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Why do Black Women go to Jail for Self-defense?

Chrysul Kizer, 19 years old, was almost sent to prison for over 15 years for the killing of her sex-trafficker. Kizer was released on bond for $400,000 by way of a Chicago bail fund. Her story isn’t the only self-defense case that fell through. The issue is especially common toward young Black women.

Just a year ago, Cyntoia Brown was just been granted clemency after being in prison for the shooting of her sex trafficker since 2004. In 2011, Marissa Alexander was charged with aggravated assault for firing a warning shot with her legal gun in the “stand your ground” state of Florida. She was given a 20-year sentence. All of these women were experiencing abuse and were punished for saving themselves.

Self-defense laws are a part of state legislation. At least 25 state laws, according to NCLS, have no obligation to retreat an attacker. In a few states, this is known as “stand your ground” where it is legal for you to use deadly force to defend yourself. In the remaining states, the self-defense argument must prove a reasonable assumption of fear or danger for someone to take defensive action and not be charged with a crime.

Also, there are some states where you can only use deadly force for defense on your property known as castle doctrines.

The New York self-defense law says one can use deadly force to defend themselves if they really think they’re in danger of being harmed or killed. However, they are still required to do what they can not to take someone’s life which includes walking away, flagging down help or even throwing a punch. An unrealistic expectation of a young girl going up against a 200-pound man.

The ACLU reported almost 60% of women state prisoners have a history of sexual abuse. Part of that population, as reported by Survived and Punished are incarcerated for criminal charges after pleading self-defense to free themselves from their abusers.

The judges of these cases based their decisions on a lack of evidence to prove these women had a reasonable belief their lives were in danger. They also made decisions based on the political atmosphere. The year Cyntoia was imprisoned, self-defense laws were interpreted differently.

Black women have struggled to be seen as the victims instead of the aggressors due to the preexisting notions and stereotypes surrounding them. They are often victim blamed when the court discovers they were involved in sex work, even against their own will. Many other Black women simply aren’t heard because they are assumed to have done something to incite violence against them.

As of 2014, 64,000 Black women have been missing and the number rises every day. Those women are just like Cyntoia, Marissa and Chrystul. They need to know the system will work in their favor to save their lives instead of criminalize them for having to resort to saving themselves.

Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu from Pexels

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