“Justice Deflected: Notes on the Marissa Alexander case

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[For an upcoming issue of Folio Weekly.]

Justice Deflected:

“Stand Your Ground” runs aground in the Marissa Alexander case. 

Marissa Alexander owned a 9mm semiautomatic handgun for nearly five years prior to March of 2010, and by the time most of you are reading this, Marissa Alexander will have already begun serving a 20-year prison term for the only shot she ever fired with it. What she thought was a “warning shot” to stop her abusive boyfriend from coming toward her was, in fact, a lethal error that has destroyed her life, and that of her three children.

Had she just killed the guy, she would probably be walking free under terms of “Stand Your Ground”, and that is why her case has suddenly attracted such attention in the wake of L’Affair Trayvon. Members of Alexander’s family, flanked by supporters, have been holding rallies on her behalf; the most recent happened in the courthouse parking lot on May 30. It was booked for six, but crowds had already gathered an hour earlier on the Riverwalk, 100 yards away. Turns out they were there for Yacht Week; if the mezzo-soprano following our anthem with “God Save the Queen” was no clue, the wall of pinched white faces was. This reporter was, in fact, the only point of overlap between the two groups.

Local news-crews had already done their remotes for the 6pm broadcast, before things had started; they were nice enough to stick around for a while, turning their cameras on here and there. The two cameramen, a teacher from FSCJ and my bike-riding bartender friend were the only Caucasians in a crowd numbering almost 50, which is to be expected. There were hymns, prayers, lots of nice words and good Christian fellowship, none of which will save her. It was not a time or place for asking hard questions, like: Why didn’t Alexander’s ex-military father just shoot the guy who was beating his daughter?

Sentencing is scheduled for Thursday, May 10. Any mercy, reason or compassion Judge James Daniel might or might not have is negated by political expediency: Mandatory minimums were designed to win elections, not the fight against crime. Disproportionately high sentences handed down to small-time criminals keep the facilities full and allow pols to play crime-fighter, while the real dirt is done out of public view. Unless the judge accepts the motion for retrial filed by her attorney, Keith Cobbin, it’s a wrap.

With stories like these, context flies at you from all directions. Walking down Bay St., after making a loop around the lot, a headline leapt out from a row of newspaper boxes: “Sluggish Economy Fuels Domestic Violence, Police Report”, from that day’s USA Today. It followed on a survey taken of some 700 law-enforcement agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum; the headline reflects the view of 56% of respondents, up from just 40% in 2010. The CDC estimates that 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence every year. These incidents occurred at 111,681 times in Florida in 2011, according to the FDLE, but consider CDC’s claim that three-fourth of such incidents don’t even get reported, and we’re talking more like half a million. (With 7,604 reported incidents, Duval County is only third-worst in the state.) A woman in this country is attacked by an intimate partner every nine seconds; at least three of them are killed every day.

Domestic violence is estimated to cost this country nearly $6 billion a year–$4 billion for medical care, and another two for the 64 million productive work-hours lost from victims who miss work because their injuries can’t be concealed. At least ten million children have seen this stuff happen right before their eyes, including Marissa Alexander’s; the step-children who saw the shooting are, statistically, twice as likely to become abusers themselves someday, which is bad news for somebody out there. (Chris Brown is the most obvious example of how the “cycle of violence” concept plays out in real-life.)

There is an old Chinese saying: “He who will not listen, will have to feel.” That is the story of Marissa Alexander, in a nutshell. The woman’s life was hard enough, but soon it will be ruined beyond repair, simply because she made the same fatal mistake made by countless women over the years—she showed mercy and compassion to an abusive man. She could have fled into the street and taken her beating there. That she fired into the ceiling, instead of into the sternum, suggests to some that maybe she didn’t feel so threatened, after all.

Had she, in those desperate moments, done what any man would do in her situation—fixed the gun squarely on the attacker’s head and put a bullet right between the eyes, where it belonged—odds are that we would have never known who she was. We wouldn’t be writing about her, and you wouldn’t be reading about her. At best, her story might have been added to the accordion-file of “good news” about guns, next to all those old-timers who stood up to Hitler, and had no patience for some body bluffin’ street urchin who spent too much time listening to the wrong records. The NRA and affiliated lobbies like touting these tales, because it’s the only thing that balances the fact that NRA-licensed gun dealers knowingly sell weapons to criminals.

I would suggest that Alexander was simply blinded by her emotions, the same emotions that kept her in that terrible position, like thousands of other women here in Florida. As I write this (and it’s not even 11am), there’s probably a woman getting her ass kicked in all 67 counties of the state, and odds are that they will tell no one. Over the years, I’ve spoken with many dozens of victims of rape and/or domestic violence, and the vast majority of them never went to the authorities, because the pointlessness of such an endeavor has become the stuff of legend. The social cost of going public is, frankly, punitive, and everyone knows the odds of conviction are slim—the dynamic is about as “top-down” as you can get.

Florida now enjoys a national reputation built mostly around pills, dead children and mediocre football. Well, games are decided on the field, and addiction fights occur in the mind and soul. The continued abuse of innocents is a slap in the face to every single citizen of the state—and those who you saying “Oh wait, this has nothing to do with me” are the worst of all. This is a state of transients, dilettantes and northeastern washouts who come here because, if you can’t make it in Florida, suicide is your last option. The scum has risen because they were allowed to, and they’re just getting started.

More details can be had from justiceformarissa.blogspot.com, and the @Justice4Marissa Twitter feed. Ultimately, the lesson of all this is: Ladies, don’t breed with men who beat you. That such a statement might prove controversial nowadays only reinforces the point. Alexander never learned that, so now she’ll learn in prison, while the daughter she bore him (and whose pictures set off the incident) will be raised by him—really badly, one would guess. But the girl’s already been gifted with a perfect name for the life that lies ahead: “Rianna”. You just cannot make this stuff up!

sheltonhull@gmail.com; May 1, 2012

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One response »

  1. Pingback: FLOG » Blog Archive » Uncut: U.S. Rep Corrine Brown and State Attorney Angela Corey

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