Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 after having having fired a warning shot into the air to avoid an attack from her ex-husband. Having given birth just days earlier to a premature baby, she found herself confronted by her abuser and afraid for her life, and so defended herself.
Alexander was charged with aggravated assault with a gun. She passed on a plea deal for three years in jail because she believed she would be covered by self defense and Stand Your Ground laws in Florida. But when she was denied that line of defense, she became vulnerable to harsh mandatory sentencing law that gave her 20 years in prison.
After hearing of the ruling, U.S. Representative Corrine Brown lamented, "three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice." Indeed, we must ask ourselves, what is God's mercy? What is God's justice?
Rep. Brown also suggests that "the Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages...one is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the "Stand Your Ground Law" will not apply to them...The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently."
she found to be locked), some have criticized her for not doing enough to escape. Her capacity to do so notwithstanding, she is in a state with a Stand Your Ground law that allows the use of deadly force without any 'duty to retreat.' Why is this law applied in some case, but not others?
Even our idea of an individual's agency to leave varies with the person in question. It is common to blame the victims of domestic abuse for their own situation. But this type of reasoning reveals a profound lack of perspective on the choices available to abuse victims.
About a year ago, Alexander was granted a new trial, on the grounds that the first one unduly put the burden of proof on the defendant, vividly demonstrating the 'guilty until proven innocent' mindset for defendants of color. Though many supporters want to see her case dismissed entirely, she is currently out bail awaiting a new trial, at which state prosecutor Angela Corey says she will now seek a 60 year sentence, again due to sentencing mandates (calling for consecutive service of sentences).
Mandatory sentencing laws and the prison industrial complex are a serious institutionalized issues, but that doesn't mean prosecutors' hands are tied. They often have discretion in deciding exactly what charges to bring. Angela Corey (the same attorney who failed to convict George Zimmerman, but who is now aggressively prosecuting Alexander), might have charged Alexander with simple aggravated assault, rather than adding a gun charge. This would have drastically reduced the length of Alexanders sentence if found guilty. It's worth noting that Corey is one of many prosecutors who have been elected on 'tough on crime' platforms, largely credited with escalating the War on Drugs and mandatory sentencing.
|Art by Dignidad Rebelde|
This coming week, follow #Marissa418 and the many posts from Christian voices that are taking up the call for Marissa Alexander. For more than four years, she and her supporters have been fighting for her freedom. Will we aid in her struggle?