I Fought the Law and the Law Won

Somebody please explain this to me. Please. Because seriously, I am at a loss. A Jacksonville, Florida woman (my hometown, no less) was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot into a wall to scare off her abusive husband. No one was injured. No one was shot. She fired a gun into a wall after her husband threatened her life. And now she’s spending 20 years in prison. WHAT?!
This woman, Marissa Alexander, and her defense team, took the legal position that she was protected under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Remember that law? The one that George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, claimed and initially protected him from arrest? Yeah, well Marissa Alexander, a black woman, no less, got jack shit from that law. According to The Frisky, “the jury…was swayed by the fact that Alexander ran out of the house from her abusive husband, then came back into the house because the garage door was locked. They said returning to the house did not make sense for someone claiming her life was at risk and that she fired the gun in anger, rather than self-defense.” Clearly, our society has no real understanding of the realities of a domestic violence relationship.

It is a tragic reality that one in three women in America will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Perhaps just as tragic is the general population’s complete lack of understanding around domestic violence and battered women’s syndrome. The average battered woman leaves 7 to 8 times before permanently exiting the relationship. And no, that’s not because she doesn’t feel her life is in danger or because she is angry and wants to shoot a gun at her husband. There are numerous reasons that a woman has trouble leaving her abuser, and none of them have to do with being an angry black woman.

She may fear more severe abuse, stalking, harm to her children/family/friends, harm to her job or reputation. She may love her abuser and wants to believe that this will be the last time, that things will change. She may have limited job skills and no access to the bank account or control over the family finances. There are dozens of reasons, and they are all very real.

In an attempt to wrap our heads around abusive relationships, we often end of blaming the victim. “Why didn’t she leave?” “Why did she go back?” “What is wrong with her that she wants this kind of relationship?” Let’s make this clear — no one wants to be in an abusive relationship. No one wants to be abused, dehumanized, hurt, or tortured, and that includes Marissa Alexander.

So what does it say about our justice system that a battered woman tries to stand up to her abuser, fires a warning shot into a wall, injures NO ONE, and is sentenced to 20 years in prison on three aggravated assault charges? It says that we as a society are far more likely to side with an abuser than a victim. It says that we completely fail to grasp the realities of a domestic violence relationship, which is appalling when one in three women in this country experience it in her lifetime! One in three! This is nothing short of a massive moral failure on our part.

I sincerely hope that this egregious miscarriage of justice will be corrected (but with Florida, I’m not holding my breath). In the meantime, let’s educate ourselves about domestic violence and become compassionate allies in the effort to end it. There are countless Marissa Alexanders out there, and they need to know that they are not alone, that they are supported.

This ruling unfortunately tells them the direct opposite.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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