May 14 2014

Preview: No Selves to Defend – Marissa Alexander & A Legacy of Criminalizing Women of Color for Self-Defense


I’ve hinted that I was working on an exciting project (one of a few). Well last week, the final draft went to the printer, today I officially approved the proof and in a couple of weeks a limited edition of 150 copies of “No Selves to Defend: A Legacy of Criminalizing Women of Color for Self Defense” will be available for purchase. All proceeds will go to support Marissa Alexander’s Legal Defense.

writer, Mychal Denzel Smith; artist, Molly Crabapple

writer, Mychal Denzel Smith; artist, Molly Crabapple

Over a hundred years ago, in 1913, Mary Wilson was charged with murder. She was arrested in February in San Antonio, Texas for killing a trooper named Olaf Olson. The authorities say that she confessed. Mary was held without bail. She said that the soldier threatened her. She tried to flee to a friend’s home but Olson followed her and he grabbed her. Mary was scared. She thought that “he intended to do her bodily injury.” Mary “drew a revolver and shot him.” It was self-defense. But she was caged because she was black and a woman living in Texas at the turn of the 20th century. For a black woman, mere flesh is not a self. And for centuries, black women have had no selves to defend.

writer, Victoria Law; artist, Rachel Galindo

writer, Victoria Law; artist, Rachel Galindo

The Mary Wilson incident is documented by Rev. Elijah Clarence Branch in a book titled “Judge Lynch’s Court in America.” History is replete with stories of women (particularly of color) who were precluded from invoking self-defense in the face of violence. In fact, too many have been and are criminalized for protecting themselves. Marissa Alexander’s story is part of this unfortunate and unjust legacy.

writer, William C. Anderson; artist, Micah Bazant

writer, William C. Anderson; artist, Micah Bazant

No Selves to Defend” is a short primer that puts the case of Marissa Alexander in historical context. Some of the stories featured will be familiar and others less so. The women included in the publication (besides Marissa) are: Lena Baker, Inez Garcia, Rosa Lee Ingram, Joan Little, Cece McDonald, New Jersey 4, Cassandra Peten, Bernadette Powell, Juanita Thomas, Yvonne Wanrow, and Dessie Woods. The gorgeous original art in this publication brings each story to life. Poetry written by and/or about some of the women featured is included too.

writer, Lewis Wallace; artist, Bianca Diaz

writer, Lewis Wallace; artist, Bianca Diaz

I conceived this project as a way to raise needed funds for Marissa’s legal defense and also as a tool for continued awareness-raising about ongoing struggles against criminalization and oppression.

writer, Mariame Kaba; artist, Billy Dee

writer, Mariame Kaba; artist, Billy Dee

Many people came together on short notice to make this happen. Thank you seems too little to convey my gratitude for their contributions to this project. My profound appreciation to William C. Anderson, Micah Bazant, Alisa Bierria, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Sam Hsieh, Victoria Law, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, Andy Smith, Mychal Denzel Smith, Ariel Springfield, Emily Thuma, Lewis Wallace, and Rachel Domain-White. Thanks to Traci Schlesinger and Olivia St. Clair for providing extra set of eyes for copy editing. My friend Caitlin Seidler took valuable time out of her life to design the publication and it is gorgeous. I am so grateful to her for her continuing support. Finally, we could not have printed this book without generous contributions from Kiese Laymon, Mychal Denzel Smith, and Ariel Springfield. I am so, so grateful for their support.

writer, Sam Hsieh; artist, Caitlin Seidler

writer, Sam Hsieh; artist, Caitlin Seidler

We are all hoping that Marissa will be exonerated in her upcoming trial this July. We want justice for all people who are criminalized for defending themselves. And some of us hope for an end to prisons too.

writer, Andy Smith; artist, Ariel Springfield

writer, Andy Smith; artist, Ariel Springfield

No Selves to Defend will be available for purchase in early June for $50 plus $5 shipping and handling at the Free Marissa online store. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can peruse all of the gorgeous original art in “No Selves to DefendHERE. If you live in the Chicago area or will be visiting in July, we hope that you will join us for an exhibition based on this publication at Art in These Times. More information is forthcoming…

Note: This week is the Free Marissa Mother’s Day Week of Action and we are asking that everyone take action. Additionally, this Friday, Marissa will have a hearing “to determine if [she] will be able to have a ‘stand your ground’ hearing that could potentially grant her immunity under the controversial Florida law, rather than going to trial again.”

  • By Phaaz, May 16, 2014 @ 12:43 am

    This was quite educational. Definitely made me look into the prison industrial complex much further

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Matthew Filipowicz Show » Blog Archive » Episode 325 with Frank Conniff and Mariame Kaba — May 20, 2014 @ 8:11 am

  2. The Business of Punishment | Rebel With a Bar Card — May 21, 2014 @ 9:24 pm