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The conviction of Marissa Alexander

Published May 19, 2012 10:57 AM

Marissa Alexander

All around the U.S. and the world, people are reacting with justifiable outrage and shock at the harsh prison sentence leveled against Marissa Alexander, an African-American mother of three, in Jacksonville, Fla. Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 11 for using the “Stand Your Ground” law to protect herself from her abusive ex-spouse. This state law supposedly upholds the right to self-defense for anyone who feels threatened with bodily harm.

The SYG law was used by vigilante George Zimmerman, who claimed he felt threatened by an unarmed 17-year-old Black youth, Trayvon Martin, whom he fatally shot on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman for this killing because he invoked the law.

In response to mass protests throughout the U.S. and even worldwide demanding Zimmerman’s arrest, an appointed special prosecutor, Angela Corey, was forced to announce on April 11 that Zimmerman had been charged with the second-degree murder of Martin.

On April 20, after spending just nine days in jail, Zimmerman was released on $15,000 bail indefinitely until he goes to trial. No date has been set for his trial, and his whereabouts are unknown. Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, are demanding that the Department of Justice bring federal charges against Zimmerman for violating their son’s civil rights.

In an ironic act that can only be characterized as a gross injustice, Corey pushed for prosecuting Alexander. In August 2010, following a physical attack by her spouse after the birth of her third child, Alexander used a registered handgun to shoot a single bullet into the wall of their home to force him to back off. Her spouse had a history of repeatedly abusing her, including during her last pregnancy.

Alexander was immediately jailed following her arrest and never received bail even though she had no prior criminal record and no one was hurt when she fired the gun.

She was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. It took the jury just 12 minutes to convict her.

The prosecutor’s office offered Alexander a plea bargain which would have reduced her sentence to three years if she accepted. She refused the offer, hoping that a jury would acquit her. Corey stated that the SYG law did not apply to Alexander because she fired the gun out of “anger,” not “fear.”

It didn’t seem to matter to the prosecutor that Alexander had medical records to prove that she had cuts and bruises on her body from the abuse. In fact, Alexander had been the one accused of spousal abuse, not the estranged spouse who had a documented history of abuse against other women.

Greg Newburn, Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Mininums, said in response to the Alexander case: ”Florida’s mandatory, 10-20-life gun law forced the Court to impose an arbitrary, unjust and completely inappropriate sentence. As long as Florida keeps its inflexible gun sentencing laws, we will continue to see cases like Ms. Alexander’s.” (Huffington Post, May 12) Newburn’s group is organizing to repeal these repressive laws.

When the sentence against Alexander was read by the judge, members of Dream Defenders, a youth-led civil rights group, stood in the courtroom chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and sang, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it’s won.” (fightbacknews.org, May 14) The police physically removed them from the courtroom. The Defenders also organized a 40-mile walk in April from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Sanford, Fla., to demand justice for Martin.

Alexander and her family announced plans to appeal the sentence. A petition in support of freeing Alexander can be found at tinyurl.com/7s5b7l7.

It is important for activists to link the struggles for justice for Alexander and Martin. Both are victims of a racist judicial system under the guise of the SYG law, which was backed by the reactionary National Rifle Association. The interpretation of this law is being used to persecute the most oppressed in Florida, especially African Americans and women of color.

Justice for Alexander means the immediate overturning of her conviction and her release from prison to be with her children. Justice for Martin means revoking Zimmerman’s bail, finding him guilty and having him spend the rest of his life in prison. This kind of real justice will only happen when a sustained mass movement fights for it, using occupations and other tactics in the struggle against racist injustice.