Earlier this year, the George Zimmerman trial resulted in his acquittal in one of the most publicized cases in recent history. He successfully used the “stand your ground” law to prove his innocence, despite the public’s strong opposition across the nation.
The decision to acquit Zimmerman because he correctly used the law is questionable when one looks at the case of Marissa Alexander. Alexander, an African-American woman, believed she correctly invoked the law in the heat of a physical altercation with her husband, Rico Gray, in 2010.
One of the most important clauses of the “stand your ground” statute reads that a person correctly invokes the law if “a person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another.”
However, Alexander was denied immunity and was sentenced to 20 years in prison because she had the option to leave her home through the back door and firing her gun was unnecessary.
What is left out of the discussion of Alexander’s controversial conviction is that her perceived fear of being injured is the result of a history of domestic abuse at the hands of Gray.
“I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her,” Gray said.
Would this not be a trigger to defend herself if she was a victim of repeated abuses? What’s more appalling is that Alexander was arrested the same day of the incident, without considerations of the domestic abuse she received.
Zimmerman was not arrested until months later, after the incident became national news. The different verdicts in the case indicate that an African-American’s fear of domestic abuse is not viable reasoning to apply the law, while stereotyping an African-American as a threat is.
Communities of color in America unfortunately have been the victims of a flawed criminal justice system that behaves differently when law applies to them.
The “stand your ground” law is no exception.
Although Marissa Alexander is currently getting a new trial for her wrongful conviction, this is only through agitation from her supporters on the grounds that the “state’s justice system is skewed against defendants who are black.”
Should she have been convicted, or even arrested, in the first place?
Critics argue that Zimmerman identifying himself as Hispanic and Alexander being black neutralizes the claim that the law is applied discriminately. However, while Zimmerman was found not guilty, what do we make of Trayvon Martin, an African-American male, who died because of a false assumption, and Alexander’s conviction, despite her claim she reasonably feared great bodily harm?
There is a racial hierarchy when it comes to the value of lives in America with blacks unfairly at the bottom. The criminal justice system has been an institution of historic discrimination against African-Americans. African-Americans, including Emmett Till, Rodney King and Troy Davis, have their lives valued less in judicial proceedings in comparison to others.
It is systematic, and almost unconscious that people in America view black Americans differently, though their lineage clearly links their ethnic origins to American soil. The fact that black Americans and other minorities are associated with being the “other” in American society contributes to the different outcomes they receive in the judicial system.
Whether they are the victims of crimes, or are the defendants in court decisions, the criminal justice institution has a tendency to behave differently.
This “other” identity is consistently reinforced through everyday institutions including formal education. Although African-Americans can trace their history alongside traditional American history, African-American history is often taught as a “different” history, leading one to believe that their residence in America is one that people should view through a different lens.
In addition, laws, policies and court decisions have been passed in America that remind us of how society views communities of color as “others,” including Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education.
The fact that black Americans and other minorities are associated with being the “other” in American society contributes to the different outcomes they receive in the judicial system.
Whether they are the victims of crimes, or are the defendants in court decisions, the criminal justice institution, including police officers, judges, jurors and attorneys, has a tendency, rooted in historic discrimination, to behave differently.