Marissa Alexander Must Watch Her Every Step

With the court watching, she has to abide by the rules, or risk her status as a symbol of the mandatory-minimum-sentencing movement.

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Marissa Alexander

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I’m worried that Marissa Alexander might end up becoming another Claudette Colvin.

Colvin was the teenager who in March of 1955—nine months before Rosa Parks sparked the civil rights movement by famously refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man—was hauled off a bus, handcuffed and jailed for doing the same thing.

The NAACP had briefly considered using Colvin’s plight to challenge segregation, but there was one problem: She was pregnant and unmarried. At the time, that was frowned upon, and organizers fretted that the just and legitimate cause her defiance represented could be overshadowed by questions about her character and behavior.

So the movement had to wait for Parks.

Which brings me to Alexander, who has become a symbol of the fight against mandatory-minimum sentencing.

Alexander is the Jacksonville, Fla., woman who in 2010 locked herself in a bathroom to escape the wrath of her estranged husband, Rico Gray, before he broke down the door and grabbed her by the neck. The confrontation ended with her firing a gun into the wall in the room where he was with his two children.

During her trial in 2012, Alexander turned down a three-year plea deal, and a judge rejected her "Stand your ground" defense before a jury ultimately found her guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Because of Florida’s minimum-mandatory-sentencing laws, the judge had no choice but to give her 20 years—which is required for anyone who fires a gun in committing a felony.

It doesn’t matter if someone is hurt or not.

But that ridiculously harsh sentence, coupled with Alexander’s backstory—she was a battered woman (with a restraining order) and the mother of a toddler and 11-year-old twins—quickly generated an outpouring of public support.

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