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All Out for Marissa Alexander

By Suey Park


{Young}ist sits down with Sumayya Fire, a member of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign, to talk about the Marissa Alexander case, and what we can do to help fight for justice for Marissa, and against domestic violence at large. The campaign has utilized social media to spread awareness, but is going above and beyond to connect the online work to on-the-ground action steps that can lead to change.

Although the case was reversed and Marissa is no longer a felon, she is still incarcerated. Her hearing is on October 29th in Duvall County, Jacksonville, FL.

Suey Park: What are some pieces of the Marissa Alexander case that we’re missing in our current conversations?

Sumayya Fire: Many people are overlooking how she was post-partum when all this happened. There was a history of abuse in the household that caused the baby to be born prematurely. Marissa had the perpetrator’s baby eight days before this situation. Imagine being a brand new mother trying to save your life and your child’s life. We need to focus on the human element in this.

Another point that is missing is that Marissa’s case does not fit what defines a crime. We don’t feel like Marissa committed a crime by firing her registered weapon at all. She used self-defense to protect herself. She harmed no one, which doesn’t mean that no one was harmed in this situation: Marissa herself was harmed by her abuser and by the system that was supposed to protect her.

A twenty year sentence for self-defense sends a strong message to victims of domestic violence. In the cycle of violence, the dynamics created are up and down – full of tension and violence. There is a pattern there. Women who fight back or use self-defense are seen as the primary aggressors. In actuality, they are the victims defending themselves. When victims are arrested, there is usually no accountability of the abuser. These things need to be brought out. In Marissa’s case, Rico Gray admitted to violence against Marissa and in previous relationships with women in his life. He could have killed her. What’ missing is the cycle of violence and several incidents that led up to this event, not the single incident that people keep analyzing. This too could be part of the reason the jury saw her as guilty and shifted the burden of proof to Marissa to prove innocence.  The case was reversed.  State Attorney Angela Corey’s office stated that the appeal was granted on a “legal technicality.”  However, the court asserted that the jury instruction error was so fundamental that Marissa Alexander was deprived of a fair trial.  This is no technicality.

How does race play into this case?

The race piece is huge. The stereotype of the angry Black woman has been overly played against her. She wasn’t simply angry, she was fearful because she just had a baby, and of course she was afraid for her life. He threatened to kill her, who wouldn’t be? Stereotypes of angry Black women using self-defense have been overplayed for her to the point of overlooking the dynamics of violence in the relationship – threats to kill, jealousy and a history of violence that involved abuse during pregnancy.

The Trayvon Martin case has overlapped greatly with the Marissa Alexander case. Many are pointing to how Stand Your Ground laws protected Zimmerman from being convicted with murdering Trayvon Martin, yet found Marissa Alexander to be guilty for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband. How are Black men a part of the larger conversation and action around Marissa Alexander and domestic violence?

Men are primarily perpetrators in most reported cases. There’s been a real move in the last five years to engage men with good intentions to work on domestic violence and not be bystanders. We want men to also do education about the man box (men who buy into the use of violence to control their partners). We can’t just focus on judicial justice, but also on emotional justice, which is a large part of Esther Armah’s work. People are skeptical about men engaging in this work, but not all men are violent. We need to engage the ones who aren’t violent and hear from them to make a difference. Men need to hold other men accountable to end violence and sexism, too.

What do you want men to do?

We want men to talk about Marissa and domestic violence in their communities and how abuse and sexism led to Marissa’s criminalization. It didn’t just happen. A powerful strategy for men to use is to reject sexism and the devaluing of women in our culture. We want them to speak to how Marissa had a right to protect herself. A woman has a right to defend herself against a man, especially against her husband or intimate partner. The campaign #31forMarissa is a project for men to show solidarity.

Why especially with their husbands?

Domestic violence happens in the home, where no one can see it, and men are protected because they see the home as their castle. No one can see it except people in the home. Domestic violence is all about power and self-control. When women try to take back the power, the danger increases when she breaks the silence by fighting, defending herself, or accessing help. Black women are 35 percent more likely than white women and 2.5 times more likely than any non-Black woman of color group to experience domestic violence. However, they are also less likely than other women to use social services. More Black women are likely to go to the hospital for domestic violence than social services.

And why do you think Black women are less likely to use social services?

They’re less likely to report because of negative stereotyping, discrimination, and police brutality against Black men. A convergence of dynamics is happening that gets in the way of reporting and seeking help.

Can you tell us more about the Free Marissa Now mobilization campaign?

We are four volunteers who are campaigning to support Marissa and her family. We are located in the Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast corners of the United States. We are supporting Marissa through our various networks and resources. I have an alliance of women and networks who stand behind me and who I stand with including the African American Black Women Cultural Alliance.

The mobilization plan is connected to organizations, committees, and groups through our constituency. We asked them to take particular action steps. Not just sharing her story – it’s beyond that. We have a huge letter-writing campaign, we send her cards, we have a faith-based component to the work (prayer to end domestic violence), and ask for rallies and protests. Educating on how mandatory minimum sentencing hurts  victims of domestic violence along with educating on the dynamics of domestic violence. We have education conversations online and in communities . We connected with human rights committees and domestic violence coalitions (which we still need more support from).

It’s about the message that’s being sent to victims of domestic violence, especially those who defend themselves. Our campaign is not just online, but also connecting with followers for action planning. We have a monthly supporters’ call where we talk about the different actions we’re taking and how they connect to raise awareness about  Marissa’s case, fight domestic violence, and fight domestic violence sentencing.

Are there any setbacks to this campaign?

The one for me is there is so much amazing stuff going on in all different states! Jacksonville, Florida is ground zero, Aleta Alston-Toure and the New Jim Crow Movement holding dignity walks, rallies, teach-ins, and a convergence of ten states behalf of both Trayvon and Marissa. Washington, California, Chicago, New York and other places are doing great work too. People in many  different places are demanding justice for Marissa Alexander.

In terms of fundraising, money is needed to go to Marissa’s  legal fees. Contact Free Marissa Now ( to find out about fundraising, so money won’t be exploited. Thousands must be raised for her legal fees. You can also donate directly through the Paypal here.

The takeaway message is that what happened to Marissa could happen to anyone according to Beth E. Ritchie, author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.  We must look especially at the impact of violence on Black women’s lives and their communities while we look at violence against all women, its what’s missing.  

Follow Free Marissa on Twitter @freemarissanow and #31formarissa, Tumblr and Facebook.

Sumayya Fire is lead organizer for African-American/Black Women’s Cultural Alliance,  Getting real about coalescing, education, and empowerment.  Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @aabwca

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Suey Park

Writer & Activist | #NotYourAsianSidekick |

Catch up with me @suey_park.

stand your ground




October 24, 2013

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