What do Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander have in common? The Stand Your Ground law, a Florida prosecutor named Angela Corey and, heartbreakingly, no justice. Trying to figure out the legal technicalities and how they collided with race and gender in Florida sends me spinning.
Growing up in southern Virginia I have felt the sting of anti-Semitism from middle-school classmates who called me “Jesus-killer” to adults who felt uncomfortable working with Jews. As a white, Jewish woman I was taught skepticism and understanding of how rules and laws don’t play out the same way for everyone. I observed people in power bend rules and laws to their liking. Whether it was school policy that wouldn’t let me make up a test if I was absent for a Jewish holiday or bank lending practices that prohibited my family and my African-American friends from buying homes in certain neighborhoods.
In neither the Zimmerman or Alexander case was their history of domestic violence taken into account. For Zimmerman, this meant that his documented history of abuse was not admissible in court. Even worse, the legal system didn’t consider if his past abusive behavior was an indicator of possible future violence and take steps to address that, such as taking his guns away.
For Marissa Alexander the past history of abuse from her husband also didn’t count in court, but the outcome was very different. She was denied the use of the Stand Your Ground law in her defense, and was sentenced to 20 years. And she’s not alone. We know that it’s way harder to get justice if you’re a black woman dealing with domestic violence. I asked one of my daughters what she thought of Marissa Alexander and her prison sentence. She said “She didn’t hurt anyone—no one got hurt. She was trying to defend herself. I don’t understand it.”
In my job, I work every day to help create a better world for my children, and yours. I am inspired by Move to End Violence’s call to “create a world that is safe, loving and respectful of everyone’s inherent human dignity.” I can’t give up even when I see how broken our system is. Really, what else am I living for?