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Who will defend Black women?

Counting the Cost

Julianne Malveaux | 11/21/2013, midnight

Marissa Alexander, the 32-year-old mother of three had no criminal record. Recently her conviction has been thrown out because a judge ruled that the prosecution, not the defense, has the burden of proof. (Ms. Alexander was asked to prove that she had been beaten). Friends and family have raised her bail, but the judge in her case says he won’t rule on her release until Jan. 15. She languishes in jail, supposedly, because she remains a threat to her batterer, but even he supports her release. Her continued incarceration is not only mean spirited, but also an illustration about the unevenness of law. George Zimmerman got away with murder for standing his ground. Marissa Alexander is incarcerated because she stood hers.

With domestic violence an epidemic in our country, it seems unfathomable that a woman who wanted to prevent it is charged with a crime. While the civil rights community has surrounded Marissa, I am not aware of women’s organizations or domestic violence organizations that have been similarly supportive.

E. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women says that her organization has been active in assisting Marissa, and that’s a good thing. Still, just as the hoodie came to represent Trayvon Martin, and people from around the world, including on the floor of Congress, donned the hoodie in solidarity with Trayvon, there has been no similar support for Marissa Alexander.

Marissa Alexander’s incarceration and the murder of Renisha McBride have something in common. They illustrate the vulnerability of Black women, both in the legal system, and in the public perception of race and gender. Black women are not afforded the privilege of standing their ground against batterers. Black women can be shot at far range because a 54-year-old homeowner was so frightened that he had to shoot.

More than 20 years ago when now Associate Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas attempted to character assassinate attorney Anita Hill with his wild accusations, a group of Black women stood up in her defense. Using the moniker of “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves,” the group took out ads both in the New York Times and in the Black press supporting Professor Hill. (Disclosure–my mom, my three sisters and I all signed the ad). We defended ourselves then, and we must defend ourselves now. The legal system seems unwilling and unable to do so.

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.

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