Friday, June 15, 2012


Make no mistake, Marissa Alexander is a political prisoner.  Maybe not you "normal" political prisoner, but any woman who uses a gun in self defense and ends up with twenty years in prison, well, you tell me.  When one adds to the fact the way her case was handled versus the way the Treyvon Martin case was handled in the same state and with the same prosecution, well, again, you tell me.

Again, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three, recently was sentenced 20 years for firing one shot in the direction of spouse Rico Gray.  Marissa, is also a person of color.

Marissa had never before been charged with anything, arrested for anything.  Her record was clean.

That shot, by the way, the one I described above as being fired in the direction of her hubby was actually more of a warning shot, fired into the ceiling.

U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, has been an advocate for Alexander. Brown was present at the sentencing and she pointed out, 

The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today. One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the `Stand Your Ground Law' will not apply to them. ... The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently.

Marissa Alexander is a political prisoner.

Marissa, you may recall, had already gotten a restraining order against her estranged husband when she was threatened with physical harm by the dude.

Lavada Lindsey in a readers forum at Colorlines writes:

Really, people? She should have just let him attack her, right? The important detail is that no one was hurt… Why on earth would people think that she deserves 20 years for shooting at a ceiling… It’s called a warning shot… it did the trick, he left her alone. It was self defense, and rational… we should be grateful that she was able to leave unhurt and without hurting anyone else…

What about all of the women who leave abusive spouses only to be caught, beaten, killed, etc. … We are not supposed to stand up for ourselves? Now she’s in prison and he’s able to go on and abuse other women…

[…] No one was murdered in this case, she was immediately arrested and given 20 FREAKING YEARS!!!! Come on, it took Zimmerman over 40 days to be arrested and only because the public put pressure on the justice system to do something about it. And both cases happened in the state of Florida… It just goes to show that the law doesn’t get applied equally… I feel for this woman and her children.

Marissa Alexander a political prisoner, that is for damn sure, and she is the subject of SCISSION'S political prisoner Friday today.

The following is from Prison Culture (a damn fine site).

On Self-Defense & Women of Color…

I have not written about the Marissa Alexander case on this blog though I have been closely following the developments in her trial. Well on Friday, Ms. Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, here is a very brief summary. Marissa Alexander is an African-American mother of 3 who tried to protect herself from an abusive husband by firing a warning shot into the ceiling after he had beat her up again. There is of course much more to the case including the fact that her attorney tried to use the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law as her defense and was prohibited from doing so by the judge. You can read much more about the case here.

This is another example of the system re-victimizing survivors of violence and speaks to what Iwrote about on Monday with respect to the inadequacy of the efforts to actually support survivors of rape and domestic violence. This case brings to mind countless other stories of battered women and rape survivors who I have known over the years. But there is also something more…

Danielle McGuire has written in her excellent book “At the Dark End of the Street” that there was a time in this country when it was presumed that black women could not be raped. The idea was that they were naturally promiscuous and that their bodies were inviolate. In other words, no never meant no for black and brown women (and some poor white women). This idea has carried over, I think, to the concept of “self-defense” as applied to women of color. If black women’s bodies can always be violated and if black women are easily killable, then the notion of self-defense can never apply. Black women do not have a “self” worth defending.

A poem by Toi Derricotte titled “On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses” is one of my favorites. It captures the idea that black women in our culture are so thoroughly devalued that our deaths go unnoticed and unpunished. One particular stanza is especially moving for me:

a black woman, there is a question being asked
about my life. How can I
protect myself? Even if I lock my doors,
walk only in the light, someone wants me dead.

Read the entire poem if you have a moment, you won’t be sorry.

The Marissa Alexander case brings to mind another instance of self-defense by a survivor of sexual violence. Inez Garcia was a 30 year old Latina who had a child and was profoundly Catholic. Inez was an illiterate woman who had moved to California to be closer to her husband who was incarcerated in Soledad prison. In March 1974, she was beaten and raped by two men in California. She was tried for first degree murder for shooting and killing one of her rapists. A flyer created by her defense committee in the 70s describes the details of the incident.

Louis Castillo and Miguel Jimenez came to Inez’s house at 8 p.m., allegedly to talk to Fred Medrano, who was also renting the house [that Inez lived in]. While waiting for him, the two men started drinking and taunting Inez. When Fred arrived home, he was harassed and threatened and beaten up in the fight that followed. Inez, frightened, told Louis and Miguel to leave, and stepped outside to make sure they left. They forced her to come behind the house with them where, trapped, she was beaten, her clothes torn, and she was raped.
In a state of shock and hysterical from the attack, Inez went back inside and loaded her .22-caliber rifle. At this time she received a phone call from the two men who had just attacked her. They threatened to make it worse for her if she did not leave town. About one half hour later she found her attackers five blocks away, beating up Fred a second time. She saw Jimenez draw a knife and called out. Jimenez turned and threw the knife in her direction. Inez fired, killing Jimenez and missing Castillo completely.

Christa Donaldson Arrested at Inez Garcia Demonstration, San Francisco, 1975

Women’s rights advocates and others seized on the Garcia case as an example of the “justice” system run amok. Her Defense Committee (comprised of local feminists and other community members) maintained that it was unjust that Inez was accused of premeditated murder “for defending herself against brutal and senseless attack” while her rapist remained free. They added:

“Thousands upon thousands of women have been attacked and raped, and countless more live in fear of rape. Inez is one of the few to defend herself so bravely. Her case is an example to everyone, for until men stop attacking women, women must be free to defend themselves by whatever means necessary.”

Inez Garcia Marching in the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Parade, San Francisco, 1976

Inez Garcia was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison. This sparked several “Free Inez” demonstrations. She spent two years behind bars until her conviction was reversed on appeal because the judge had instructed the jury not to consider her rape. Her case was retried in 1977 and she was acquitted. The Garcia case and the Joan Littlecase offer examples which illustrate that it matters what people on the outside do when unjust charges are brought against individuals. If you doubt this, I suggest that you read Vikki Law’sinterview about three cases (including Garcia’s and Little’s) where outside pressure and activism helped to overturn convictions of women survivors of violence. Let’s hope that those fighting on behalf of Marissa Alexander will also be successful in securing a reversal of her conviction on appeal. You can sign a petition to Free Marissa Alexander here


Mosi Ngozi said...

You can not even put the wordz political prisoner & Marissa Alexander together 4 that is far the truth. She is not in prison becauze of her politics and am sure that many of the 100 or so political prisoners here on amerikkkan soil would say the same thing.

Oread Daily said...

I think she is in prison for the length of time she is for political reasons. I also think, regardless of whether what she did was a conscious political act, it was a political act all the same. My guess is if you asked any female political prisoners which you consider to be such, they would for the most part agree with my assessment.

However, I recognize the difference between Marissa, and say, Oscar Rivera. I don't think it is as big as you think, but it does obviously exist.

Would you describe a worker who was unfairly (or fairly) laid off and lost it and shot his boss and went to jail for decades as a political prisoner? Was that act political? Is it case by case?

Finally, since it is my blog, I get to decide how I, and I alone, define political prisoners (lol), but I do welcome a discussion on this question... along with the question of political prisoner versus prisoner of war (for example in the case of FALN members). It would be interesting. There are some with an even more broad definition of what constitutes a political prisoner, as opposed to a social prisoner, then I.

Truth is, I am not sure, how much it matters in the end. The question that does matter is more about supporting prisoners in general and how we go about doing that.

Thank you, Mosi, for your comment and interest.

Juliet said...

mosi, i think you're wrong, very wrong. this woman IS a political prisoner, regardless of what her political beliefs are... she doesn'tt have to write a communique to tell me the law is not on her side, or behind any woman who exhibits violent tendencies towards their abusers. you don't have to be an urban guerrilla to be a political prisoner. t he state is using her as an example, poor soul, that in my opinion constitutes political prisoner.