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Standing Our Ground for Justice

The tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin could have been averted if George Zimmerman had walked away after alerting the police to someone he thought was “suspicious.” But he chose to pursue Martin, got into a fight, had a gun and used it. Martin is dead and now Zimmerman walks away with impunity. I cannot see how an unarmed teenager was a threat to Zimmerman’s life; scary, maybe but not life-threatening. In the aftermath of the Martin killing and Zimmerman acquittal, the media and activists have focused on the Florida case of Marissa Alexander.

The tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin could have been averted if George Zimmerman had walked away after alerting the police to someone he thought was “suspicious.” But he chose to pursue Martin, got into a fight, had a gun and used it. Martin is dead and now Zimmerman walks away with impunity. I cannot see how an unarmed teenager was a threat to Zimmerman’s life; scary, maybe but not life-threatening.

In the aftermath of the Martin killing and Zimmerman acquittal, the media and activists have focused on the Florida case of Marissa Alexander. She fired a warning shot at her abusive husband and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Alexander is African American; her husband had been arrested twice before for domestic violence against her. The judge denied her use of the “stand your ground” defense and viewed her as the aggressor which sadly betrays a lack of understanding of the context of terror with which battered women live.

Both of these cases are more complicated than they are made to seem by the media. The legal issues are not parallel. Confusing self-defense laws and mandatory sentencing in Florida may be creating unintended consequences. But the divergent outcomes for Zimmerman and Alexander do give one pause to ask: “What is wrong with this picture?”

In Alexander’s case, I have no doubt that race was a factor because race does matter in 2013. However, I think this time gender mattered more. Zimmerman was given the benefit of the doubt by the jury; Alexander was not.

When a woman picks up a gun to defend herself, she is going against script. If she uses that gun and kills her abuser, she is likely to end up in prison. (See the work of the National Clearing House for the Defense of Battered Women.) In our persistently gendered society, women are not supposed to do that. But men are expected to defend themselves in the face of aggression. They have been taught that from childhood.

So the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida seems designed for men but not for women. There are many reasons it is a flawed law and needs to be changed.  But if they are going to have a law which broadens the right to self-defense, then let it apply equally to women defending themselves from men’s violence.

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response to blog on Zimmerman vs Alexander

Posted by Ellen Johanson at Sep 11, 2013 07:57 PM
so glad you wrote this, Marie. I too was struck by the disparity and incongruity of this decision although not surprised. You make good points here especially in terms of equality in self-defense.