Last May, Marissa Alexander, a mother from Jacksonville, Fla., was sentenced to 20 years in prison after shooting a warning shot into the wall of her home during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray. According to the L.A. Times, Alexander’s husband had been arrested twice for attacking her, she had a protective order against her husband and nobody was injured in the altercation. Yet Alexander was not given "stand your ground" immunity.
One of the reasons given for Alexander’s lack of immunity is the fact that she went into the garage to get her gun out of the glove box of her car before returning and ordering Gray to leave. According to CBS News, the judge’s order stated that "there is insufficient evidence that the Defendant reasonably believed deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself."
But is there really insufficient evidence? Why would a woman who had been previously attacked by her husband not feel unsafe in this situation? The judge in this case clearly failed to take into account the complexities inherent within domestic violence cases and did not consider previous cases in which the stand your ground law had been used.
Keep in mind that Alexander had given birth to the couple’s daughter nine days earlier, and that Gray had reportedly said to her, "If I can’t have you, nobody going to have you." At this point, Alexander was not only protecting herself in the moment, but protecting her and her newborn child from future harm. If claiming that nobody can have you is not a death threat, it’s close enough, and coming from a man who has previously been arrested for beating you makes it even more frightening.
The recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case has brought Alexander’s case back to the spotlight. Why did George Zimmerman walk away from Martin’s murder while Alexander will spend the next two decades in prison after causing no physical harm? How is reacting to ongoing violence with the threat of force not an example of standing your ground?
Although Zimmerman waived his right to immunity, a juror recently said to Anderson Cooper that the stand your ground law was considered in the decision-making process.
So, while Alexander was denied immunity, the law was still considered by the jurors in Zimmerman’s case even though he waived his right to immunity. Something just does not add up there.
Additionally, in 2009, no charges were filed in the shooting of Shane Huse, an unarmed man who was shot to death by neighbor Oscar Delbono during a dispute over Huse’s dogs. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a witness said that Huse was turning to leave when Delbono shot him and bullet entry wounds corroborated these claims. Obviously Florida’s stand your ground law is not applied equally across the population.
Thankfully, people across the U.S. are speaking out and questioning this law, and if these three cases don’t show the necessity of this criticism, I don’t know what does.
It baffles me how this law can apply to the Huse case, in which an unarmed man was turning to return to the car where his two young daughters were waiting for him, but it does not when a woman tired of being a victim stands up to her abusive husband. Marissa Alexander refused a plea bargain that would put her in jail for three years on aggravated assault charges because she felt she had done nothing wrong.
If Delbono had no charges filed against him for killing an unarmed neighbor, why should she not feel that she was innocent in a situation where she did nothing but warn Gray to stay away from her? Sure, you might say that it was unnecessary to "warn" him with a gun, but considering this was a case of ongoing domestic abuse, it is extremely likely that she had warned him in less intense ways before this altercation.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of female murder victims for whom the relationship between the victim and offender was known, 45.3 percent were killed by an intimate partner in 2008. In comparison, only 4.9 percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner. Basically, Alexander was in a situation where statistics made it seem likely that Gray would carry out his threat of not allowing anyone to have her. Instead of killing him, though, Alexander chose to warn him, but to do so in a way that showed that she was serious.
If this is the way that domestic violence victims are treated under the stand your ground law, then obviously there is something inherently wrong. In the end, the life of an abused mother is shown to be just as unimportant in the eyes of the law as that of a young, unarmed man.
Alexander escaped an abusive situation with her life, but everything else was taken away from her. If we don’t question these decisions, then violent criminals will continue going free while the victims of violence lose everything. It’s time for us to stand our ground and demand a change, and it’s time for justice to be served in the countless other cases like these.
Laura Thacker is a graduate student in English. Please send comments to [email protected]