Four and a half years ago, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the wall when she felt threatened by her abusive husband. Although no one was hurt, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault. Her ongoing legal battle has captured national headlines, sparking widespread outrage over the criminal justice system’s unfair treatment of domestic violence victims and Florida’s uneven application of its “Stand Your Ground” law, which Alexander was not permitted to invoke.
Alexander eventually took a plea deal that required her to serve three years behind bars, and she is expected to be released on Tuesday. First, she has to appear at a hearing during which a judge is likely to give her two years of house arrest. And when she arrives at the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, she’ll be greeted by a symbol of solidarity from other people who have survived domestic violence and abuse.
In preparation for Tuesday’s hearing, activists have erected a monument to domestic violence survivors on the lawn on the courthouse. The so-called “Monument Quilt” ultimately hopes to communicate to Alexander that she is not alone. It’s comprised of quilt squares that detail real stories from other victims of abuse, as well as messages of support directed specifically at Alexander.
One square reads, “How can the same state that acquitted George Zimmerman prosecute Marissa Alexander?” Another says, “My mom, my sister, my step-mom, my aunt, my aunt C, my cousin, my cousin M, my cousin C, my grandmother, my grandma, and my step-grandmother are all the women in my family that have been in abusive relationships (that I know about). Marissa, you are not alone.”
The Monument Quilt is an ongoing project spearheaded by the feminist activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which has become somewhat infamous for its attention-grabbing campaigns to get people talking about rape, violence, and consent. The quilt was initially displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. last spring; since then, it’s been traveling around the country. People from all over the U.S. have submitted their own squares for inclusion. On its website, FORCE explains that stitching together these stories is intended to provide public support for survivors in a culture where they’re often publicly shamed.
FORCE partnered with the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign, an alliance of activists working to end domestic violence and mass incarceration, to bring the quilt to the Duval County Courthouse this week. On Monday afternoon, the groups organized a workshop to allow people to make more quilt squares. Rebecca Nagle, one of the coordinators of FORCE, told ThinkProgress that the quilt intends to send “a powerful message not just to Jacksonville, but to the world.”
“I hope Marissa and her family can feel support from across the country,” Nagle said. “And I hope it helps people realize that other women experience domestic violence, other people are prosecuted for being victims of domestic violence, and other black women are framed as aggressors for incidents that are clearly in self-defense.”
It’s not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to face criminal charges as a result of their abuser’s actions, particularly if their partner successfully harmed their children. Just this week, a Chicago woman was charged with a felony after her boyfriend beat her 16-month-son to death.
Rather than reforming mandatory minimum sentencing in Florida or allocating more resources to domestic violence prevention, state lawmakers responded to the outrage over Alexander’s sentence by passing so-called “warning shot” legislation that expands Stand Your Ground protections for self-defense cases. Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the bill into law in June.