In May of 2012, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three, received a twenty year prison sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after firing a warning shot above the head of her abusive husband, who had previously attacked, strangled, and threatened to kill her. In just twelve minutes of deliberation, a jury convicted Alexander and sentenced her to twenty years in prison, though Alexander had no previous criminal arrests or record. The case picked up attention due to its comparisons to the George Zimmerman case, where Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was able to walk free for Martin’s murder using Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, but Alexander, whose case was prosecuted by the same prosecutor, Angela Cory, injured no one and received the maximum sentence possible. Both cases brought to the forefront conversations of racial discrimination and the inequality African-Americans often face under the law. Though Alexander was attempting to escape safely from an abusive husband, who admitted in transcripts to beating not only Alexander, but previous girlfriends as well, she was not afforded the same amount of believability or leeway that Zimmerman was. Alexander’s statement read that she ran to the garage, attempting to flee in her truck, but returned to the house when she realized her keys were inside, bringing the gun with her for protection. Arguments against her claims of self-defense concluded that Alexander’s actions were inconsistent with a person truly fearing for her life, due to her decision to go back into her kitchen with the gun where her abuser was.
The criminality assumed in black and brown bodies have been documented and followed for years, as communities of color demand reform in the criminal justice system. The Urban Institute recently conducted a study of stand-your-ground cases, finding that white women are twice as likely at 13.5% than black women (5.7%) to be found justified for use of lethal force against a black man. The number drops to 2.6% for white women when the victim is a white man. The question remains still, if Marissa Alexander was white, would she have been sentenced at all?
After Alexander received a new trial in 2013, Angela Cory vowed to re-prosecute her, claiming that Alexander meant to harm her abuser and his children as well, asking for three consecutive 20-year sentences, totalling 60 years. Several groups called for the removal of Cory over the case and/or the release of Alexander, such as the National Organization for Women and Color of Change, due to endangering of domestic abuse survivors and contributing to the institutional racism that imprisons African-Americans more harshly than any other group.
Now, in 2015, Marissa Alexander finally is out of prison, but she is not quite free. Sentenced to spend two years on house arrest, Alexander must pay $105 a week for her own monitoring after already unjustly spending three years behind bars. Women are more likely to be killed by their intimate partners and suffer higher rates of domestic abuse, and when a battered woman, such as Marissa Alexander, makes a move to defend herself against an abuser, we can see here what the consequences for such a defense can become. Alexander is by no means truly free, and if she had not protected herself with the warning shot in 2010, she could have been another statistic of domestic violence against women. Now, as a convicted felon, she has no right to vote, and future career options are incredibly limited. The outcome of her case sends a message to domestic abuse survivors everywhere, particularly black women- who are more likely to experience domestic abuse or become assault and murder victims — that their lives do not matter under the law.