Letter campaign brings out men’s voices on domestic violence

Remember the Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her abuser — during the same week as the Trayvon Martin murder trial found George Zimmerman innocent? Both of them claimed self-defense using Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and yet, African-American Marissa Alexander is the one in jail right now.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who is still bothered by Alexander’s situation. It was announced in late-September that the survivor of domestic violence will be getting a new trial. MSNBC reports:

Marissa Alexander, the African-American woman who was sentenced to 20 years for discharging a firearm in Florida despite pleading Stand Your Ground against her husband, will get a new trial. Alexander, 32, said she fired a bullet at the ceiling because she was afraid of her husband. No one was injured. It took 12 minutes for the jury to convict her. …

Alexander, who had given birth the week before, testified that after an altercation regarding texts from her ex-husband, she locked herself in the bathroom. Her husband Rico Gray broke through the door, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her into the door. She ran to the garage, found she couldn’t get the door open, and returned with a gun. When Gray saw the gun, he said, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” Alexander testified that firing the gun into the air as a warning shot was “the lesser of two evils.”

The jury rejected her self-defense argument, and instead Alexander was sentenced under the “10-20-Life” law, which carries a series of mandatory minimum sentences related to gun crimes. The prosecutor in her case was Angela Corey, who also prosecuted George Zimmerman who was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. After an outcry at the apparent racial double standard in the application of Stand Your Ground, Corey told the Washington Post, “I think social media is going to be the destruction of this country.”

The appeals court judge ruled that the lower court judge improperly put a burden on Alexander to prove that the firing was in self-defense.

Yes, Ms. Corey, it is so annoying when the public — who pay your salary — demand blind justice, regardless of race, gender, or class.

But not willing to rest on its heels, those society-destroying social media types are at a it again. This time with the #31forMarissa letter-writing campaign. Each day in the month of October, which is also domestic violence awareness month, men from all across the country are showing their solidarity with Alexander by writing about their own experiences with domestic violence. AlterNet reports:

#31forMarissa was created by Esther Armah, founder of Emotional Justice Unplugged, a multimedia campaign focused on how emotions affect behavior, and Mariame Kaba, co-founder of the Chicago Task Force on Violence Against Girls and Young Women. The Free Marissa Now movement is also sponsoring the campaign.

It’s an intriguing campaign and one that seems to be gaining traction. According to the AlterNet piece, the campaign has been touching a nerve amongst men who may have witnessed or experienced domestic violence for themselves but who have never felt that the awareness and prevention movements held a space for them.

I am of two minds about this.

On the one hand, I am glad to see people join the dialogue about how to end domestic violence. Certainly, it is time for more than just cisgender women to be holding up the sky on this one because that is a conceit of the domestic violence problem in itself. Society ghettoizes the issue because it has been labeled a “woman’s issue.” But just like so many other “women’s issues” — from reproductive rights to economic justice (like equal pay) — that is not just ineffectual branding, it’s false. Women do not not live in isolation in the world. The experiences we have effect others. The trials and tribulations that we face, have an impact on those around us, be they family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Indeed, sometimes as politicians wring their hands about funding or programs that could help — people die.

On the other hand, I always squirm a bit when we talk about opening up spaces to make someone in the privileged class feel more comfortable. I don’t mean this as an aspersion of the campaign itself, because that seems very cathartic and potentially mind-opening. I mean this in a more generalized way, like the “brochoice” campaign, designed to make men feel more comfortable coming out as pro-choice. The fact is, I don’t think I should have to make a space that I had to fight to carve out just to be able to talk about these issues any more hospitable to those whose privilege — in this case cisgender male privilege — generally excuses them from not only paying attention to this issue, but from having any culpability as a member of the privileged class or as an ally. I wouldn’t ask this, as a white person, of a movement that sought racial justice. I wouldn’t ask this of my gay and lesbian friends. This is part of the struggle and the work of being an ally! Part of that work is owning and dismantling our own privilege that has allowed us to float through life oblivious to an issue that is oppressing others. Or, in the case of #31forMarissa, by not standing up in solidarity, and in some cases as people with their own experiences, to call out the problem of domestic violence in our society.

I hope that #31forMarissa opens a lot of hearts and minds. But I also hope that people can realize that there’s no invitation to the movement. Just roll up your sleeves and start carrying your share of the load.

If you, or someone you know, needs local domestic violence services: Call the 24-hour Safe Nest crisis line at 800-486-7282. If you are a student on campus, you can all the new 24-hour UNLV Care line at 702-895-0602. In Henderson, call SAFE House at 702-564-3227, 24 hours a day.

If you, or someone you know, needs help about sexual abuse or sexual violence, you can find local resources at the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence. Here is a complete state-wide list of resources (PDF). And if you are outside Nevada, or want something more immediate or internet-friendly, try RAINN, which has a 24/hour hotline and secure and untraceable internet help system.

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