Sometimes I just want to yell when I hear flippant remarks that conclude with the tagline, “It’s not about race.” Often, the situations folks are talking about have everything to do with race. And though Marissa Alexander’s story is one of them, hers has an added dimension: sex and gender.
Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old black woman, fired two warning shots to ward off her abusive ex-husband – and landed in prison herself. At her new trial, set for December of this year, Alexander stands to face 60 years in prison, though she killed no one. Although new laws about warning shots have been put in place for Floridians, they will not apply to her case.
In February of 2012, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and fatally wounded by a community watch vigilante in Sanford, Florida. In May of that same year, Darius Simmons, 13, was also fatally shot and wounded by a 76-year-old neighbor who assumed Simmons to be a criminal. Later on in November of 2012, Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and mortally wounded for playing “loud music” at a gas station. In November of 2013, after experiencing an otherwise fatal car crash, Renisha McBride wandered the streets of Dearborn Heights, Michigan in a state of shock, searching for medical assistance. She had the ill fortune of approaching the wrong home address and was subsequently shot in the face. In March of 2012, 19-year-old, Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by one of Chicago’s finest for being at a block party he found too noisy. None of their killers are in prison, and all of them are black. But only some of them are recognizable by name to a majority of Americans.
So, if it’s not about race, then what is it about? Perhaps, I, as a black American, am misunderstanding crime and punishment in a country created for the free and the brave, a country of immigrants where everyone is a little different, but we all bleed red. Or, maybe I’m not confused, and American race relations have absolutely everything to do with the way black and brown bodies are shoved into the prison-industrial complex. If it’s not about a culture that constantly reminds black and brown bodies that the worth of their humanity is best measured behind steel bars or in the back of police cars clad in silver bracelets and jumpsuits, then what is it really about?
Maybe it’s about gender. Ask around, despite finding some misinformed conservative needles in a haystack of progressives, and most people should be able to recognize and sympathize with names like Trayvon Martin, whose name has most likely become as historic as Emmett Till. Till, who was beaten to death by two white men in the Jim Crow South, was and still is an icon of violence against black Americans by whites. It’s been asked before, but I’m asking again: Where is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride or Marissa Alexander? Where is the outrage and public advocacy, the anguish and backlash against the criminal justice system? What is being done? We are responsible for being aware and making others aware so that we can hold these gun-wielding, fist-pounding killers culpable.
Marissa Alexander is not alone, although many of her compatriots have fallen. Her case exemplifies the flaws of our justice system, and highlights how sex plays into those cracks in the wall. When black boys are gunned down, there is an outcry – a well-deserved, important one. The reason I’m proud to be part of the #StandingOurGround week of action is that Marissa deserves one, too.