Stand Your Ground: Is Marissa Alexander a Reverse Trayvon Martin?

What Women Really Think
April 25 2012 2:54 PM

Marissa Alexander: A Reverse Trayvon Martin?

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Is Marissa Alexander a victim of unequal application of Florida's Stand Your Ground statute?

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Despite attempts to recast the Trayvon Martin tragedy as a legal squabble over Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, many of us still file it under “racism in America.” We sense (though we could be wrong) that the self-defense law entered the picture not as an actual ingredient in Zimmerman’s thinking at the time of the murder, but as a retroactive justification. That what made the older man pursue a course capped in gunfire was his wariness at the sight of a hooded black kid, rather than his divination of a real threat.

Given Stand Your Ground’s record of serving as an afterthought to prejudice, it’s not too surprising to learn that the statute appears to apply unequally across races and genders. In August 2010, 31-year-old Marissa Alexander fired a single gunshot into the ceiling of her Jacksonville, Fla. home during a fight with her husband, 36-year-old Rico Gray. She claims she acted in self-defense. Gray, who describes his wife as the aggressor, had twice before been arrested for domestic battery, in 2006 and 2009. (The charges were dropped in the first case and he was put on probation after the second). Gray maintains that on the day of the confrontation, “I was begging for my life while my kids were holding on to my side; the gun was pointed at me.” Yet in a 2010 hearing, he also said, charmingly, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking … or what I might do … hit them, push them.”

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It’s lovely stuff, and Alexander’s narrative dovetails nicely with this self-report. “In an unprovoked jealous rage, my husband violently confronted me while using the restroom,” she writes. “He assaulted me, shoving, strangling, and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave.” Allegedly, she ran, fetched her gun from the garage, and discharged a warning bullet into the ceiling. She was charged with three counts of aggravated assault.

Like Zimmerman, Alexander sought protection under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which states that a person assailed where she has a right to be “has no duty to retreat” and may “meet force with force.” Yet unlike Zimmerman, Alexander found her request for immunity denied. Judge Elizabeth Senterfitt maintained that she could have fled back through the house instead of confronting her husband. She stood trial for assault on March 16, 2012 and was pronounced guilty.

“It is interesting to consider that George Zimmerman shot and killed someone and was released by police and Marissa Alexander shot no one and could face a lengthy prison sentence,” observed Lauren Victoria Burke of Politic356 last week. I suppose interesting is one word for it. Perplexing and disheartening are two more. Maybe the blog DemSign got it right with their modest proposal for changing the law’s name to “Stand Your Ground: Just not if you’re black or female.”  

Alexander’s sentencing hearing was to take place on Monday—she faces a minimum of 20 years in prison—but has been delayed until April 30, in part due to popular outrage over a perceived double standard.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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