Free-Marissa sign

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Xan Joi describes herself as a "full-time activist." And right now her cause is putting an end to domestic violence, especially violence against women.

Joi, along with five other women from the Bay Area in California, is traveling cross country to Jacksonville, Fla., to protest the treatment of
Marissa Alexander
and to seek a pardon for the 34-year-old African American woman.

Their Black Women’s Lives Matter: Free Marissa Now caravan will show up in Jacksonville by Tuesday, Jan. 27, Alexander’s next scheduled court date. She could be released that day. But maybe not.

Alexander could face more jail time or could be sent home wearing an ankle bracelet that would track her whereabouts for two years. Like others who face house arrest, Alexander would have to pay for the monitoring device; anywhere from about $30 a month to about $100 a month, her supporters said.

The caravan, which Joi helped organize, began in Berkeley, Calif., in early December and for now is made up of five women traveling in Joi’s truck, which is painted with words such as racism, prison and poverty, each with a red circle and slash through them to denote opposition.

The group is making its way across the country, often staying with women who have welcomed them with beds and food after they make presentations to community groups and give interviews to call attention to Alexander’s case. They have also been holding teach-ins, handing out flyers, displaying banners, giving radio, television and newspaper interviews and using social media, such as the Twitter hashtag #blackwomenslivesmatter.

They are expected to stop in 15 cities before arriving in Jacksonville. Once there, they are planning a rally near the courthouse and other activities before Alexander’s scheduled court appearance on Tuesday.

Plea Deal

Alexander is imprisoned as part of a plea deal for firing what she said was a single warning shot to ward off her violent husband who threatened to kill her. She originally faced 20 years in prison, and the prosecutor Angela Corey was going to go for a 60-year sentence when Alexander decided in December to accept a deal. As part of the deal, she has to appear in court on Tuesday for a sentencing hearing, where the judge can extend her sentence or let her out of prison for good, although her supporters believe that probably would include home detention and electronic monitoring.

The legal hand dealt to Alexander, in the view of Joi and many others, is a raw deal. They believe the only way to put an end to what they say is the continued victimization of domestic violence victims in the courts is to call attention to Alexander’s case.

"People have been deeply troubled by Marissa’s story," Joi said in a phone interview last week as she and her traveling companions were pulling out of Houston, heading for Mississippi.

Alexander’s story is widespread in the annals of domestic violence, said Cindene Pezzell, legal coordinator for the Philadelphia-based National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women.

Last month, Pezzell told Women’s eNews that battered women face special challenges to their credibility and their claims of self-defense are often dismissed by skeptical juries and judges. She said courts often place added responsibility on someone who says she is battered, inferring somehow from her failure to escape that she is at least partly responsible for what happened to her.

Monument Quilt

Rebecca Nagle, who said she was a victim of child sexual abuse and domestic violence, is joining the court watch in a somewhat more stationary way.

She and other artists in Baltimore are helping add new squares about Alexander to the Monument Quilt, a collection of stories of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

New squares for the Monument Quilt.
New squares for the Monument Quilt.

"We are doing this in protest of Marissa Alexander‘s prosecution and the horrendous time she has had and will continue to have," Nagle said in a phone interview recently.

The quilt, she said, is now about the size of "three basketball courts," or about 200 feet by 100 feet. She planned to drive it to Florida over the weekend to arrive by Tuesday. The quilt is scheduled to be displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in early 2017.

"The injustice of the Marissa Alexander case is an exception, but the reality of it is not. The truth is a lot of women face similar punishment for defending themselves," Nagle said.

Alexander’s original conviction of 20 years was thrown out on appeal. She faced a new trial–and a hostile prosecutor who wanted to put her away for 60 years–when she took a plea and a reduced sentence during negotiations in November.

She got credit for the nearly two years she already had served in prison before being freed during her appeal. But the deal was similar to the one prosecutors had offered Alexander originally, when she instead opted to go to trial. At trial, the prosecution was able to persuade the jury that Alexander was not acting in self-defense and was instead the aggressor.

Prosecutor Corey’s office declined to comment.

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