Marissa Alexander: Punished For Being a Victim

I’d like to ask these cops in Florida who arrested Marissa Alexander, the prosecutor who charged abuse victim Marissa Alexander, the judge who denied Marissa Alexander the right to use “Stand Your Ground” as a defense, the jury of three men and three women who convicted Marissa Alexander of aggravated assault after 12 minutes of deliberation, the judge who sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years in prison for assaulting a wall, and the judge who recently denied abuse victim Marissa Alexander a new trial, if they know what it’s like to dodge and duck and flee from an abusive male partner, if they know what it’s like to be frozen in place for fear the slightest movement will result in a fist to your face, if they have any clue what an abused woman goes through when she stays, and the heightened terror of a much worse scenario if she tries to leave. It’s doubtful that they know what it’s like to have to decide if the risk of calling for help is worth the backlash from the abuser that’s inevitable after the cops leave.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is an abomination – especially since it serves as a defense for killers like George Zimmerman and fails to protect abused women like Marissa Alexander.  The law is simple:  If you fear for your life or safety, you have the absolute right to shoot your attacker in self-defense. The law defends your right to self-protection, and there’s no duty to retreat.  ”A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”  You don’t have to try to escape, or flee, shoot a warning shot into a ceiling, or do anything other than stand your ground, take aim, and fire.

Anyone reading the story of George Zimmerman – which would be most people on the planet – know that Zimmerman, who is currently relying on the “Stand Your Ground” law as a defense, not only had no reason to “stand his ground,” he actively pursued young Trayvon Martin before becoming embroiled in an altercation that left 17-year-old, unarmed Martin dead on the ground.  But for Marissa Alexander – the petite Florida woman who for years was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Rico Gray, a woman who relied on the “Stand Your Ground” law and discharged a weapon in his vicinity, a woman who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending herself against a serial abuser – the “Stand Your Ground” law became the “Shut Up and Take It” law.  Marissa Alexander hurt no one, killed no one; this terrified woman simply discharged a weapon into the wall to deter her enraged husband, and her husband – the abuser – called the police and made the claim that she fired a gun at him and his sons.  Despite his history of abuse, he was believed, and she, apparently, was not.  Marissa Alexander was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm.  She was sentenced to 20 years under Florida law; the judge recently denied her a new trial.

Speculation and a hypothetical seem to have driven this conviction.  The jury and the judge agreed that Alexander reacted in anger and not in fear, and prosecutor Corey pressed the possibility that the bullet Alexander fired as a warning shot could have hit the two children present. But since when are people convicted of what could have happened?  If a drunk driver kills three people in a car crash, he or she is convicted for killing those three people, not the hundred people he could have killed. And who’s to judge the mindset of Marissa Alexander when she fired those shots?  No one was killed.  No one was even harmed.  And yet, simply the potential for harm to the children drove an unjust conviction against a woman who is, frankly, a victim.

I believe Marissa Alexander is being treated differently from George Zimmerman, is being persecuted and prosecuted and prevented from relying on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, because – in the minds of the prosecutor and the judge and the jury and the cops –  she returned to her abuser, husband Rico Gray, after a previous incident of domestic violence at his hands that put her in the hospital. She’s being punished because, in 2009, the court granted her a restraining order against Gray, but she – upon learning she was pregnant – asked the court to amend the protection order to allow contact. The law helped her once, but she evidently only gets one bite at the apple.  It’s a classic case of domestic violence, and it’s a classic case of a judgmental society that doesn’t understand the pattern of domestic violence – a pattern which includes women returning to their abusers. The expert on battered women who testified at her trial failed to convince the unsympathetic court of this very real phenomenon, battered women syndrome.

A man who has committed multiple acts of domestic violence, a man who smugly said, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them,” is not a credible source for cops or a judge to rely on, and is hardly a victim.  Self-defense against a man who admitted to “four or five” episodes of domestic violence prior to the date that his wife fought back with a loaded gun, which she shot at an inanimate object, is exactly what the “Stand Your Ground” law should be designed for.  It should not be designed to protect a predatory vigilante like George Zimmerman and leave an abuse victim like Marissa Alexander twisting in the wind.

No, Marissa Alexander isn’t being punished for discharging a gun into plaster – she’s being punished because of the much-repeated myth that “she must like it or she wouldn’t have gone back.”  She’s being punished by those with the mindset that returning to her abuser somehow makes it her fault.  She’s being punished by those who have, clearly, never been embroiled in the complicated relationship between an abuse victim and her abuser.  She’s being held responsible for the behavior of her abuser:  After all, according to the jury, it was her responsibility to leave when she had the chance (despite the fact that she didn’t leave because she’d forgotten her keys in the house).  Her actions in returning to the house, and not his in being a threatening presence, were what the jury focused on.

Marissa Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, bragged about being an abuser; his machismo apparently found a welcome and sympathetic audience in the Florida cops who arrested Marissa Alexander and the jury and the judge adjudicating her case.

I wish she’d known then what she knows now, that shooting at a ceiling instead of her husband – an unapologetic menace to society – would have resulted in no defense under the “Stand Your Ground” law and a 20-year prison sentence.  If she were going to face prison anyway, she may as well have spared the wall the bullet and put it right where it belonged..