Never have the flaws of the American justice system been made more apparent than in the 2010 arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Marissa Alexander, a now 34-year-old mother who fired a single warning shot into a wall after her abusive husband made yet another threat against her and her new baby's life. Since her conviction, she has spent exactly 1,095 too many days in prison, but today, Alexander was released to house arrest, where she will serve the remainder of her sentence. Although this is certainly progress, the continued treatment of Alexander as a criminal brings into sharp relief the hypocrisy at play in the American courtroom, especially considering the same Florida "Stand Your Ground" rule that saved George Zimmerman from a conviction in the Trayvon Martin shooting was not applied in Alexander's case, despite the fact that no one was injured in the latter.
As part of her quasi-release, Alexander will be required to wear an ankle monitor that will only permit her to leave the house for work, job interviews, church, family medical and dental appointments, and her children's school. Otherwise, she will remain under supervision, and will have to obtain permission from a judge before engaging in any activities that might require her to leave the perimeter of her home. She'll also have to pay for her ankle bracelet, which doesn't come cheap at the rate of $105 a week, or $5,500 for the entire two year sentence. But Alexander will not have to foot the bill by herself — already, a slew of supporters have raised the necessary funds to cover the monitor fee, and a religious group has offered her a job should she require further financial assistance.
Rev. Kenneth Adkins, a pastor associated with the group, told a local news station:
It gives her an opportunity to bring some closure to her situation. The most important part about this whole thing is it kind of gives Jacksonville this opportunity to put this behind us. This is one of those national spotlight stories that kind of cast bad light on our community and our leaders.
The situation has indeed cast a pall over not only the community, but the legal system at large, which has managed to fail to indict Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, both of whom were unarmed, but has sentenced Alexander to 20 years in prison after 12 minutes of deliberation. Despite further attempts by the prosecutor in the case to increase her sentence to 60 years, Alexander will serve just two more years as a result of a plea deal reached last November.
Much of the shortening of her absurd sentence came after her case sparked national outrage and garnered significant criticism from activists across the country, who have worked tirelessly on various "Free Marissa" campaigns. One such effort manifested itself in the form of a monumental quilt memorial, dedicated not only to justice for Alexander, but to survivors of domestic violence and abuse everywhere. The "Monument Quilt," which reads "Not Alone," and also includes numerous messages of support and love for Alexander and other survivors, was initially unveiled at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. last spring. Since then, however, it has traveled the country as a symbol of strength and indignation.
Led by feminist activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, the quilt (which uses squares submitted by individuals across the country), seeks to "provide public support for survivors in a culture where they’re often publicly shamed." Rebecca Nagle, one of the group's leaders, recently told Think Progress:
I hope Marissa and her family can feel support from across the country. And I hope it helps people realize that other women experience domestic violence, other people are prosecuted for being victims of domestic violence, and other black women are framed as aggressors for incidents that are clearly in self-defense.
The quilt contains messages like, "How can the same state that acquitted George Zimmerman prosecute Marissa Alexander?" And, "My mom, my sister, my step-mom, my aunt, my aunt C, my cousin, my cousin M, my cousin C, my grandmother, my grandma, and my step-grandmother are all the women in my family that have been in abusive relationships (that I know about). Marissa, you are not alone," drawing attention to a problem that transcends age, environment, and socioeconomic class, yet is one that remains largely unaddressed.
But Marissa Alexander has become a rallying cry for many allies and survivors — already, backers have raised $58,297 on the site GoGetFunding to provide Alexander with the financial stability she needs to restart her life post-prison, and a joint Facebook post from The Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign and The Monument Quilt read, "...let Jacksonville and the world know Marissa is NOT ALONE."
In spite of the multiple obstacles Alexander has faced in her 34 years, the mother of three has managed to maintain an incredible sense of optimism and perseverance. In a statement following her release, she said:
I look forward to the full-time challenge of getting my two teenagers through high school and into college, as well we preparing my 4-year-old daughter for nursery school. My goal is to continue my education beyond my master's degree and to continue my professional career. Also, I will continue to learn lessons from the events of the past, but I will not live in the past. At the age of 34, life is too short and there's too much I have to accomplish in the years ahead. It's my hope and prayer that everyone associated with this case will be able to move on with their lives.
Move on we should, but forget we should never.