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Sunday, August 24, 2014

#Marissa418: To Set the Oppressed Free

There is long history of double standard when it come to the criminal justice system. But we know that God calls us to "proclaim good news to the poor...to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18; hence, #Marissa418).

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."

Though Alexander attempted to exit through the garage door (which 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
With Alexander's case we also see the same sorts of character assassination that has been attempted so many times  before. It reveals our desire to seek out excuses to ignore the cries of the oppressed, and our reticence to believe the voices of the abused. It's far too easy for us to say how the situation should have been handled differently. The constant battle to defend one's own personhood, one's own humanity and deservedness, is exhausting.

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?

Check out FreeMarissaNow.org to find out the ways your help is needed. Share the #Marissa418 #30SOLs that are being released this week. Call your local and federal representatives to ask for a reduction or elimination of mandatory sentencing laws.

"The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed"

5 comments:

  1. I was thinking about this scripture the other day. I especially focused on the phrase "set the oppressed free" I know God hears and answers prayer, i pray Marissa will be free soon.

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  2. truthseeker2436577@yahoo.comAugust 26, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    That is very Sweet of you to mention that Sister.

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  3. I am not christian or even religious, but my belief in a secular humanism leads me to the same conclusion: Marissa's life is valuable, just as valuable as any white man's, and she deserves the same right to defend herself that a racist society bent over backwards to give to others, and denied to her on nonsensical grounds. I hope she will be free soon. (I hope we will all be free some day.)

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