Marissa Alexander case is not unique

Mona Adem

Illustration by: Jae Kitinoja / Illustrator
Illustration by: Jae Kitinoja / Illustrator

Does “justice for all include everyone, regardless of gender, race or aristocratic dichotomies?”

The only appropriate answer to your question, Marissa Alexander, is absolutely no, especially if you are a black woman living in a capitalist, white, patriarchal society.

I know. Most of you probably feel inclined to stop reading right about now, considering that I just used politically incendiary words such as “patriarchal” and “racist,” which today either makes most of us uncomfortable or flat-out bored.

And by now, you are almost certainly making the assumption that the writer has to be an angry black woman (probably a man-hating feminist as well) who seems unable to stop dwelling on the past and instead insists on talking about archaic issues. After all, we live in a post-racial, post-patriarchal and post-whatever society, so why dwell, right?

Let me start by saying that I am a black woman and I do consider myself a feminist (and yes, occasionally I do hate men). But this is not why I decided to write this article. Nor do I think this should be the reason.

Cases like Marissa Alexander’s should fuel anger in all of us, no matter race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. It should make us all ashamed of the society we live in, which we help to perpetuate when we choose to walk blindly and act apathetically to issues that violate humanity – the race we all supposedly belong to.

Alexander is a young African-American woman from Jacksonville, Florida. She has three children and as a law-abiding citizen (whatever that means nowadays), she has never been arrested. That is, until the day she decided to protect herself against her abusive husband, believing that our so-called color-and-gender-blind justice system would protect her.

Undoubtedly, that was her first mistake.

Between 1977 and 2004, the female prison population grew by nearly 800 percent and two-thirds of women in prison in the United States were women of color, most of them for non-violent offenses.

While racial disparity has been decreasing during recent years, our society is still more inclined to see black women as the aggressor, as the “angry black woman” who does not deserve a second chance because her “attitude” most likely put her in that situation.

This explains why the Judge did not even take into consideration that prior to the incident, Alexander already had a restraining order against her estranged husband, Rico Gray. And when Alexander went to her old house, she didn’t intend to start a fight (which by the way should be her right if that was the case) but actually thought that her husband was gone. But when Gray saw her, that’s when an argument erupted.

Alexander went to her vehicle that was parked in the garage to get a gun she legally owns and came back into the house. She ended up firing a shot into the wall as a warning shot, resulting in no injuries.

When the case went to court, Alexander tried to invoke the Stand your Ground defense, which the court denied. As a law, this defense often removes individuals’ obligation to retreat when facing possible danger and instead allows them to use deadly force if “the person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of great bodily harm to himself or herself.”

Of course, the Florida court did not have any problem allowing George Zimmerman, who shot and killed a young black man, to use a self defense argument and walk as a free man (but then again, he only shot a young black man, which we tend to see as dispensable beings).

Meanwhile, the court claimed that Alexander had a chance to run out of the house to escape her husband (as if Zimmerman did not have the same option).

It took the jury 13 minutes to sentence Alexander to a minimum of 20 years behind bars. Yes, you read it right; 13 minutes. In the “freest” country in the world, where our prized freedom of “bearing arms” is always in hot contention, how is a 20-year minimum sentence for a warning shot just?

Now some of you might wonder (at least I hope you do) why such a harsh punishment? Well, you can blame the justice system’s “mandatory minimum prison sentences,” which puts people who are found guilty of certain crimes behind bars for a minimum number of years, often times neglecting their background.

A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, shows that more than 3,000 people are serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses and most were sentenced under mandatory sentencing policies.

Even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently acknowledged the inhumane criminal justice system when stating that “it’s clear – as we come together today – that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”

Yes Holder, I could not agree with you more, but why haven’t you done anything so far? I am assuming it was all about politics, not really about the people whom you claim you want to protect.

Alexander has now spent three years in prison and while she was recently released on bond so she can spend time with her children (well, thank you Florida court for showing some humanity), she is still facing a retrial. But the damage has already been done, especially to those considered “crime’s invisible victims.

Today, almost three million minors have a parent in jail or prison. This means that 1-in-28 American children have an incarcerated parent; a number that has gone up from 1-in-125 just 25 years ago.

If you have a hard time imagining the psychological and emotional suffering these children have to go through, here is a small excerpt from a young child whose mother was sent to prison:

“I got to visit my mom every week when she was gone to jail. My dad took us. It was hard because I wanted to touch her but she was on the other side of a glass wall. The visits weren’t too long, we only had a certain amount of time before they told us it was time to leave. When the visit was over, I wanted to stay with her for a long time. I thought about it all day. I didn’t cry but I felt really bad. It stayed with me for a while after I went.”

Alexander’s case is not unique and had it not been for her friends that made sure the world knew about her situation she probably would have been one of those citizens we lock up in prison and throw away the key. And yet sadly, this may still be the fate of Marissa Alexander.