Stand Your Ground, Unless You're An Abused (Usually Black) Woman

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Whitlee Jones with relatives

Bad news and bad-mixed-with-good news on the question of states defining just who has the right to reasonably fear for their lives, act on that fear, and be worthy of protection under the law based on that fear. Hint: people with penises. This week, a Florida appeals court overturned the appalling conviction of Marissa Alexander, the mother of three sentenced in 12 minutes to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband, who was not harmed. In her first trial, Alexander was denied immunity under the state's Stand Your Ground law - the same law, under the direction of the same prosecutor, that let off George Zimmerman. At the appeal, she was again denied immunity, but the judge agreed to give her a new Dec. 8 trial because the jury instructions were flawed.

In further honor of October as both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, another egregious case of women being denied the right to defend themselves in South Carolina - where, according to an extraordinary new in-depth report, women are murdered by men at twice the national rate, or one every 12 days, with more than 300 women shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade - despite the state having both an expansive Stand Your Ground Law and a Castle Doctrine that seemingly authorize individuals to use deadly force against violent intruders.


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Unless, that is, those individuals are women. The state is now pursuing a murder charge against Whitlee Jones, a woman who stabbed her abusive boyfriend after he attacked her when she tried to leave, following an incident in which he dragged her down the street by her hair as she screamed for help. Prosecutors argued Jones had no right to immunity under Stand Your Ground, which boasts the preposterous loophole that “presumption of fear” does not apply when the person “against whom the deadly force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling” - that is, if abusers live in the house and are abusing in the house. They say the intent of the statute is to provide "law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers (but not to) reach into our homes and personal relationships," aka who are we to meddle with men beating up their women and can the victims just shut up about it already?

Earlier this month, an admirably sensible judge rejected that argument, granting Jones Stand Your Ground immunity. He ruled that such logic creates “a nonsensical result” wherein women can defend themselves outside the home but not inside, where, in truth, most abuse happens. Prosecutors, wary of the legal egalitarianism that stance suggests, are now appealing that ruling. Because who ever said women's lives matter enough for the state to act to protect them?

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