Marissa Alexander, the 34-year-old African-American woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending herself against her abusive former spouse, was released on $200,000 bail on Nov. 27. She will remain under house arrest and electronic monitoring in her Jacksonville, Fla., home until her retrial, which is tentatively set for this coming March 31.
Alexander’s case received national and international attention following her 2011 trial and conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Alexander refused to take a plea bargain from the Florida State Attorney’s office, hoping that she would be exonerated on all charges based on the controversial “stand your ground” state law. On paper, this law says that anyone who feels threatened with violence has the right to defend herself or himself without reprisal. In reality, this law has been used as a legal weapon against people of color, and especially women like Alexander who have been systematically tormented by domestic violence and abuse.
On Aug. 3, 2010, Alexander fired a single shot into a wall in self-defense to warn off her estranged spouse, Rico Gray, during a dispute at which two of their children were present. Gray violated a court injunction granted to Alexander after a brutal attack she had received from him during her third pregnancy. A week before the gun incident, she had given birth to a premature baby. Alexander used a gun that was legally registered in her name. No one was injured.
During her trial in August 2011, Alexander’s legal team introduced the stand your ground law as her defense. However, the trial judge denied Alexander immunity from prosecution under this law, saying that her decision to go back into the house armed with the gun was in contradiction to how someone who felt fearful for her life should supposedly behave.
The prosecution was led by Florida state attorney Angela Corey, who was also part of the prosecution team in the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, who was acquitted this past summer. Corey publicly stated that she was against Alexander being granted bail or a new trial.
On Sept. 26, a Florida court of appeals reversed Alexander’s conviction, stating in its ruling that the jury received instructions that erroneously shifted the burden of proof for self-defense onto Alexander.
That Alexander is out on bail and has been granted a new trial are important concessions wrested from the racist judicial system because of the mass campaigns of demonstrations, petitions and other forms of grassroots pressure on Alexander’s behalf.
Alexander has become an important public face for millions of women of color who are victimized by institutionalized racism and sexism. She should not have spent one day in jail, much less the more than three years she has painfully spent in prison, away from her children. Being restricted to house arrest for Alexander means being in minimum security instead of maximum.
Activists are urged to step up their efforts to support Alexander both during the March 31 retrial in the courtroom and in the streets, until Alexander is finally released from this nightmare. An injury to one is an injury to all! For updates, go to justiceformarissa.blogspot.com and facebook.com/SupportForMarissaAlexander.