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Marissa Alexander retrial pushed to December

By staff |
June 16, 2014
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Jacksonville, FL – On June 10, Circuit Judge James Daniel pushed back Marissa Alexander's retrial date from July 21 to Dec. 1. Alexander is a 33-year-old African-American mother facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot to fend off her abusive husband. Originally convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Alexander received a new trial in 2013 when a District Court of Appeals judge overturned the decision.

Now, Judge Daniel delayed the trial's opening day by more than four months because of a recent amendment to Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. Alexander sought protection through Stand Your Ground, arguing that she acted in self-defense as her husband threatened and attacked her. The court's ruling that Stand Your Ground didn't apply to Alexander sparked national outrage from African Americans, woman’s rights activists and other progressive groups.

The new amendment to Stand Your Ground, passed by the Republican-dominated Florida legislature in the last session, extends the law's protections to include warning shots. The defense argues that Alexander should receive a new Stand Your Ground hearing in December after the amendment takes effect. At the time of writing, Florida Governor Rick Scott had not signed the amendment into law.

Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, passed in Florida in 2005 under right-wing Governor Jeb Bush, removes a person's duty to retreat if there is a reasonable presumption of a threat. The law was written by the reactionary corporate lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC specializes in authoring and passing far-right laws through state legislatures.

Many critics of Stand Your Ground say that the law allows racist vigilantes to murder African Americans and Latinos with impunity, as in the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. However, Alexander's case reveals another racist aspect of the law's implementation. It shows the state's unwillingness to apply Stand Your Ground when African Americans or women exercise self-defense.

In the first trial, State Attorney Angela Corey accused Alexander of battering her husband, Rico Gray. Gray had two previous domestic battery arrests – the most recent from 2009 – and he bragged in a deposition that he has “five baby mammas, and I [hit] every last one of them, except for one.” Alexander said she fired the warning shot after her husband flew into a violent rage with her kids at home. Corey's claims flipped reality on its head and revealed the sexist and racist nature of the U.S. criminal injustice system.

Alexander's denial of basic self-defense rights is hardly unique to her case. An Urban Institute study from this year found that in states with Stand Your Ground laws, white-on-black shootings were ruled 'justified' in 17% of cases, while black-on-white crimes were only ruled 'justified' in 1% of cases.

Despite the news, activist organizations across Jacksonville pushed forward towards large, militant courthouse protests calling to “Free Marissa Now.” Local organizations like the Free Marissa Now network, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC), the New Jim Crow Movement and Florida New Majority, are all preparing for massive rallies to support Alexander during the trial.

The Free Marissa Now network designated July 25 through Aug. 1 as “Standing Our Ground Week of Action.” The week of action will include courthouse protests, marches and a panel discussion on Black feminist organizing led by Professor Beth Richie of the University of Illinois-Chicago. Despite the date change of the court date, the network plans to push forward for the same week.

On May 28, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition announced the kickoff of a citywide campaign to remove State Attorney Angela Corey, the politician responsible for re-prosecuting Alexander and seeking a higher sentence, from office. They say that Corey botched the prosecution of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, the killer of 17-year-old African-American Jordan Davis. The campaign demands “Angela Corey Out Now” and “Free Marissa Now” and it will meet regularly on the third Sunday of the month at the IBEW 177 union hall.