Strange Justice in Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law: Black Women Need Not Apply? [UPDATED]

Posted on May 14, 2012


We have all heard  the outrage over the long delay in arresting and charging George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin in Florida.  Now the nation awaits the defense that will be put up at trial, and it will probably involve some angle on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.  The whole episode just got a lot more interesting from a legal standpoint, because Marissa Alexander was just convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison after a Florida court rejected her “Stand Your Ground” claim.

Never were two cases so diametrically opposed in their handling, despite the fact that Angela Corey is the state attorney prosecuting both cases.  Please see Touré’s article in Time magazine for his take on the injustice of the Alexander case; I agree with him that Alexander was the victim, and the law has abandoned her.  For standing her ground in the face of a violent spouse with a proven history of injuring her, she will now spend 20 years in prison.  It remains to be seen what will happen to George Zimmerman for chasing down and shooting an unarmed teenager, but the handling of the investigations and charges could not have been more different.  Bottom line, this is an indictment of three things:  the uneven application of  “Stand Your Ground,” the handling of self-defense claims in domestic abuse situations, and the blind requirements of mandatory minimum sentences.

Comparison of the cases:

Marissa Alexander is a black woman with no previous criminal history.  She legally owned a pistol and had a permit for concealed carry. George Zimmerman is a white/ Hispanic man with a previous assault charge.  He legally owned a pistol and had a permit for concealed carry.
Alexander had been repeatedly violently abused by her husband, Rico Gray.  He had beaten her severely enough to require her hospitalization a year before.  He had previously threatened to kill her and admits to “putting his hands” on nearly all of his girlfriends.  Alexander  had a standing protection order against him. Zimmerman had no history with Trayvon Martin and had never seen him before.
On the day of the incident, Gray had physically abused Alexander.  He later told police that he told her “If I can’t have you, no one will,” while forcing his way into the bathroom to confront her. On the day of the incident, Zimmerman had a past history of calling 911 to report strangers lurking in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood had a history of break-ins.
Alexander fled from Gray into the garage, but the garage door would not open so she returned to the kitchen, where the confrontation continued.  Gray told police that Alexander initially held the gun pointing down, but he called his children into the room and then approached her, cursing and refusing her request that he leave. Zimmerman left his vehicle against the advice of the police dispatcher, pursued and confronted Martin.
Alexander fired a warning shot into the wall / ceiling and no one was hurt. Zimmerman fired one shot which killed Martin.
Gray left the house, called police, and accused Alexander of shooting at him and his children. Multiple neighbors called police to report screaming and a gunshot.
Police arrived and immediately arrested Alexander.  She was charged with three counts of aggravated assault.  Because a gun was used, a conviction would carry a mandatory minimum of 20 years. Police arrived, Zimmerman was questioned on scene and later at the police station, then released with no charges.  The police took 17 days to finish their investigation, and the state attorney took another 28 days to charge him with second-degree murder, following public outcry and federal involvement in the case.
Alexander was convicted at trial and faces 20 years in jail.  The reasons given for her conviction are that she had returned into the house, showing that she was not in fear for her safety (although she was unable to open the garage door to depart); and that she endangered the children by firing the warning shot (although Gray had called the children into the room after seeing the gun). Zimmerman is awaiting trial.

So, dear readers, you tell me:  why is Marissa Alexander in jail for firing a warning shot in self-defense that injured no one, in the state now infamous for its “Stand Your Ground” law?  Is it because she is black?  Because she is a woman?  An abused woman who kept returning to her abuser, as so many do?  Or, perversely, because she didn’t actually kill her attacker, enabling him to bring charges against her?  What’s your take?

UPDATE!  As of 28 November 2013, Ms. Alexander is released on bond and awaiting a new trial.  The judge in her case was determined to have given improper jury instructions.  You can also see the details on this update at First Coast News.