If you believe the news stories coming out of Florida, it’s impossible for blacks to get a fair shake in the Sunshine State. First there was Travyon Martin. Now there is Marissa Alexander.
In May of 2012 Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison on three counts of aggravated assault — or, as most accounts read, for firing a “warning shot” to protect herself from her abusive husband. The “he said, she said” case has come under retroactive scrutiny in the wake of the Zimmerman trial, and many are comparing the two: Both are said to be failures of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, both miscarriages of justice against the black community, both egregious cases of overcharging by fire-breathing prosecutor Angela Corey.
Critics may have a case on that third charge (I’ve mentioned Corey’s penchant for overcharging before), but that is the extent of the similarities. Still, Marissa Alexander has joined the ranks of martyrs since her conviction earlier this year, being held up, alongside Martin, as another victim of Floridian racism.
Determining what actually happened between Alexander and her husband in the summer of 2010 is no easy matter, but here are the basics:
In September 2009, Alexander, a 31-year-old divorcée, obtained a restraining order against Rico Gray, 37, after he beat her so badly that she had to go to the hospital. Six months later, they married. In July 2010, two months after walking down the aisle, Alexander gave birth to their first child. During the preceding two months Alexander had not been living with Gray, but on the evening of July 31, just over a week after giving birth, Alexander left her newborn daughter at the hospital and went to Gray’s home, where she stayed the night. The next morning, Gray arrived at the house with his two sons, 9 and 13, and the family had a pleasant breakfast.
The trouble began when Alexander gave Gray her cell phone so that he could see pictures of their new daughter. On the phone he spotted text messages from Alexander to her ex-husband, arousing Gray’s suspicions about the true father of the baby. A “verbal argument ensued,” according to court documents, and Alexander went into the garage.
Here is where things get messy. According to Alexander, she went to the garage to flee Gray, who was threatening her. So why did she go back into the house? Alexander has been less than consistent on this point. She has claimed that the garage door would not open, forcing her back inside, and also that she had forgotten her keys in the house. In either case, she grabbed her handgun from the glove compartment (the gun was legal, and Alexander had a concealed-carry permit) and went back inside.
And here things get messier. Alexander says that Gray threatened to kill her, so she fired a “warning shot.” But according to the court order denying Alexander’s motion to dismiss, she had pointed the gun in the direction of “all three victims” — Gray and his two young sons — and fired a shot “nearly missing [Gray’s] head.”
Gray’s account aligns with this — and adds a bit of color. Gray says that just before heading into the garage, Alexander told him, “I got something for your ass.” When she came back in with the gun, he put his hands in the air. After the shot, he fled out the front door with his sons and called 911. “She said she’s ‘sick of this sh*t,’” he told the dispatcher. “She shot at me, inside the house, while my boys were standing right next to me. Lord have mercy.” Alexander never called the police.