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