Florida: You can kill an unarmed teen but can’t defend yourself against an abuser

What happens when you have a criminal record, fatally shoot a teenager armed with nothing more than a pack of skittles and an ice-tea and argue you were justified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws? Nothing. The police believe you and it takes a national media campaign to actually get the criminal justice system to look into the case.

What happens when you have no criminal record, don’t harm anyone, but fire shots to scare off an abusive husband, who has choked and punched you, and just threatened to kill you? You get sentenced to 20 years of prison, of course. This is justice in Florida, where Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years of jail time on Friday. The 31-year-old mother of three said she had no intention of hurting anyone, but feared for her life, after her husband, who admits to abusive behavior, threatened to kill her. Change.org, which has a petition for Alexander, recounts what happened to her:

Marissa’s husband has a documented history of violence and domestic abuse toward women. The history of Marissa Alexander and her husband includes an injunction for protection against violence and was active during August 2010. In a jealous rage, Marissa’s husband violently confronted her while she used the bathroom.  She was assaulted, shoved, strangled and held against her will. She was prevented from escaping and was not able to obtain her cell phone to call 911.

Her husband was asked to leave repeatedly. He and his two sons (Marissa’s stepsons), were supposed to have exited through the front door but, did not. Her husband entered the kitchen which leads to the garage and saw that Marissa was unable to leave via the malfunctioning garage door. Her husband yelled “Bitch I will kill you!” and charged toward her. Marissa had retrieved her liscensed and registered gun which she owned for years before even meeting her husband – from her vehicle. She held the weapon in her right hand down by her side as he yelled, “Bitch I Will Kill You!” And charged toward her. In fear and desperation, Marissa Alexander lifted her weapon, turned away and discharged a single shot in the  ceiling. As she stood her ground – that single shot prevented him from doing that which he had threatened. He ran out of the house where he contacted police and falsely reported that Marissa Alexander shot at him and his 2 sons.

The contrast between what happened to George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, and Marissa Alexander, who actually was defending herself, could not be starker. This case highlights the danger of mandatory sentencing, which does not permit any discretion in response to mitigating circumstances. It also shows how unfairly and unevenly the Stand Your Ground law is applied.

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Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    This has been depressing and enraging me since it happened.

  • http://feministing.com/members/amale/ a male

    One problem was the “warning shot,” and why legal gun owners are warned by writers against “warning shots” or “shooting to wound” in defensive use of firearms. If the firearm IS necessary to stop (as opposed to scare off) the attacker in defense of your life, then shoot them dead when you are attacked. (There are other issues involved in shooting to wound, as that also could also demonstrate to an anti-gun jury that deadly force was not necessary to stop the attack. Another is the attacker, as in this case, is alive to make accusations against you and claim their own innocence.) There is recent precedent if she were in my state (Hawaii) that Ms. Alexander could have shot her husband dead, pleaded guilty to manslaughter (yes, I believe she was defending herself) and have received the same 20 year sentence or less.

    http://tinyurl.com/89jdqdu