Jun 22 2017

Criminalizing Survivors of Violence: New Video Resources

I’m excited to share three new videos which are a collaboration between the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived & Punished (an organizing project that I co-founded). These very short videos tell part of the story of three criminalized survivors of violence. They are intended to provide a historical context for the criminalization of survival in the case of Joan Little, to highlight an example of a successful contemporary campaign to free a criminalized survivor in the case of Marissa Alexander and to introduce people to the case of a current criminalized survivor who needs community support and action in the case of Paris Knox.

I just got back from Detroit where I co-organized and participated in a national convening about the criminalization of survivors titled “No Perfect Victims.” I was overjoyed to finally meet Marissa Alexander in person. It was an amazing experience to see her free from prison and house arrest. She was grounded, smart and full of great ideas about how to support other women like her who were and continue to be punished for surviving. She has launched the Marissa Alexander Justice Project and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

Please watch the videos and share them with your networks. In particular, Paris Knox needs our support as she prepares to be retried. Paris Knox is a 38-year-old Black mother who, in 2007, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing her abusive ex-partner when he attacked her in her home in 2004. In early 2017, her conviction and 40-year sentence were vacated. Now, though presumed innocent and awaiting trial, her bail has been set at $500,000 with a $50,000 bond that she cannot afford. Today she remains in prison and separated from her mother, sister, and child, who is now 14 years old.

Like many other Black women, Paris is in prison for self-defense.

Expressing solidarity is an integral way to support survivors and reduce the isolation of prisons. Write Paris a letter of support and encouragement at the address below. For tips on letter writing to people in prison, check out the letter writing section in the #SurvivedAndPunished toolkit.

Paris Knox
Inmate No: 20170120230
P.O. Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608

Criminalization of Survival and Defense Campaigns for Freedom:
From Joan Little to Marissa Alexander

In 1974, Joan Little was charged with first degree murder after she stabbed a prison guard who sexually assaulted her at Beaufort County jail. Joan’s case became a national cause for prison abolitionists, prisoners’ rights advocates, feminists, anti-violence activists, and people advocating against the death penalty and for racial justice. Protests in support of her case were widespread and global. After a five week trial, the jury, made up of both Black and white people, deliberated for less than 90 minutes before acquitting Little.

Joan Little was the first woman to be acquitted of murder on the grounds of of self-defense against sexual violence.

Marissa Alexander is a survivor of domestic violence who, in 2012, was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for firing a single warning shot into the ceiling when her estranged abusive husband attacked her. Just over a year after Marissa was sentenced, George Zimmerman was on trial for the brutal, racist murder of Trayvon Marton and tried to invoke the stand-your-ground defense that Marissa was denied. After a one month trial, he was acquitted on self-defense. This put the workings of a racist criminal legal system on full display, and support for Marissa’s case surged.

Marissa’s supporters helped publicize her case, held protests and events, raised funds for her legal defense, and supported her through her probation. Eventually grassroots organizing and good legal defense led to Marissa’s case being overturned.

But State Attorney Angela Corey decided to retry her case, threatening Marissa with 60 years in prison for defending her life. In November 2014, Marissa accepted a plea deal for time served plus 65 more days in jail and 2 years of probation under house arrest. After serving a total of 5 years, Marissa Alexander was finally released on January 27, 2017.

I am grateful to Hope Dector, Dean Space, Cece McDonald and Lewis Wallace for their work in creating these terrific videos. Special thanks to all of the artists who contributed their work as well.

Jan 22 2017

#SurvivedAndPunished: A Week of Action

I’m a founding member of a formation called Survived and Punished. We came together in 2015 to leverage the work that our individual organizations are doing around the criminalization of survivors of violence in order to build collective power.

This week S & P is highlighting the cases of several women and gender non-confirming people who have been criminalized for survival and self-defense. The week of action kicked off with a focus on Bresha Meadows. The following video created by Love and Protect (one of the groups that is part of Survived and Punished) illustrates a solidarity action that was organized in support of Bresha in Chicago.

This week, my fellow Survived and Punished member Alisa Bierria and I co-wrote an op-ed (published In These Times) about the need to prioritize criminalized survivors in the Trump era even as we continue to fight for decarceration:

“On the eve of his inauguration, we think that it’s critical to ask what impact Trump will have on the criminal punishment system—and in particular, on criminalized survivors of violence like Bresha. We must carefully consider how to organize around prison and criminal legal issues in this new context. There will be a scramble to prioritize issues that need our attention and advocacy. It’s important that the experiences of criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence not be lost in the shuffle.”

Learn about the other criminalized survivors featured during this week of action here.