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Aug 30 2013

#solidarityisforwhitewomen? Calling on atheist orgs to Support Marissa Alexander

marissa alexander

By Sikivu Hutchinson

What happens when an African American female intimate partner violence victim attempts to defend herself after years of domestic terror?  She gets slapped with a mandatory minimum 20 years in prison for aggravated assault.  Such was the case for Marissa Alexander, a 32 year-old Florida mother of three with no prior criminal record who fired a warning shot in her home after a dispute with her chronically abusive spouse in 2010.  No one was injured in the incident.  Alexander’s attorneys attempted to invoke Florida’s notorious stand your ground law as a defense but prosecutor Angela Corey, lead prosecutor on the George Zimmerman murder trial, ruled that it was unjustified.  For the past year, national outrage over Alexander’s 20 year sentence has been mounting as comparisons between her case and Zimmerman’s abound.  However, Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury that was already conditioned to see him as a victim and Trayvon Martin as a criminal.  And unlike white female defendants with no prior records, black female defendants with no prior records have no wage of whiteness to insulate them from harsh sentences that are more suitable for career criminals.  Commenting on the Alexander case in the Daily Beast, Rita Smith of the National Coalition Against  Domestic Violence argues “When a woman or minority is claiming they are defending themselves, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt…Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].” Yet the reality is that black women are three times more likely than white women to be tried, convicted and incarcerated for felony offenses.  One in 19 black women will be incarcerated during their lifetimes versus one in 100 white women.  Ultimately, black defendants receive longer and harsher sentences than white defendants and are more likely to be given mandatory minimum sentences.

Alexander’s case highlights how expectations of innocence are rarely if ever accorded black female abuse victims in the dominant culture.  When it comes to cultural judgments about justifiable defense, stereotypes of violent breeder black women (In 2010, Alexander gave birth to a premature baby after being beaten by her spouse) eclipse any presumption of innocence or reasonableness on the part of the victim.  Even in the face of extreme violence, national narratives of proper female victimhood are never extended to black women, and the Lifetime cable channel—reigning Middle American pop culture fount of white woman pathos—never comes knocking.

Because mass incarceration and criminalization do not directly affect their largely white constituencies, humanist/secular/atheist organizations are silent on this human rights atrocity in their own backyard. The Black Skeptics Group calls on progressive atheist organizations to support the Free Marissa Alexander campaign.  Information on the campaign, volunteer opportunities and upcoming protest actions on September 14th can be found at http://www.justice4marissa.com or https://www.facebook.com/events/382954828472984. To officially support her campaign go to http://www.surveymoz.com/s/85959VBKQX

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38 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    Ugh, this case is so enraging. Thanks for the links. Contributed to her legal fund.

  2. 2
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I contributed to her legal fund. I do hope some orgs show support.

  3. 3
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    I had $10 in my PayPal account, all I’ve got access to online, donated. I’ll make a post giving pointers to this post and her info, and get working on spreading the word around.

    Thanks for the nudge, and sorry I needed it.

    1. 3.1
      blackskeptics

      Excellent, thanks

  4. 4
    tiberiusbeauregard

    Oh.my.fcking.god. – Have I just read what I thought I read ???

    What happens when an African American female intimate partner violence victim attempts to defend herself after years of domestic terror?

    Except everyone who followed the story KNOWS that this is not what happened.

    The real story, and PLEASE GO READ ABOUT IT, makes you wish she had gotten 50 years in prison for what she did.

  5. 5
    Ben Crouch

    I said the same thing when I read what she actually did. As skeptics yo guys out to know better than to knee jerk react

  6. 6
    Rutee Katreya

    You’d demand 50 years in prison without a body? And you’re going to pretend the problem is on other people? I also don’t see a lot of reason to say what I presume is your version of ‘the real story’ is

    1. 6.1
      Rutee Katreya

      ‘is the real story’, rather.

  7. 7
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    I love how none of these TRUSKEPTIX can be arsed to provide a link to any supporting evidence. “Take my word for it, that n***** b**** deserves to rot!”, umm no. I think not.

    1. 7.1
      1. Camas

        Hm. Abusive hubby is not a credible witness in my book

  8. 8
    One Brow

    @4 and @5,

    There is no defense of your statements. No one was injured by the gun, the woman was being trheatened and had been previously abused. These facts are not in doubt. The original post seems to be completely acurate in its characterizations.

  9. 9
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    #4, #5
    Congratulations on revealing the depths of your bigotry for all to see. Unless you are both claiming to have been present, there is no way that you would know any more of the story than do we. Indeed, I suspect you know nothing factual about the matter at all, but only whatever lies are passed around Stormfront about it; I also encourage you to go back there, as people outside your little filthfest are unlikely to be sympathetic.

    1. 9.1
      Ben Crouch

      what you should be taking issue with here is the mandatory sentences here

    2. 9.2
      kyoseki

      Here are the court documents detailing the incident as the prosecution sees it.
      http://www.scribd.com/doc/89763280/Order-Denying-Defendants-Motion-for-Immunity-and-Motion-to-Dismiss

      The salient points are:
      1: She retreated and returned, which is why she was denied a stand your ground defense.
      2: The warning shot entered the wall at head height behind the husband, it wasn’t a shot into the ceiling, his children were with him, which is why she was charged with 3 counts of assault.
      3: At no point did she call 911 to report the incident.

      If she had had the gun on her and fired at the husband and simply missed, she could probably have claimed self defense and not been charged, but that’s not what happened.

      The 20 year bullshit sentence is the fault of overzealous politicians passing laws to “get tough on guns/drugs/whatever” and so tying the judge’s hands. Once she was convicted, she was getting stuck with a 20 year sentence regardless – one of the guys on the FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) website convicted of a similar crime was given a 3 year sentence by the judge in defiance of the 20 year mandatory minimum, but the prosecutor appealed and he ended up with a 20 year sentence as well.

  10. 10
    Eudaemon

    I personally hate mandatory minimum sentences and think they are just unfair in general and I don’t think she deserves that. I think this case is just one of the hundreds a year that demonstrate how unjust it is to shackle a judges ability to take mitigating circumstances into account when sentencing people. Of course there is also the question of whether she deserved the assault charges. If she would have shot him dead I don’t think there would have been any questions about whether ‘stand your ground’ applied. As it stands, it seems like you have to make a lot of leaps of logic to get from ‘trying to escape’ to ‘assault with a deadly weapon’. But hey, that’s the kind of magic that prosecutors are known for.

    1. 10.1
      left0ver1under

      It’s a combination of things that make it an injustice system. Mandatory minimums are one part, there are also and inflationary charges and intimidation of the accused (the increasing number of plea bargains and fewer trials), as discussed in this video:

      http://video.msnbc.msn.com/all-in-/52484826

      It’s good to know the Innocence Project is involved in her case. I hadn’t heard if they were, though I assumed they would be.

      This isn’t just about the injustice system. I have long suspected that this is part of voter list “cleansing”, to criminalize most of the US populace and deny them the right to vote. Most US states deny people the right to vote after conviction, sometimes for long periods after release from prison, and some states revoke it permanently.

      If most Americans are labelled “criminals” and only those without criminal records can vote (i.e. those who can afford lawyers, those who benefit from a white-leaning “justice system”), there is effectively a two class society, those with rights and those without. The US will end up being South Africa under Apartheid, something the wall street types (like the Koch brothers) and Fox Nuisance clowns wouldn’t object to at all.

      Guess on which side the bulk of the poor and non-whites are going to be lumped.

  11. 11
    cityzenjane

    Thank you Sikivu, I post about the case a lot around the web…and a lot in discussions around guns which happen a lot my little mostly white mostly red town..

  12. 12
    leftwingfox

    I’ve donated to the legal fund as well.

  13. 13
    steve84

    Angela Corey seems to be highly incompetent given the other controversial cases she has been involved in. Perfect example for why it’s a horrible idea to elect lawyers. What a stupid and senseless practice.

  14. 14
    kyoseki

    The FAMM website lists 4 other people (in addition to Alexander) sentenced to 20 year mandatory sentences by Florida’s courts, is everyone going to donate to their funds as well?

    http://www.famm.org/facesofFAMM/StateProfiles.aspx

    1. 14.1
      Nick Gotts

      No, and there are several million other injustices I’m not doing anything about today. I was asked directly to do something about this one, and I have. What’s your fucking problem with that?

      1. kyoseki

        My fucking problem is that you’re addressing a symptom and not the cause.

        Instead of donating to groups like FAMM that would overturn the asinine 10-20-Life statute (which would not only get Marissa Alexander and every other person sentenced under this asinine law out of jail, it would PREVENT anyone from being sentenced under it in future), people are just donating to groups that, in essence, say “this law shouldn’t apply to person X”

        If every individual group pooled their resources, they might actually get the statute revised, instead of just getting their particular felon out of jail.

  15. 15
    trina

    Kyoseki: why is it that when someone puts a call out asking for support for someone who is a POC there’s always someone so quick to go ‘butwhataboutwhitepeople!!!’

    1. 15.1
      kyoseki

      If there’s a fundamental problem with the criminal justice system (in this particular case, we’re talking about mandatory minimum sentences wildly disproportionate with the actual crime), why do you feel it’s fair to only support a single victim of it rather than try to resolve the problem?

      This case is being represented as something it’s not, Alexander is being put forward as an example of an innocent woman railroaded by an inherently racist justice system simply because of the color of her skin.

      While there is plenty of institutional racism in the justice system, I don’t actually see that it had an impact in this case, not if you actually look at the facts rather than taking the story on face value. What she actually got railroaded by is draconian legislation drafted to punish people who use firearms in the commission of a crime, legislation that doesn’t allow for any kind of judicial discretion regardless of skin color or circumstances.

      In Florida, if you discharge a firearm in the commission of a felony, regardless of whether that felony is a warning shot or attempted murder, you get slapped with a 20 year sentence. Just brandishing a firearm as a warning will get you 10 years.

      She committed the crime of which she was accused, she exhibited extremely poor judgment and discharged a firearm in the direction of her husband and his two children. He was a complete asshole and probably deserved to be shot, but if she’d shot a couple of inches lower, she’d have likely blown the head off a 12 year old.

      Nobody seems to be arguing that this didn’t actually happen, but the matter gets waved away by calling it a “warning shot” which automatically makes people think she fired into the ceiling, I’ve even heard people calling the shot in the wall a ricochet, but that is NOT what happened.

      She got slapped with a 20 year sentence, not by the judge, but by poorly drafted legislation, the same 20 year sentence that’s been slapped on at least another 4 people in similar (and even less compelling) circumstances.

      The real issue here is not one person being singled out because of her skin color, it’s across the board stupidity in mandatory sentencing rules that take any kind of discretion out of the hands of the judge and jury (who in all likelihood were never told she was looking at 20 years because juries are rarely informed of the sentences). THAT is what needs to change, so we should be joining together to support organizations like FAMM which seek to overturn mandatory minimums rather than trying to get any single individual out of serving one.

  16. 16
    robertschenck

    One of the (several) things that struck me about this case is that the prosecutor presents herself as /standing up/ for blacks, citing that this was an incident of ‘gun violence perpetrated in proximity to black children’, and therefore Alexander deserves harsh punishment.

    Comparison to the Martin case also shows that IF Alexander had shot Gray dead, she’d’ve probably been better off, at least he couldn’t testify against her.

  17. 17
    qwints

    Compare how willing people were to believe Zimmerman’s version of events with Alexander’s. It’s not close, and there’s a reason for that.

    1. 17.1
      kyoseki

      Exactly which version of events would exonerate her?

      No-one is really disputing her version of events, the problem is that her version of events still means she committed aggravated assault (on 3 people, hence 3 counts), which is a felony.

      Discharging a firearm in the commission of a felony results in a 20 year sentence, regardless of skin color.

      The 20 year sentence is non-negotiable, that’s the real travesty here and Alexander is far from the only person to suffer from it.

      1. robertschenck

        Kyoseki, while the Zimmerman and Alexander cases are different, they might illustrate something. Zimmerman went after and /killed/ someone, and claimed that that person had attacked him. Alexander was in her own home, with a person that had a history of violence against her and other people, and she fired a warning shot. The reason lots of people freak out over these cases is that most of the result is determined by people’s initial impression. And for a white/hispanic guy like zimmerman, shooting a black kid, it becomes self defense against a thug. But for alexander it’s a crazy & irresponsible black chick, even though the facts of the case are either very similar, or more in her favour. How can anyone claim that she committed a felony, but zimmerman practically did a public service? Would it actually be better if she had killed Gray?

        1. kyoseki

          Well, there are substantial differences between the two cases.

          Zimmerman’s failed prosecution was really a case of a lack of evidence against him. There were no eyewitnesses nor physical evidence to disprove his version of events, which was essentially that Martin attacked him as he returned to his truck, and in his version of events, he didn’t actually do anything illegal. Whether it’s true or not, I honestly don’t know, but given the presumption of innocence and the lack of any evidence to prove the state’s case, I’m not surprised he was found not guilty (noting, of course, that being found not guilty is not the same as being proved innocent).

          In Alexander’s case, there were three eyewitnesses (Gray and his two children) that say she fired at them, not into the ceiling (a more traditional warning shot), something that was supported by the fact that there was a bullet hole in the wall behind where Gray and his children were standing (thus disproving the idea that it was a warning shot into the ceiling). Additionally, by her own admission, she retreated to the garage to retrieve her firearm, passing up opportunities to exit the house through the front/back doors.

          The law does not allow you to retreat and return and still claim self defense, the fact that she retreated to her car to retrieve her firearm means she has effectively extricated herself from the life threatening situation (which is a prerequisite for using deadly force), which means she is not allowed to return.

          The law also does not allow for warning shots, any gun owner should know this, but Florida doesn’t require any kind of training for carrying a firearm, so it’s not surprising that she didn’t. You aren’t even allowed to show someone that you’re carrying a firearm in order to dissuade them from attacking you, that’s considered brandishing and will get you a 10 year sentence in Florida.

          If she had already had the gun on her or if Gray had pursued her into the garage and continued to threaten her, then she could have shot him and claimed self defense and probably wouldn’t have been charged, so from a legal standpoint, yes, it actually would have helped her if she’d killed the guy, but firing a warning shot indicates that you don’t actually believe your life is in IMMINENT danger, which is the only thing that justifies discharging a firearm at someone.

          The problem here is not that she didn’t commit a crime or a lack of evidence proving as much, it’s that Florida is rigidly inflexible when it comes to sentencing people convicted of felonies that involve firearms, even if nobody gets hurt.

          I suspect that if the jury had been told she was looking at 20 years, she’d probably have been found not guilty, but juries are not told of the sentencing rules (again, this is not unusual and not unique to her case).

  18. 18
    smrnda

    I note a few people making a case that she *did not use a gun in the right way* or something to that effect.

    This is something I’ve gotten from a few white guys online, who go on about the ‘irresponsibility’ of firing warning shots etc., but this seems to ignore the fact that in a dangerous situation it’s a little ridiculous to expect people to behave like perfectly rational actors. On the other hand, not everybody spends half their waking life daydreaming about using guns, but it seems like an obsession among certain demographics.

    If the issue is that guns are dangerous, then our society should stop promoting them as talismans of safety and we should reduce the quantity of guns out there.

    1. 18.1
      kyoseki

      Did you seriously just make the argument that gun owners should neither be expected to know the law nor be expected to behave responsibly?

      1. smrnda

        No. I think guns are too dangerous for most people to use, and that given that most people don’t know how to use them, they’re more likely to cause harm than to offer protection. I don’t think most people who own guns should since I see way too much evidence that too many gun owners cannot use them properly. Gun owners should be rigorously tested and required to attend follow up safety trainings. Regrettably, we don’t treat guns like cars – you need to prove you can drive a car safely and take a test to get a license, but guns seem to require little more than the lack of a record.

        However, our society tends to send out the message that the thing everyone needs that will make them magically safe is guns, and I don’t notice this message being accompanied by a footnote that guns don’t work like they do in the movies. I live in Illinois, a state which has been pretty strict on gun ownership, and it’s way too easy to get a gun here, and pretty much all you need (as I wrote before) is the lack of a criminal record. I cannot drive a car because I have lousy eyesight, but (I tested it just to see) I *could* legally get a FOID card. My corrected eyesight is 20/160, and I have no business using a firearm, but I didn’t notice the application requiring a vision test. Guns keep getting hyped as this magical protection without any message that guns are dangerous, and that your average person is probably more likely to cause an accident than use the gun effectively in self-defense.

        People should not buy guns they cannot use safely, but I can understand why they do. My criticism is sort of directed at people who persist in making the case that widespread gun ownership is the answer to crime (or violence against women), but who don’t seem to realize that if you do this, people who can’t use guns will buy them and we don’t really do anything to make sure you actually need to know anything before you get a gun.

        Right now it’s kind of on the individual gun owner to decide to get educated on how to use what they own; I think it ought to be more like a car where you can’t get one until you show you know you can use it. It’s wrong for people to take no responsibility for knowing how to use guns they own, but it’s also wrong that knowing gun safety isn’t a prerequisite for ownership.

        1. kyoseki

          We largely agree on the firearms training point, but the fact remains that she bought a firearm and failed to accept the responsibility of learning both how to use it safely and how to use it legally.

          This IS a fundamental problem with a number of gun owners, particularly ones who buy a firearm supposedly for self defense and never learn what they’re doing with it, but it doesn’t excuse her actions.

          If you’re going to own a firearm, just like if you’re going to own a car, it’s your responsibility to know the law.

          1. pinkpixel

            “the fact remains that she bought a firearm and failed to accept the responsibility of learning both how to use it safely and how to use it legally.”

            But apparently it is “safe” and “legal” to use a gun to kill an unarmed person one has been stalking creepily down a darkened street. Zimmerman is still allowed to carry a gun…because apparently he didn’t brake any “safety rules.”

            Given her husband’s history of violence, did Alexander likely feel she was in such a “safe” home that the onus was on her to keep it “safe” and “legal” by following the bewildering and circuitous Florida laws regarding firearms, along with the irrelevant and inane “rules of engagement” discussed by gun enthusiasts who only have to defend themselves on online forums?

            What’s more, I hear so many stories about accidental shootings where a very young child shoots themselves or their sibling, and then out come the apologists for the parents who say “they’ve suffered enough.” It’s unsafe, illegal, someone dies or is seriously injured, and…what, no jail time for the negligent adults? Didn’t they read the statutes? Didn’t they brush up on the safety rules?

            I’d argue that you could perfectly well know both the law and the prevailing safety advice, and still have no confidence that your actions would be interpreted by the inconsistent court system as self-defense rather than aggression. Or that gun-rights folks would say “heck yeah, a gun saves another life!” or “stupid incompetent gun owner makes the rest of us look bad!” I think we are honestly that confused in this country.

            So what’s a person to do for self defence? What to do to get justice if you’re a victim of gun violence (or any violence, for that matter)? Maybe we should stop pretending there are magic rules you can follow that will keep you safe from inconsistent prosecution, or that somehow if you were just more informed or responsible it wouldn’t matter if the deck were stacked against you.

          2. kyoseki

            Whether Zimmerman should or should not have gone to jail has no impact on this case, since he didn’t fire a warning shot and there weren’t any witnesses in his case, it’s disingenuous to compare the two.

            If she felt threatened by her husband, why was her gun in the car and why did she have breakfast with him before getting into the argument that led to the “warning shot”?

            If anyone leaves a loaded firearm where a child can get hold of it, they are guilty of negligence as far as I’m concerned and should be prosecuted for it, so stop making assumptions about what I may or may not argue on that point.

            If you want bewildering and circuitous firearms laws, try California. Florida, in comparison, is relatively straightforward. Regardless, warning shots are not legal in ANY state, something most gun owners know (and sure as hell SHOULD know) but most gun control advocates apparently don’t. It’s not like she got prosecuted for some esoteric civil war era legislation that says you’re not allowed to discharge a firearm on Tuesdays, is it?

            If you own a gun, just like if you own a car, it is your responsibility to know the law and obey the rules (or at the very least, be aware of which rules you are breaking), if you don’t like that arrangement, you are free to exercise your right to NOT own one.

            Bear in mind that Marissa Alexander was offered a 3 year plea deal before being prosecuted, she decided to roll the dice (as did a number of other people on the FAMM website) and got slapped with an outrageous sentence as a result. About the only way she was going to get out of that sentence was jury nullification, which, I will reiterate, is unlikely since juries are not told of the possible sentences, had they been told she was looking at 20 years, who knows what the outcome would have been?

            Once again, the problem here is not the prosecution of Marissa Alexander, it’s the 20 year minimum sentence given to anyone who discharges a firearm during the commission of a felony, regardless of whether anyone gets hurt.

          3. pinkpixel

            “stop making assumptions about what I may or may not argue on that point.”

            Sorry, I should have clarified that I didn’t mean that directed at you per se – just an example of inconsistency in the way the legal system and the mainstream media and culture treat victims and perpetrators. Which I think is the point, right? I mean, we can go around saying that, well, she’s not acting the way we think a victim should act, and that she broke a law so let’s not be too sympathetic toward her, but what does that really accomplish? And would we be disturbed to realise that if she were white, we’d expend far less energy in that pursuit? Or would we present some sort of supposedly objective rationalisation of our inconsistency?

            I think that’s a large part of the reason why the Zimmerman case and the Alexander case are compared with each other. The details of each case differ, of course. But when we look at the way so many people react to each, it’s disturbing how many of us are biased and stubbornly refuse to face that bias. And then we try to rationalise it and derail the conversation, rather than facing the actual problem at hand.

          4. kyoseki

            (I did respond to this, but there were a lot of links to the FAMM website and so the post is awaiting moderation)

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