Leonard Pitts Jr.: Marissa Alexander’s out of jail, but not yet free
Marissa Alexander got out of jail last week, but she is not free. At best, she enjoys only a species of freedom, a defective freedom that imperfectly resembles the real thing.
After a cumulative total of three years behind bars, she will now spend two years on house arrest, monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet. The monitoring, for which she must pay $105 a week, was agreed to by a judge over the objection of prosecutors who wanted her to do two more years in jail.
All this, for firing a gun into the air.
Alexander, a 34-year-old Jacksonville, Florida, woman, has endured a nightmarish odyssey through the Florida injustice system ever since the day in August of 2010 that she got into a fight with her husband, Rico Gray. She said Gray, whom she and other women describe as a serial woman beater, started strangling her when he found text messages from her first husband on her phone. Alexander managed to escape to her garage, intending to flee in her truck. Realizing she had left her keys in the house, she said, she armed herself with a gun and went back inside. When her husband came at her again, she fired a warning shot and he fled.
In his deposition, Gray largely corroborated her story. “I told her if she ever cheated on me, I would kill her,” he said. Had she not had the gun, he added, he would have “probably hit her. I got five baby mamas and I put my hands on every last one of them, except for one.”
But when Alexander’s attorney filed for dismissal under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, this sterling example of humanity changed his story. In the new version, he never threatened to kill Alexander and “begged and pleaded” for his life when she produced the gun. When CNN asked for an interview about all this, Gray agreed. Then declined. Then asked for money. CNN passed.
Prosecutors offered Alexander a plea bargain — three years against a possible 20 for aggravated assault. Alexander declined, reasoning that surely no jury would convict her under these circumstances. They convicted her in 12 minutes.
Awarded a new trial because of a procedural error, she was again offered a deal, except that this time, the stakes were higher: a possible 60-year prison sentence. Again, this is for shooting into the air — in Florida, yet, a gun-happy state where you can legally erect a shooting range in your own backyard and blaze away.
Wisely, Alexander took the deal.
Some observers see a racial double-standard in all of this. How is it, they want to know, that George Zimmerman was only standing his ground when he stalked and killed an unarmed black boy, but Marissa Alexander committed aggravated assault when she shot a wall?
Some see a gender-based unfairness, a stony lack of compassion for women facing domestic violence.
And some see a fresh example of how mandatory sentencing guidelines imposed by politicians wanting to seem “tough on crime” have instead made our courts tough on common sense. Note that the judge who first sentenced Alexander had no leeway under the law. Even he said his 20-year sentence “may be legal, but it is wrong.”
So what we have here, then, is a convergence of multiple unfairnesses that leaves Alexander, a mother of three who had never been in trouble before, a convicted felon, a designation that will deprive her of the right to vote and shadow her throughout her life from now forward. That is both travesty and tragedy.
This is a case that cries out for gubernatorial clemency or presidential pardon. It ought to make decent people sick — sick enough to demand reform.
Because, it’s all well and good Marissa Alexander is finally home, but make no mistake. What she has now is only a kind of freedom.
And no kind of justice at all.