Convictions Overturned For Detroit Mother And Activist Imprisoned For Defending Herself
The "Stand Your Ground" law wasn't meant to protect black women.
Update (August 24, 2019): The convictions of a Michigan mother, who was jailed for waving a gun at an attacker in self-defense, have now been overturned.
Like what you're reading?
Get more in your inbox.
The 26-year-old, who gave birth while spending more than 250 days behind bars, was convicted of felonious assault and firearm charges in 2018.
The Detroit-based activist was sentenced to two years in the Huron Valley Women’s Prison in Michigan for waving an unloaded, licensed gun at a neighbor who she believes was trying to harming her family. Last November, she was released on bond after a Court of Appeals took her case.
Ra said the 2017 incident began while she was visiting her mother and an unruly neighbor ran their vehicle into the car she and her family were inside of. When she tried to confront the neighbor, they attempted to run her over before she brandished the weapon to ward off further attacks.
Nearly a year after Ra was released from prison, The Michigan Court of Appeals states the trial's court was erroneous and failed "to give the jury instruction regarding the use of non-deadly force in self-defense."
The court also decided that it was "more probable than not that the lack of proper instruction affected the outcome of the case."
Last year, Ra’s case sparked a nationwide outcry as the “Stand Your Ground” law, which is recognized by the state of Michigan, wasn’t applicable for a woman of color with no criminal record. The legislation, also honored in Florida, allowed George Zimmerman to avoid a conviction in the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, was among those who championed for Ra and penned a rousing essay, which highlighted America's racial bias toward Black gun owners.
Cullors told Blavity that her "story is just one of many stories that shows if a Black woman asserts her rights and arms herself from potential violence, she is putting herself at risk of being criminalized, prosecuted and incarcerated."
In “Stand Your Ground” states, when white shooters kill Black people, 34% of homicides are deemed justifiable compared to only 3% of deaths when the shooter is Black and the victim is white, according to The Urban Institute.
"Due to the racial and gender biases that plague our criminal court system, women of color are the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons, and they are twice as likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts," Cullors said.
Original story: The Never Again and Enough Is Enough movements have placed issues of gun control at the forefront of the American political consciousness in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
But as the stories of the Parkland survivors are being highlighted by mainstream media, the one of 26-year-old Siwatu-Salama Ra has gone largely ignored. The Detroit-based activist and mother was sentenced to two years in the Huron Valley Women’s Prison in Michigan for waving her licensed gun at a neighbor who appeared intent on harming her and her family.
Last July, Salama Ra was visiting her mother when an unruly neighbor ran their vehicle into the car she was in with her daughter and mother. When she went to confront the person, the neighbor attempted to run over Salama Ra and her mother. To ward off further attacks, Salama Ra waved an unloaded gun at the person.
Michigan's "Stand Your Ground" law, which is similar to the Florida legislation that allowed George Zimmerman to avoid a conviction in the death of Trayvon Martin, did not protect Salma Ra.
On March 1, Salama Ra was sentenced the mandatory minimum of two years and will serve while carrying her son. The pregnant mother will give birth to her first son behind bars for defending the people she loves. Many have voiced concerns that the stress of the situation will put her unborn child at risk.
Her story has been well-documented by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. She wrote a rousing essay about Siwatu which highlighted America's racial bias toward black gun owners.
In a statement to Blavity, Cullors said Siwatu's ordeal isn't an isolated one:
“Siwatu’s story is just one of many stories that shows if a Black woman asserts her rights and arms herself from potential violence, she is putting herself at risk of being criminalized, prosecuted and incarcerated. Due to the racial and gender biases that plague our criminal court system, women of color are the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons, and they are twice as likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. Those dismal prospects only apply to Black women who aren’t pregnant. For women who are with child and find themselves behind bars, the situation is even more dire.”
Cullors's essay and efforts to draw attention to the woman's case spurred the #FreeSiwatu hashtag on Twitter.
A mother & community leader in #Detroit was violently confronted by her neighbor.Fearing for her life Siwatu held her licensed weapon in plain sight. The gun was unloaded & no one was hurt. She was just sentenced to two years in prison and is now behind bars pregnant. #freesiwatu pic.twitter.com/7gEAqVwpqQ— BYP100 (@BYP_100) March 26, 2018
We need justice for Siwatu-Salama Ra! A black woman. A mother. She was protecting her family from an attack by a neighbor who rammed into her car. Siwatu waved her unloaded (& licensed) gun to scare the neighbor off. Sitwatu is six months pregnant & in jail. #FreeSiwatu pic.twitter.com/HLFgvgbR7l— GᎥo (@gionnionthespot) March 24, 2018
The gun was unloaded and no one was hurt. Still, she was sentenced to two years in prison and is now behind bars and pregnant. #freesiwatu— Angela Davi$ (@lordrielle) March 26, 2018
Please RT and spread the word as folks work to fight against this injustice. pic.twitter.com/hn7Ee68DCO
Siwatu is having a baby in prison because of a mandatory minimum. The prosecutor even said she didn’t need to be locked up. Mandatory minimums disproportionately lock up our Black and Brown folks, or force them to take pleas for crimes they did not commit. #FreeSiwatu https://t.co/th3G53wT8t— Jenny Byer (@jenny_byer) March 26, 2018
Lawyers for Siwatu are employing various tactics, including requesting that she be released on bond pending appeal, reversal of the conviction and a commutation and/or pardon. A YouCaring campaign was launched March 18 to fund a possible appeal. So far, the campaign has raised over $25K of its $75K goal.
With discussions about gun rights occurring, when will the rights of black gun owners like Philando Castile and Siwatu be respected and acknowledged?