Halloween is over, yet I am still scared. I'm scared for women in America.
Reminiscent of the pumpkins we now find useless and must discard just like the Christmas trees the "day after" Christmas, it is after election day and a few days after Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). And I hope we won't follow the same pattern and forget about this struggle that lasts more than one month a year. Every October, DVAM is eclipsed by negative campaign ads, outrageous costumes, the World Series and opening day for the NBA, while according to domesticviolencestatistics.org:
- Every nine seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women -- more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
- Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
These are sobering facts that warrant more than a month of attention. Violent partners can affect a woman's domestic affairs, while the status quo still only allows her to earn 77 cents for every dollar paid a male colleague earns, and that gap is larger for African-American and Latina women.
Consequently, women are under attack both at home and in the workplace.
Earlier this year, on April 9th we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. At the time it was legislated, President Kennedy opined that the women's wage gap was an "...unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job." Every April when we commemorate Equal Pay Day and women take their daughters to workplaces that pay them and sometimes respect them less than men who do the same job, we realize that inequality still exists.
Again we see the scary pattern of commemoration and complacency that has to end.
Our story gets darker when we narrate the plight of women of color. With so much stacked against them, many women of color are particularly affected by these prime-time back-to-back episodes of violence and wage theft. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of suffering lurking in the silent shadows of cities and suburbs alike, which leads me to wonder about one of the saddest cases and miscarriages of justice in recent history; the story of Marissa Alexander.
A single mother of three and victim of domestic violence, who filed a restraining order against her ex-husband, is languishing in jail for self-defense. After only 12 minutes of deliberation, a Florida jury found Alexander guilty of aggravated assault. Back in 2010, the single mother of three with a clean record used her registered handgun to scare off her abusive ex-husband by shooting at a wall. Despite using the same "Stand your ground" law that George Zimmerman initially claimed, in March of 2012, Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in jail by the same Florida prosecutor Angela Corey that oversaw the Zimmerman case. Fortunately, due to public outcry, a recently discovered legal technicality has given her case new hope. The jury was given erroneous instructions of the self-defense plea and Alexander was granted a new trial in September.
A new trial may seem like a cause for celebration, but again I am scared.
Where was the women's rights movement during this case, with protests carrying poster images of single mother/victim of domestic violence survivor/upstanding citizen Alexander who could have been a household name like Trayvon Martin was made to be during the media blitz over his trial. Alexander's case didn't start to get major media coverage until the case for Zimmerman was well under way. As a society can we not address multiple egregious injustices simultaneously the way we talk and text? Could it be because she was black?
According to the Annenberg Classroom, the women's rights movement has a long history of discriminating against black women. Instead of unifying under the umbrella of inequality, in 1869 "Disagreements over the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the relationship between women's suffrage and the movement for racial equality divide the women's rights movement between two organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. In fact so little was done for women of color by the women's rights movement, that in 1896, black women formed the National Association of Colored Women Organized and "In 1935, Mary McLeod Bethune will organize the National Council of Negro Women, a coalition of black women's groups that lobbies against job discrimination, racism and sexism." Perhaps we need leadership from a visionary like Bethune who was able to see the fierce urgency of now to intercept the intersection of race, class and gender injustice.Thankfully, U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, like Bethune gave voice to this once voiceless and invisible case. "The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today," Brown said afterward. "
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."
What am I asking for?
Holidays and their accompanying trinkets vacillate between being treasured and then discarded. Let's hold our newly elected politicians accountable to ensure that all women and especially women of color receive full protection under the law and new policies are enacted to prevent future travesties. Our victims of domestic violence, wage stagnation and racism can no longer afford that same fate. Long after the posters are recycled and the protests fizzle, black women are still earning less, and receive heavier sentences for crimes they commit than their white counterparts.
"Everyday in the U.S., more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends."
Alexander was trying to protect herself and her children, yet the women's rights movement didn't adequately protect her or future black victims of domestic violence from the same fate. Hence, it's up to all of us to ensure that Alexander and all other victims of domestic violence regardless of race get the protection, legal aid and dignity they deserve. Alexander has suffered enough as a victim at the hands of a man, she doesn't need the added insult of victimization from a justice system and women's rights movement that in anyway still allows for justice to be missing in action. Let us be inspired by Anne Frank who stated "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."