Op-ed written by: Elizabeth Marie Taveras and Jonathan Brand
As millions of children across the country are buying bouquets and making cards for Mothers Day, the children of Marissa Alexander won’t have the opportunity because their mother is starting a 20 year prison sentence not as a criminal, but as another victim of Florida’s misguided legal system.
Marissa is a young African-American mother of three who stood her ground against her long-term abuser yet is now being sentenced as if she was the perpetrator of the violence. Her sentencing took place at the Duval County Courthouse early this morning at 9AM. Shortly after the opening formalities a steady procession of character witnesses testified on Alexander behalf as a good mother, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The feeling throughout the sentencing was both surreal and extremely sad. Tissues were handed out by the police officers on duty and the room was quiet as family members bemoan the definite reality Marissa will have to live in. There was, however, a feeling of hope as family members, organizers, and legal advisors met just outside the Courthouse discussing the necessary steps to carry this case all the way up to the Supreme Court. Her family will not stop fighting this case until the rightful privileges are given back to Marissa.
Prior to the incident she placed a restraining order against her abuser, Rico Grey, and the abuse she endured throughout the time of the incident is what ultimately led her to run for the gun. He has sent Alexander to the hospital before for domestic violence and also admitted that he would have killed her himself if he had the gun. That fact that she is facing 20 years in prison for defending herself against this abusive act is heinous and unjust. Why is the stand your ground law not protecting her and why is it having an adverse affect? Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she’s African American? They see her as a potential threat which is what led to the denial of each plea. She didn’t cast the first stone but the law is seeing it as so. What would the Florida justice system position be with a woman’s dead body on their hands while you have the prosecutor defending the “victim?”
What she did not realize was that she would soon become an abused woman failed by Florida’s controversial self-defense law. The Stand Your Ground law in Florida was meant to grant citizens immunity through self-defense if that person has reason to believe their life is being threatened without an obligation to retreat first. Under these legal concepts a citizen is justified in using lethal force and would be granted immunity by law that would defend a civil suit against this person. The controversies following this law’s passing became more widespread. Who’s suffering? Her two children who wont see their mom for the next 20 years and it is absolutely disheartening.
Recognizing patterns is finally allowing us to see what truly underlies the laws of this country when it comes to race and women. Understanding these bad habits will thus allow us to remove the aphotic veil granting us an absolutely clear understanding of social, racial, and gender inequalities. Especially with the recent unjust death of Trayvon Martin, the imprudence of this law needs to come to light and it has. So consider this an official call-to-action for all the examples of Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin that have to suit a certain profile for the rest of America to entertain themselves with. The war on women is not over and neither is racism. Becoming more apparent as each day passes by and now with Melissa Alexander there needs to be a massive raising of consciousness with issues of relating to race and gender inequality. This system is ultimately flawed and in combination creates a dangerous atmosphere that will only cut down at the progress that we so desperately need. The inconsistencies of Trayvon Martin’s case and Marissa Alexander are a harrowing and very real depiction of the false sense of protectiveness this law and its provisions claim to uphold.
Marissa Alexander did not kill anyone, was abused, and was defending herself. She now faces 20 years in prison. Zimmerman was your neighbor with a concealed weapons license and a gun who kills Martin and walks away. Where is the justice?
(Photo of Marissa Alexander’s Family as they wait for the commencement of Marissa’s sentencing)
Blame for the passage of this absurd law falls on the shoulders of a media that pumps fear and paranoia through the airwaves and lobbyist groups like ALEC. A company whose goal is “free-market, limited government, and pro-growth policies,” ALEC just this past fall was the subject of a piece by the Center for Media and Democracy and one of the main points of the article was that ALEC was responsible for drafting “stand your ground” legislation to be used by conservative lawmakers. Such tactics of turning our democratic process into a macabre of backdoor deals exemplify everything that is broken with our system and the worst part is that people like Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin suffer the worst end of the blowback.
We as Floridians just need to take a step back and really analyze where we are as a culture when we let fear, paranoia, and violence become so pervasive that absurd laws are able to become drafted and passed. During Marissa’s sentencing the prosecuting attorney kept referring to her abuser as the “victim,” stating that Mr. Grey feared for his safety while she was brandishing the gun never considering the fear Marissa felt each time she was abused and threatened with her life. Every mother, sister, wife, aunt, and daughter should feel appalled and ashamed at this statement and at Florida’s legal system for its inability to properly protect our states’ women. Today a serial woman beater is free to roam around Florida to do what he wants while the wife who was defending herself and suffered multiple instances of abuse at the hands of this man is just starting to serve her 20 year sentence. Here are some of Marissa’s words right before her sentencing:
“I want to address my children, you’re your mothers daughter you’re strong you are black and you are beautiful and whenever you need me don’t think the distance should keep you away from me, okay? Cause I’ll be here for you sooner than you think. You, you are your fathers son, you have wisdom about yourself , Rihanna Gray last time I saw you, you were 7 months and now your 22 months. I breast fed you and spent hours with you. My love is here without seeing you or not and I know that angels are watching over you and one things I pray is that my heartbeat beats once w/ yours so that we are all in unison. I want to address my grey children, in the short time I got to know you , you meant a lot to me as well. I encourage you all to not let this situation impact you in a way and I will continue to pray for you all and I know that you’ll be okay. I am simply a woman who loved a man very much, I got no apologies I have nothing else to say.” –#MarissaAlexander
On behalf of R.Y.P.E. [Reclaim Your Power & Equality] and Occupy Miami, we stand in solidarity with Marissa Alexander and her family during this extremely difficult time.