Instead of freedom, Marissa Alexander gets new trial date

Marissa Alexander

Photo credit: Bruce Lipsky/The Times-Union

Marissa Alexander, the black Florida mother who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband, will get a new trial this spring. But her supporters were calling for the charges to be dropped altogether.

As we’ve previously covered, Alexander had a restraining order against her husband when he yelled, “Bitch, I will kill you!” and charged toward her during the incident in 2010. She fired a single shot into the ceiling, and no one was hurt. The sentence Alexander received would seem absurdly harsh in general, but especially since we’re talking about Florida here, where the right to “stand your ground” apparently applies to aggressors “threatened” by a bag of Skittles, but not to abused black women. 

Last month, a court overturned Alexander’s original guilty verdict, and activists have called for the charges to be dropped. Instead the state is going to prosecute her once again. Alexander, who has already been in jail for three years while this all plays out, will find out next week whether she will be released on bail. The Free Marissa Now campaign will be fundraising to cover her legal costs for the new trial in March. The goal is to raise $10,000 by the end of the year, and you can help here.

While today’s hearing is a huge disappointment, it’s inspiring to see such powerful grassroots mobilization around this case. The Free Marissa Now effort, as well as the #31forMARISSA letter writing campaign that Mychal covered recently, has worked tirelessly to not only free Alexander but also raise awareness more generally about how women–especially black women and other marginalized groups–are likely to be criminalized for fighting back against domestic violence. As Mariame Kaba of the restorative justice organization Project NIA explained at Colorlines recently:

Marissa is a black woman, and we need to be really clear about that in this case. We’re not seen as potentially violable, we’re not seen as people who can be victimized too often. We’re always seen by everybody—including sometimes even in our own communities—as not being able to feel pain or be abused, and not being real “victims.” What we’re trying to do here, with Marissa, is asserting very clearly and specifically her humanity. We want to make it clear that we do feel pain. Making it clear that the continuing criminalization of black women is completely unacceptable, immoral and despicable.

My own personal sense of heartbreak has been around the notion, in this case, that Marissa couldn’t be afraid, that she couldn’t feel fear, and that the jury couldn’t believe that she was afraid. That’s deep. And that’s why having another trial feels to me like a recipe for disaster—because I don’t think her humanity is taken into account. I don’t think people think that black women can feel scared, or that we have the ability to feel pain.

Here’s hoping she’s wrong about the new trial. In the meantime, as the #31forMARISSA campaign wraps up today, check out this video chat on men, violence, and accountability.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

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