Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trying Times in Florida's Courts

Unless you routinely watch MSNBC or read Huffington Post, it’s likely you’ve never heard of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a single warning shot into a ceiling as her historically abusive husband, having already threatened to kill her, advanced toward her. Even if you have heard of Ms. Alexander, you may not know that the prosecutor in her case was Angela B. Corey, the same Florida State's Attorney whose office tried the George Zimmerman case; the same woman who was disconcertingly glib and composed, and too-readily reconciled, to the losing verdict her prosecution team received in that instance; the same woman who threw the book at Marissa Alexander, but never appeared before the court in the Zimmerman case—in spite of her team’s blatantly inadequate and inept prosecutorial performance.  

It’s unavoidable to point out here that Marissa Alexander, whose self-defense argument was rejected, and Trayon Martin, who didn’t live to defend himself, happened to be black, and Angela Corey and George Zimmerman are white. And that it took a jury twelve minutes to find Marissa Alexander guilty and all of a day to find George Zimmerman innocent of all criminal charges.
You’ll be hearing a lot more of Marissa Alexander, whose treatment at the hands of the law in the state of Florida won’t be excused by fair-minded people of all colors until the rank injustice to her is rectified. A few considerations are weightier than the short, if any, shrift given them by the prosecution, judge and jury. Ms. Alexander worked her way through school, earned a Master of Arts degree and had no criminal record prior to being convicted on three accounts of aggravated assault with a pistol—for shooting a ceiling! A woman with reputed experience handling firearms—target practice with her father—stands to spend two decades in jail for taking aim and hitting her target, and by so doing, injuring no one; you can’t draw blood from plaster. The mother of a three-year-old girl who was nine days old when the altercation that led to her mother’s incarceration occurred; who, as matters stand, will be 22 when her mother, a convicted felon, gets out of jail. The mother, as well, of two older children from an earlier marriage, twins who will be 31 by the time their mother has paid her debt—to society? Tell me what society three children rendered motherless by inequitably- and callously-applied law belong to.

I hope we’ll all be hearing a lot more of Angela Corey, as well. She’ll have her supporters, rabid ones: for the most of us, not people we know, or want to know. They, and she, will find ways to justify the callous and irrational as they sanctimoniously dispose of another and another inconsequential inconvenience in their daily affairs. Corey is already blaming the media: "I think social media is going to be the destruction of this country." And, get this!, the public and the Internet! "I want to run my office and I want to run my cases according to the law," she said. Florida "law," that is: law unto itself. "And there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says the public has a right to have a trial by internet."

The public—that nervily opinionated sector in Corey’s eyes—will be hearing also about Jordan Davis. Jordan, 17, was seated in the back seat of an SUV listening to music with three friends, all teens, "all well-raised," according to a report, when Michael David Dunn, a 46-year-old, 300- pound white man parked next to them, rolled down the window of his car and told the boys to turn down the music, starting an exchange of words that he ended by firing ten rounds into the boys’ SUV, two of which struck Jordan and resulted in his bleeding to death. Dunn, who fled the scene of the crime without ever reporting the incident to anyone, which might have saved Jordan’s life, is pleading self-defense!

Sometimes, words speak louder than actions. Lawmakers and jurors should heed them. Jordan Davis’s mother had the remarkable grace to say, "We are not looking at it as [a] hate crime because that's not going to honor Jordan." Marissa Alexander’s daughter, Havelin, at 11, questioned "how my mom could be beaten, but she's the one arrested." Trayvon Martin’s father counseled those gathered at a post-verdict vigil, "Senseless violence is a disease and we as a people have the cure, we just need to come together."

Compare those words with Michael Dunn’s 20-year-old daughter, Rebecca’s, "He just reacted." Marissa Alexander’s husband’s statements in a deposition, in which he admitted, "I got five baby mammas, and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one." [That’s] "the way I was with women… they had to walk on eggshells around me." Two of them "got hit in the mouth" because they "just wouldn’t shut up." George Zimmerman’s father’s warning in an e-book he wrote and released on Amazon, that "every American should be aware of … wholly unethical opportunists, including those in government, the legal profession, and the media"—it’s that damned irksome media again!—[who] "routinely utilize race to incite and agitate hatred and divisiveness for their own rewards."

So who, and what’s, ultimately being tried in these Florida court cases? Flagrantly, blatantly, egregiously on trial was the defenseless Trayvon Martin, and not the stalking vigilante whose predisposition to seeing a black youth as "trouble" and whose over-eagerness to take the law into his own hands triggered the entirely avoidable tragedy. Moreover, since Trayvon Martin was, even in absentia, put on trial, wasn’t he, even in death, entitled to the primary stand-your-ground claim of self-defense?

On trial was civil law: man-made, consequently manhandledand common law: the confluence of the wisdom of centuries of jurisprudential precedents arrogantly shunted aside by largely negligible lawmakers who think they know better. Inescapably on trial was the Second Amendment ("the right to bear arms" notably emanating from English common law) and "Stand Your Ground" law (a perversion of our Founding Founders’ intentions and the common law). Still to be reckoned with: the NRA; the presumable behind-the-scenes shenanigans unsurprising to Florida; and Florida law.