June 5, 2012
Radical Women denounces race and sex bias in Marissa Alexander case
As battered women often discover, the system that should protect them is frequently their worst enemy.
Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African American mother of three living in Jacksonville, Florida, tried to follow the rules. She had a restraining order against her estranged husband, who had a record of abuse toward Alexander and other women. She had a legally licensed gun and had never been arrested. In August 2010, only nine days after having given birth, Alexander fired a warning shot into the wall of her house when her husband threatened her life. For this, a Florida jury convicted her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after only 12 minutes of deliberation. On May 11, 2012, a judge rejected Alexander's "stand-your-ground defense" and sentenced her to 20 years under Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing rules. Stand-your-ground laws permit a person to use force in self-defense if they believe they are in serious threat of harm.
According to a number of studies, African American women suffer higher levels of domestic abuse than any other ethnic group, most likely as a result of the stresses of poverty and discrimination. Black women are murdered by their partners at a rate three times that of white women. Jobless or low-paid, with a well-earned distrust of the criminal justice system, and a history of discrimination from health and social service institutions, abused women of color often have few resources to draw upon.
Women of all races who fight back against abuse find little sympathy from police, courts, or media. In states where police are mandated to make an arrest in domestic violence situations, arrests of women have risen dramatically. Women are now nearly 20% of domestic violence arrests although men are acknowledged to commit 95% of the abuse. Black feminist Sharon Allard has observed that the Battered Woman Syndrome defense, which has been successfully used in court to justify why a woman killed or took action against an abuser, is often denied to Black women. Why? Because the stereotype of Black women as "domineering, assertive, hostile and immoral" hinders a judge's or juror's ability to believe that a Black woman acted in self-defense. According to Allard, Black women are twice as likely as white women to be convicted for murdering abusive husbands.
The racist and sexist double standard exists at every level of U.S. society. It took a national outcry for the killer of African American teenager Trayvon Martin to be arrested after he invoked Florida's "stand-your-ground" law. Meanwhile, Congress is balking at reauthorizing the federal Violence Against Women Act, in part because the act contains new provisions that would help protect queers, Native Americans and immigrants.
Radical Women encourages supporters of women's rights to sign the online petition to pardon Alexander at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/600/056/dont-imprison-marissa-alexander-for-standing-her-ground/. Information on how to donate to Marissa Alexander's legal defense and write to her in prison is available at http://www.Justice4Marissa.com.