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News & Features

Our Dumb State, Vol. 9

Shoot first, cry later

Photo: James Heimer, License: N/A

James Heimer

In this, the 9th installment of the Our Dumb State franchise, we're looking at how guns shape our lives in Florida. None of this is funny, mind – guns almost inevitably end up causing tragedy when in the wrong hands – nor are the endless reports of corruption in Tallahassee, the fact that we have a governor who was nearly convicted of fraud before buying an election, and recent attempts by the GOP to shoot the wishes of the electorate down via voter suppression. In other words, we're still dumb. Ready, aim, fire …


What's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander. Back on Aug. 1, 2010, 31-year-old Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander was engaged in a spat with her estranged fiancé, Rico Gray, over some text messages to her first husband. The pair was already on the way to splitsville – though Alexander had just given birth to their child, her third, nine days before, she had moved back in with her parents and obtained a restraining order against Gray. Gray allegedly blocked Alexander in the bathroom of their shared home when she returned to pick up some of her personal items. He taunted her. "If I can't have you, nobody going to have you," he said, according to a report by CBS News.

As domestic squabbles go, this was hardly uncommon – that is, until Alexander pushed past Gray and walked out into the garage, grabbing a gun from her glove compartment. Alexander proceeded to fire the gun – either as a warning shot or directly at Gray, depending on whether you believe Gray's deposition or his original 911 call – hurting no one. Regardless, despite attempts by her legal representatives to claim self-defense via the Stand Your Ground law, Alexander was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison under the state's seemingly antithetical 1999 "10-20-life" sentencing law, which piled the use of a firearm atop the alleged felony assault.

"The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today," Congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, said in a May 11 statement. "One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the 'Stand Your Ground' law will not apply to them. … The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently."

An exhaustive investigation by the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month found that the execution of Stand Your Ground has had troubling results. Among the most disturbing findings, according to the paper, is that "defendants claiming 'Stand Your Ground' are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white." The paper also concluded that, with the uptick in use of the law for criminal defense thanks to media coverage, Stand Your Ground has allowed numerous drug dealers and gang members – the ones it allegedly targets – to walk free.

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