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Standing Her Ground: the Campaign to Free Marissa Alexander


Lauren Taylor • Dec 10, 2013

The law states that I was justified in standing my ground and meeting force with force up to including deadly force, but political views and concerns states otherwise in the 4th circuit court. So my last questions and valid concerns are what was I supposed to do that day and the stand your ground law who is it for?

–        A Letter to Supporters, April 3, 2012

Marissa Alexander is an African American mother of three and a survivor of domestic violence. On August 1, 2010, nine days after prematurely giving birth to her daughter, Alexander defended herself from her abusive, estranged husband.  After a physical confrontation in which he threatened and assaulted her, she fired a warning shot that she believes saved her life.

Marissa Alexander

During the trial, the judge denied Alexander’s attempt to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which would have granted her immunity from criminal prosecution. She was instead convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to twenty years without parole. A nation-wide campaign has coalesced around Marissa Alexander’s case, uniting under the banner “Free Marissa Now.” In September, she won an appeal that overturned her conviction, and was scheduled for a new trial in the spring of 2014. And on November 27, 2013, she was released on bond while awaiting trial. She was incarcerated for over 1000 days.

During and after the trial of George Zimmerman, Marissa Alexander’s case saw renewed attention from around the country. Many have pointed to the similarities and differences in the two cases as evidence of the deep seated prejudice in the legal system, and particularly the application of self defense or Stand Your Ground laws. (For more on racial disparities in Stand Your Ground and self defense cases, look here and here.)

Other writers like Victoria Law have highlighted connections between Marissa Alexander’s case and the cases of Cece McDonald and Patreese Johnson. In these three examples, African American women were criminalized for defending themselves against gender violence. Victoria Law writes:

“These cases – and their verdicts – reflect an all-too-common reality in the United States: When women, particularly women of color, defend themselves, they often find themselves assaulted twice – first by their attacker, then by the legal system. The zealous prosecution, as well as the lack of charges against their attackers, reflects the pervasive and socially sanctioned violence against women, particularly women of color and the prevailing notion that women should not fight back.”

Rachel White-Domain, an attorney with the Illinois Clemency Project for Battered Women, said yesterday in an interview, “Marissa’s case is not at all unusual. There are many women here in Illinois who are facing charges or have been convicted of murdering an abusive partner.” Survivors often accept plea deals where they waive their right to a trial and plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. But these sentences are often harsh and fail to take into account the full picture and context of abuse.

The campaign Free Marissa Now posted a fact sheet  on domestic violence and criminalization, exposing the ways that women’s survival is criminalized and penalized. They also published a statement advocating for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences as a racial justice and domestic violence issue:

“Ms. Alexander’s case is one of many that reveals how black women and other marginalized people are especially likely to be criminalized while trying to navigate and survive the conditions of violence in their lives. The courts should support victims of domestic violence, not compound the abuse they experience. Mandatory minimums, and the criminalization of survivors in general, make police, courts, and prisons complicit in domestic violence, creating institutional reinforcement for the ongoing targeting and punishing of survivors of violence.”

In addition to calling for the repeal of mandatory minimums, the campaign has called for critical conversations about mass incarceration and domestic violence. Specifically in regards to Marissa Alexander’s case, the campaign has called upon the Florida Governor, Attorney General, and prosecutor Angela Corey to drop the charges against Marissa Alexander. So far, however, Ms. Corey has insisted in continuing to prosecute the case. The new trial is scheduled for March 31, 2014, and the support team is raising money for Alexander’s legal defense, as well as educating and mobilizing political support.

 

For more on the campaign to Free Marissa Alexander, including resources, upcoming events, fundraisers, and educational materials, see this website and blog. For more on support for incarcerated women who are survivors of abuse, see the Illinois Clemency Project, and the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women.


 

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