By now, everyone and their cousin knows the story of Trayvon Martin, and how the cops used Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to not arrest George Zimmerman until there was a massive amount of media pressure and public outcry. The purpose of the “Stand Your Ground” law is to protect those who would use lethal force in self-defense. Some have argued that it’s blurring the line between homicide and justifiable homicide, and maybe it has. Under federal law (per Beard v. United States, 1895), you must believe that the perpetrator will inflict “great bodily harm” or kill you, in order to actually kill them.
This brings me to the case of Marissa Alexander, who was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison this week. According to the Huffington Post,1 “On Aug. 1, 2010, a fight between Alexander and her husband, Rico Gray, 36, left her cornered in the couple’s home. She fled into the garage to escape but was trapped behind a jammed door, she stated in court documents. She said she grabbed the gun she kept in the garage, returned to the house and, when Gray threatened to kill her, fired a single shot to ward him off.” It’s worth noting that Alexander had already filed a restraining order against Gray about four months before this incident.
During the deposition, Gray said, “I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her…”If my kids weren’t there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her. If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her.” When Alexander’s defense attorney asked him what he meant by “put my hand on her,” Gray replied, “probably hit her. I got five baby mamas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.”2 Well, if you can’t trust a guy who admits to beating four out of five baby mamas, who can you trust?
After Alexander rejected a plea deal that would have gotten her three years in prison, because she believed she was protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the case went to trial. The jury found her guilty after 12 minutes of deliberation. Under Florida’s 10-20-life law, “anyone convicted of an aggravated assault when a firearm is discharged to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison with no regard to extenuating circumstances.”3 So, Alexander was sentenced to 20 years. For fighting off an abusive spouse that she’d already warned the authorities about.
And this is where I step in and get peeved. More than a few commentators have already noted the racial imbalance in this case compared to the Trayvon Martin case. While I’m not about to dismiss those claims, I can’t escape the glaring sexism.
According to the information compiled by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence,4
- Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, 49% of these were crimes against spouses.
- 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at were female.
- Males were 83% of spouse murderers and 75% of dating partner murderers
- 50% of offenders in state prison for spousal abuse had killed their victims. Wives were more likely than husbands to be killed by their spouses: wives were about half of all spouses in the population in 2002, but 81% of all persons killed by their spouse.
Statistics aside, I would want to view Marissa Alexander’s case as one of those cases where everything for the defendant just went completely wrong. But the goofy political climate we’re in has me concerned on a bigger scale. The obvious starting point is the ongoing battle over renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Another is a general attitude from lawmakers. Like Wisconsin State Representative Don Pridemore who told a local news affiliate5 that divorce, even when there’s evidence of domestic violence, should be discouraged: “If they can refind those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place, it might help.” And then there’s Idaho State Senator Chuck Winder, who, upon introducing a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill into the state legislature (that eventually went nowhere), said, “I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”6 In the Jennifer Hudson trial, where her former brother in-law, Daniel Balfour, was recently convicted on all three counts of killed Hudson’s mother, brother, and nephew, the defense played the Ick Card: “The defense tried to counter the portrayal of Balfour as an embittered husband by noting Julia Hudson [Jennifer Hudson’s sister] continued to have sex with him until just days before the killings.”7 I don’t understand how that, if true, is even relevant, or how it could justify killing three people.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel better knowing these guys are in charge of my well-being. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between rape and consensual, spousal sex if I didn’t have Chuck Winder there to help clear things up. If I get married, and my guy starts to slap me around, the best thing I can do is take Don Pridemore’s advice to heart, and try to “refind” the reason I fell in love with the big lug in the first place. And if my hypothetical husband tries beating the crap out of me in Florida, I shouldn’t bother with any sort of pesky self-defense—that could land me in prison, separating me from my hypothetical children. And even if he kills any of my relatives, my sex life can still be put on trial for shits and giggles—sort like the effect “refind” has had on SpellCheck.
In conclusion, American women who are victims of violence, sexual or otherwise, still need to prove their innocence. And don’t bother trying to stand your ground: that’s the domain of white guys.
- Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/marissa-alexander-sentenced_n_1510113.html
- CNN: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/27/stand-your-ground-plea-rejected-in-florida/?iref=obnetwork
- CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/12/opinion/roland-martin-mandatory-minimums/index.html
- American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html
- TMJ4: http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/142161793.html
- Spokesman-Review: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/mar/20/idaho-lawmaker-chided-doubting-claims-rape/