I was on CNN yesterday, talking Marissa Alexander and domestic violence, with Esther Armah and Don Lemon. Of course, I am replaying the interview in head, processing and thinking about the many more things I want to say. Here are a few more thoughts:
(1) To understand why Marissa Alexander remains in prison requires talking about racism and sexism, patriarchy and institutional racism. It reflects societal sanctioning and perpetuating of violence against women. The violence she lived through, and her prosecution and incarceration reflects the insidious violence directed at women on so many levels: at home by an abuser, by police, prosecutor, and criminal justice system that punishes the victim, by a prison system that locks women in yet another unsafe and violence place, and a society that remains silent. At the same time, it reflects the lack of institutional care/empathy/ concern/legal protection afforded to black bodies, particularly those of African American women. Yes, intersections matter.
(2) Domestic violence is a societal injustice; it cuts across class, race, sexuality, and geography. It’s rooted in patriarchy; it’s rooted in pathological definition of masculinity; it’s rooted in media and popular culture that turns domestic violence into a spectacle, a source of profit and pleasure. Clearly we can think about race and class operates here. Domestic violence is rooted in the legal and cultural views about the “home” as a man’s castle, which contributes to systemic views about it being a “private issue.” All of this embodies domestic violence culture, where violence, the pain and bloodshed, the despair, and heartache, the injuries and terror are imagined as a personal and familial issue. In all, domestic violence culture ignores the rights, futures, wellbeing, and humanity of women, particularly women of color.
(3) Angela Davis once noted that, “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” The incarceration of Marissa Alexander and the national silence on this injustice (and domestic violence) reflects an effort to make the victims of domestic violence disappear. The fact that a women is assaulted every 9 seconds in America reveals how the problems, the violence, and the despair are fully present.
(4) As noted in a discussion between Suey Park and Summaya Fire: “Black women are 35 percent more likely than white women and 2.5 times more likely than any non-Black woman of color group to experience domestic violence. However, they are also less likely than other women to use social services. More Black women are likely to go to the hospital for domestic violence than social services.” In this same discussion, Summaya Fire points out how the stereotypes of black women has not only shaped the conversation/media coverage/ response from the criminal justice system but also plays out in terms of the lack of services/intervention from social welfare as it relates to black women. The history of movements against domestic violence, media coverage, and even political discourse has erased the experiences of African American women. I wish we had more time to discuss these structural barriers to safety and security; to understand Marissa Alexander is to look at racism and sexism.
(5) A few statistics to know: Estimates range between 70-80% (some studies are lower) of women convicted of murder acted in self-defense against their abusers. One study found that cases involving domestic violence victims defending themselves against abusers had a higher conviction rates than in other cases. That is women defending and protecting themselves from violent men were more like to be convicted. They were also more likely to be given longer sentences (on average 15 years). Additionally, African American women convicted of killing an abusive spouse/partner were the most likely to be convicted. All women, and particularly black women, face harsh punishments from the criminal justice when trying to protect themselves from a violent partner. Marissa Alexander and the thousands of women locked up for defending themselves against violent is evident of this horrifying reality.
And finally, the parallels between Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin are ample: neither Trayvon nor Marissa were given the right (legal or moral) to stand their ground. Race and gender matters; racism and sexism matters. Both Trayvon and Marissa have been criminalized despite being victims of violence; each have been blamed, question, and otherwise convicted within the criminal justice system, within much of the media, and within the public at large. We already know the outcome in the struggle for #Justice4Trayvon. The fight for Marissa’s release and the dropping of the charges continues.