If ever there was a microcosm for all that ails America when it comes to guns, it’s Florida. America’s most phallic state has been at the epicenter of the Trayvon Martin case. Over the weekend the attention only intensified as the jurors deliberating the fate of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, reached a not guilty verdict, allowing Zimmerman to walk out of the courtroom a free man. There are a whole host of reasons that this verdict has sent shock waves reverberating around the country, and not the least of which is that in the same state, going on at nearly the same time as the Zimmerman trial, there has been another case that centered around Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which basically gives gun owners in the state a free pass to squeeze off a round into a would-be attacker…even if the attacker would be attacking them only in the gun owner’s mind.
Though Zimmerman’s defense team did not craft a defense based on the “Stand Your Ground” law, can there be any doubt the law was what empowered Zimmerman to feel that he could initiate contact with Martin, knowing he was carrying the gun he’d eventually use to shoot and kill the 17-year-old Martin. How anyone can knowingly start a confrontation that winds up ending a teenager’s life and not even receive a slap on the wrist or have his gun permit revoked is beyond me, but as it turns out, the State of Florida may have been able to get a conviction Zimmerman had he instead just fired a warning shot.
In Tampa, Marissa Alexander just received a twenty year jail sentence for firing a warning shot when she felt threatened by her estranged husband in 2010. Unlike Zimmerman, Alexander’s round didn’t find any human targets. No one was injured when Alexander pulled the trigger to scare her husband off. Marissa’s case also differs from Zimmerman’s in that she and her defense lawyer actually did invoke the “Stand Your Ground” law, saying that at the time, Alexander’s husband was hostile, aggressive, and Marissa fired a shot in warning to get him to break off his confrontation with her.
The judge in her case however would not let Marissa use the “Stand Your Ground” defense, saying that when she exited the house to go get her gun and fire the warning shot that she could have instead left the scene altogether, avoiding the situation that resulted in her firing the gun in the first place. According to the state’s mandatory sentencing guidelines, Marissa was given a twenty year sentence behind bars for her warning shot.
While the judge’s reasoning is sound, and while Alexander most definitely should have left and not continued the confrontation, the larger issue at hand is the uneven way with which a law can be applied, and in this case we see a man get off when he admittedly shot and killed a teenager, and a single mother of three kids was just sentenced to two decades in prison for firing a warning shot at a time that she felt threatened. Many on Alexander’s side admit that she probably should have fled the scene altogether, but what kind of message does Florida’s court system send out when a man who by all accounts should have been convicted for manslaughter walks free and a woman who was feeling legitimately threatened fires a warning shot and gets a twenty year sentence?
Some may not want to see the racial element in the two stories. From just an optics standpoint though, clearly it doesn’t look good that a man who shot and killed a young black teenager can get off because he was “acting in self-defense,” but a black woman, fearing for her life, is now going to spend twenty years in prison for doing the same thing, except without all that “killing someone” stuff that Zimmerman did.
Maybe the Department of Justice can do a Buy One, Get One Free kind of deal with the Zimmerman case and the Alexander case. We already know that they’re going to look into whether Zimmerman can be tried on Federal civil rights violations, but perhaps since they’ll be in the area anyway, they can take a peek into Marissa Alexander’s case. It’s farcical for her to receive anything other than a fine, loss of her gun permit, and probation. Her mistake and actions shouldn’t go completely unpunished, but since the judge’s hands were tied thanks to the mandatory sentencing guidelines, what’s happened is the scales of justice haven’t just been tipped; they’ve been tossed out on the street.
Here’s a video of Marissa Alexander telling her side of the story before her sentencing on AC 360