Marissa Alexander Facing 60 Years in Prison for Firing a Warning Shot in Self Defense | The Nation

Marissa Alexander Now Faces 60 Years in Prison for Firing a Warning Shot in Self Defense | The Nation.

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey will seek to triple Marissa Alexander’s original prison sentence from twenty to sixty years, effectively a life sentence for the 33-year-old woman, when her case is retried this July, The Florida Times-Union reports.

Alexander was convicted on three charges of aggravated assault in 2012 for firing warning shots in the direction of Rico Gray, her estranged husband, and his two children. No one was hurt. Alexander’s attorneys argued that she had the right to self-defense after Gray physically assaulted and threatned to kill her the day of the shooting. In a deposition, Gray confessed to a history of abusing women, including Alexander.

In September of 2013 a District Appeals court threw out the conviction on grounds that Circuit Judge James Daniel erroneously placed the burden on Alexander to prove she acted in self-defense, when she only had to meet a “reasonable doubt concerning self-defense.”

Judge Daniel originally slapped Alexander with three twenty-year prison sentences, but ordered that they be served concurrently. If Alexander is convicted a second time in July, State Attorney Angela Corey will seek consecutive sentences, adding up to sixty years in prison.

Florida’s 10-20-Life law imposes a mandatory minimum of twenty years in prison for anyone who fires a gun while committing a felony. Angela Corey’s prosecution team says it is following a court ruling that multiple convictions for related charges under 10-20-Life should carry consecutive sentences.

The advocacy group Free Marissa Now released a statement calling Corey’s move a “stunning abuse of power.” Members of the group say Corey is pressing for a longer sentence to thwart attention from accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, as well as recent failures in high-profile trials. Corey failed to secure murder convictions for George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, two men who fatally shot black teenagers.

“Remember that when Marissa Alexander fired her warning shot to save her own life, she caused no injuries. Now she’s facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison for that act of self-defense,” said advocate Sumayya Fire in the statement. “That should send a chill down the back of every person in this country who believes that women who are attacked have the right to defend themselves.”

Marissa Alexander seeks “Stand Your Ground” immunity,… |

Marissa Alexander seeks “Stand Your Ground” immunity, sentencing changes


Marissa Alexander
Action News
Marissa Alexander

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

We first told you earlier this week that Marissa Alexander’s attorney intended seek another “Stand Your Ground” immunity hearing ahead of her trial- and we’ve now obtained the documents backing that up.

More than 1200 pages were filed today in support of five separate motions. One would seek a pre-trial immunity hearing under “Stand Your Ground”. Two deal with the sentence Alexander could face if convicted. Two more deal with interactions between Alexander and Rico Gray.

Alexander was initially convicted of shooting a gun in the presence of Gray and two children and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That conviction was overturned because of how the jury instructions were phrased. Alexander claims she fired a warning shot, fearing that Gray meant to harm her.

Stand Your Ground

Alexander sought SYG immunity ahead of her initial trial, but was denied. The motion now filed argues that neither the initial denial or the appeals court decision not to “reweigh” the case prevent Alexander from seeking this immunity again.

“This Court is able on remand to consider anew legal issues decided as part of the original proceeding, and the use of that discretion is especially vital where failure to do so would result in manifest injustice,” the motion reads.

The attorney, Bruce Zimet, says there has been “critical” new evidence since the initial SYG hearing and that the initial hearing itself included evidentiary problems. Zimet says the ruling in the SYG hearing was made largely on the testimony of Gray’s two sons, and he says one has since recanted and the other admitted to lying about a “prior altercation” between Gray and another woman, which Zimet believes woduld have established a pattern of Gray as abusive toward women.  He additionally argues that expert testimony on Alexander’s state of mind when she pulled the trigger was not previously introduced.

Zimet further says the initial SYG hearing was argued under the wrong statute.  He says the section used includes more stringent rules that require someone to have been attacked before returning with force of their own.

“By contrast, § 776.012—which applies to an individual in her home, as is the case here—eliminates any duty to retreat and allows deadly force if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or a forcible felony,” the motion says.


A second motion claims sentencing Alexander to a mandatory minimum 20 years in prison is cruel and unusual punishment because it is “grossly disproportionate” to any offense Alexander is accused of committing.

Zimet argues the Florida legislature, who established 10-20-Life, never intended to have it applied to “battered women attempting to defend themselves”. In fact, Zimet cites current efforts at the state level to specifically exempt “warning shots” from such consequences, as proof that the statute was improperly applied.

While Zimet argues that Alexander should not face conviction at all, he says if she is found guilty, the sentence is out of proportion. He says most other states have a mandatory minimum nowhere near what Florida law outlines.

Consecutive vs. concurrent sentencing

The State Attorney’s Office tells WOKV that Florida statute requires Alexander to serve concurrent sentences if convicted, meaning she would face a minimum 60 years in prison for the total three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

This motion is condition on the ruling over 10-20-Life. Zimet says if the court does not rule mandatory minimum sentencing should not apply here, than it should rule sentences should at least not run consecutive- a total sentence Zimet argues would be unconstitutional in two ways.

First, Zimet argues the State is not allowed to pursue a steeper sentence on appeal unless there is new evidence introduced to warrant it. Zimet says the State did not object to concurrent sentences on the initial trial, so consecutive sentencing now would be an unconstitutional increase.

Second, the motion states the 60 year sentence in itself would be unconstitutional.

“A sentence of such enormous length is grossly disproportionate to any offense Alexander may have committed by firing a single, upward warning shot to protect herself against an enraged husband with a history of abuse who only minutes before had violently assaulted her,” the motion says.

Rico Gray, Sr. prior actions

The fourth motion filed is notice of Zimet’s intent to introduce past actions by Gray as part of Alexander’s affirmative defense that she feared for her life.

“At Alexander’s first trial, the jury heard a he-said/she-said about the events of August 1, 2010,” the motion says.

There was as discrepancy between those sides on whether the argument was verbal or physical, who the aggressor was, if there was an imminent threat, whether Alexander could leave the scene and more.

“What the jury did not hear—and what Alexander is now entitled to introduce—is specific evidence of Gray’s prior similar attacks on women, his repeated lies to law enforcement to avoid prosecution, and his implicit and explicit threats of violence against and coercion of witnesses, including his own children, to falsely accuse his female victims of attacking him,” the motion says.

Zimet says there is evidence Gray attacked Alexander as well as other women, which makes it hard to believe he is a victim. While Alexander introduced evidence of prior violent acts against her by Gray in the initial trial, Zimet says they plan to offer further evidence of violent acts by Gray against other women as well, and repeated attempts to obstruct justice- including a threat to kill Alexander and cover it up.

Subsequent “incident” with Rico Gray

While out on bail for the initial charges, which happened in August 2010, Alexander communicated on several occasions with Gray. In December 2010, Alexander was charged with Domestic Battery stemming from a fight with Gray. Gray claims that he refused to let Alexander spend the night after she dropped off their daughter, and she became angry and punched him, leaving marks on his face. Alexander claims Gray was the one who was angry and violent because she refused to spend the night, but police did not notice any physical marks on her.

In the first trial, the defense sought to preclude any evidence of this incident, but was denied. Zimet has filed a new motion asking the court to reconsider that motion to preclude.

Zimet says the fact that Alexander had contact with Gray cannot rebut her claim to self-defense. He says the charge deals with Alexander’s state of mind and fear of harm the moment she fired the gun, so only evidence dealing with that moment should be presented to a jury.

“The December 30 incident is not probative of Alexander’s state of mind nearly five months earlier, before she and Gray went to marital counseling, before Gray’s profuse apologies and proclamations of love, and before Alexander learned that her daughter Rihanna’s insurance was set to expire at the end of 2010 unless Alexander obtained Gray’s signature on Rihanna’s birth certificate,” the motion says.

Zimet further says the incident is “excessively prejudicial”, which hampers the interest of justice.

The State’s response

The State Attorney’s Office has issued a statement reading, in part, that they are reviewing these most recent motions.

“The State Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking justice for our two child victims and their father,” the statement says.

It further reads that they will make a response to these motions at the appropriate time.

Alexander’s retrial has been scheduled for July.



Marissa Alexander seeks “Stand Your Ground” immunity,… |

Jordan Davis, Another Victim of a Murderous Historical Continuum | Politic365

Jordan Davis, Another Victim of a Murderous Historical Continuum 

Dr. Wilmer Leon, Producer/ Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio radio program “Inside the Issues”

Can a Negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed into existence by the constitution of the United States…they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for…” Chief Justice Roger Taney – Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

The verdict is in.  Michael Dunn was found guilty on three counts of attempted second-degree murder but the jury failed to reach a verdict on the most significant charge of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Jordan Davis.

Instead of celebrating what would have been his 19th birthday, Jordan Davis’ parents continue to mourn the legally unrecognized murder of their son. I can only imagine that this verdict is analogous to killing him again.  Jordan Davis has become another victim of a murderous historical American continuum.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder, the killings of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, Sean Bell on November 26, 2006, Police Sgt. Cornel Young, Jr. on January 28, 2000, Police Officer Willie Wilkins on January 11, 2001, Amadou Diallo on February 4, 1999 and so many others we find ourselves coming to the same conclusion, by focusing on their color; people failed to see theirhumanity.

The subtext to all of these untimely deaths remains race.  The subtext to the inability of juries to convict the George Zimmerman’s and Michael Dunn’s of the world of murder is tied to race as well. They are the most recent victims of a murderous historical American continuum.  Tolnay and Beck in their book A Festival ofViolence, “identified 2,805 victims of lynch mobs killed between 1882 and 1930 in ten southern states.  Although mobs murdered almost 300 white men and women, the vast majority-almost 2,500-of lynch victims were African-American.  The scale of this carnage means that, on average, a black man, woman, or child was murdered nearly once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930 by a hate driven white mob.”  Today, lynch mobs have been replaced by Zimmerman’s and Dunn’s and sanctioned by “Stand Your Ground” and “juries of their peers”.

As Africans in America and later African Americans, we have been engaged in a struggle for a very long time. Too many of us have forgotten what’s at the crux of the issue.  Many believe it’s economic, others believe its civil rights.  Both of those are important and play a significant role in improving our circumstance but what we’ve been  fighting to have recognized since those first 20 and some odd “African indentured servants” disembarked from the Dutch Man O War off the shores of Jamestown, VA in 1619 (395 years ago)is to be considered human.

According to the Virginia Statutes on Slavery, Act 1, October 1669; what should be done about the casual killing of slaves?  “If any slave resist his master and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not considered a felony, and the master should be acquitted from the molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepense malice should induce any man to destroy his own estate.”  We were property, not human – part of the estate.

In Dred Scott Chief Justice Taney wrote, “…they (Negro’s) were at that time an considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.”  Unfortunately, Taney’s perspective remains prevalent in the minds of too many Americans.

For decades, the law recognized the value of life over property.  In many jurisdictions, before a person could use deadly force they had a duty to retreat.  They had to prove that the use of deadly force wasjustified. This is often taken to mean that if the defendant had first avoided conflict and secondly, had taken reasonable steps to retreat and so demonstrated an intention not to fight before eventuallyusing force, then the taking of a life could be considered justified.

Today, Stand Your Ground has turned this long held principal on its head.  Today it provides individuals (seemingly mostly European American’s) the right to use deadly force (seemingly against African American’s) to “defend” themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a circumstance of their own creation.

One cannot stress enough, in both the Treyvon Martin murder and the murder of Jordan Davis, both victims were in public space, engaged in legal activity, and at the time they were confronted were not a threat to anyone. George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn initiated the confrontations, put themselves in harm’s way, and thentook matters into their own hands, choosing to use deadly force against unarmed and non-threatening innocent victims.  Neither Martin nor Davis was given the opportunity to stand their ground.

What ties the death of all of the individuals listed above together is the culturally accepted stereotype of the threatening Black male. Defense counsels in the murder of Treyvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many others rationalized these irrationalshootings by tapping into the oftentimes unspoken but clearly recognized and understood fear of the Black male.

Even though no weapon and nothing resembling a weapon was found in the vehicle Jordan Davis was riding in, at least one member of the Dunn jury understood his claim that he was in fear of his life.  Even though Treyvon Martin was unarmed, members of the Zimmerman jury understood on a gut level his claim that he was in fear of his life.  Amadou Diallo was armed with only his wallet when NYPD unleashed a barrage of 41 bullets striking him 19 times.

Since those first 20 and some odd “African indentured servants” disembarked from the Dutch Man O War off the shores of Jamestown, VA in 1619 African’s in America and now African Americans have been victimized by a murderous American historical continuum.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” Go to or and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at  © 2014 InfoWave Communications, LLC



Jordan Davis, Another Victim of a Murderous Historical Continuum | Politic365.

Update: Marissa Alexander Is Given No Bail Today – New Evidence Comes To Court

WED NOV 13, 2013

Updated: Marissa Alexander Is Given No Bail Today – New Evidence Comes To Court

by Leslie SalzilloFollow

in SOLIDARITY mARISSAMarissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband, was granted no bail Wednesday afternoon in a Jacksonville courtroom. The mother of three will most likely not get to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with her children, as the ‘deciding judge’ opted to make no decision and set another hearing for January 15, 2012 – pending of course, that he does, or does not, change his mind.In 2010, just days after giving birth, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot in self-defense to keep her abusive husband, Rico Gray, from attacking her. In his deposition, Gray who has a history of abusing Alexander, admitted it, stated he intended to hurt her had she not fired the warning shot, and said she did the right thing. He also said Alexander did not aim he gun at him. Gray then changed his story once the case went to trial. He walked out a free man – Marissa Alexander, the battered wife, received 20 years. The Florida Stand Your Ground Law did not work for Alexander because she fired a warning shot. Had she shot and killed Rico Gray that day, she would have most likely served no time at all.

My source who was in the courtroom today, reported new evidence has been brought forth – a text message of Rico Gray asking Marissa to come over for sex while there was an order of protection. Rico Gray claims Marissa should not be let out on bond because he is afraid of Marissa; he fears/feared for his life. Does asking her for sex sound like someone who feared for his life?

“I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and . . . I told her, you know, I used to always tell her that, if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you. It was not the first time of ever saying it to her.”~ Rico Gray in his deposition on November 22, 2010.

Again, does this sound like a man fearing for his life?Marissa Alexander’s case has been highly publicized from the start, and the Free Marissa Now campaign has grown throughout social media. The case was catapulted into even more national spotlight, following the George Zimmerman case. In July 2013, Zimmerman was set free after killing teenager, Trayvon Martin, even though Zimmerman was the aggressor. Ironically, the same state attorney that failed to successfully prosecute George Zimmerman, is the same attorney that sent Marissa Alexander to prison. State Attorney Angela Corey ‘twisted the knife’ by refusing to drop Alexander’s case,even after it was overturned in September.

Unless something changes, it doesn’t look as though Marissa Alexander and her three children will be having happy holidays, as she awaits a new bail hearing, and then a whole new trial in March 2014. Supposedly the next trial will be different. This time, Florida courts say the burden of proof will be placed upon them rather than Marissa Alexander. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work, Florida?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, or know someone who may be, there is help: Call: 800-799-SAFE/National Domestic Violence Hotline or Call: 800-656-HOPE/RAINN (Rape,Abuse, & Incest National Network) 

Cabinet Passes, for Now, on Pardoning Marissa Alexander, Pending Stand Your Ground Appeal

Cabinet Passes, for Now, on Pardoning Marissa Alexander, Pending Stand Your Ground Appeal

 | AUGUST 7, 2013

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she termed a warning shot at her abusive husband, and not allowed to use the stand your ground defense.

Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she termed a warning shot at her abusive husband, and not allowed to use the stand your ground defense.

Members of the Florida Cabinet said Tuesday it’s too soon to consider a pardon for Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot into a wall during a domestic dispute.

But an appeals court will decide whether Alexander should have been able to use a “stand your ground” defense to fight the charge.

Alexander, a 32-year-old mother of three, was sentenced last year under Florida’s “10-20-Life” mandatory-minimum law. (She was prosecuted by State Attorney Angela Corey, whom Gov. Rick Scott picked to prosecute the Gorge Zimmerman case. Corey offered Alexander a three-year prison sentence in a plea bargain, which Alexander turned down. The prosecution’s version of events is posted here.)

Alexander argued that the “stand your ground” self-defense law should apply, but a judge ruled against her because she ran to the garage for her gun and returned with it instead of escaping. A jury later found her guilty — in 12 minutes — of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

According to filings at the 1st District of Appeal in Tallahassee, Alexander’s attorneys contend that the trial court erred in denying Alexander’s pretrial motion for immunity based on “stand your ground.” They wrote that due to the history of domestic violence in the relationship with her husband, Rico Gray, Alexander had reason to fear bodily harm and had no duty to retreat.

They also argued that the trial court’s instruction to the jury “erroneously shifted the burden of proof, requiring that Alexander prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was in danger of imminent harm in order to invoke self-defense,” according to the motion filed last November.

Alexander’s case drew enormous attention when she was sentenced in May 2012. It returned to the spotlight last month, when a Sanford jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman did not use a “stand your ground” defense, but the case has sparked widespread debate about the law. Approved in 2005, the law says a person who is not doing anything illegal and gets attacked “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”

Alexander’s case also has become part of a sit-in at the state Capitol, where a group called the Dream Defenders has occupied Gov. Rick Scott’s waiting area, demanding a special legislative session on the “stand your ground” law. Tuesday marked the third week of the sit-in.

Members of the Dream Defenders have followed Alexander’s case, and their political director, Ciara Taylor of Jacksonville, was in court when Alexander was sentenced.

One good thing to come out of the verdict, Taylor said Tuesday, is the need to explore cases like Alexander’s — “cases involving the black-and-white … disparity within using ‘stand your ground.’ ” She also said it’s important “to talk about domestic violence against women in this country.”

On Monday, state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wrote to Scott and the Cabinet, asking them to pardon Alexander when they next sit as the clemency board. Bullard noted that Alexander had reason to fear because her husband had battered her in the past.

Scott and Cabinet members could take up Bullard’s call for a pardon for Alexander on Sept. 25, when the clemency board meets. But on Tuesday, they were noncommittal. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi said that because Bondi’s office is representing the prosecution in Alexander’s criminal appeal, “it would not be appropriate to discuss clemency-related matters until the court has made a determination regarding the disposition of the criminal appeal.”

The appeal is also based on what Alexander’s attorneys argue are two additional errors by the trial court: denying her the right to consult her attorney during the single overnight recess of her two-day trial, and giving the standard jury instruction on the use of force.

“The instruction given effectively negated Alexander’s sole defense — that is, self-defense — by erroneously stating that an injury to the victim was a prerequisite to successfully invoking self-defense,” the motion said.

“She had every right to be afraid and every right to defend herself,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It is often the case that when a battered woman fights back and protects herself, the full force of the law comes down on her.”

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida


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“The Quality of Justice for Trayvon” Tuesday June 11, 2013 and Thursday, June 13 – 10 pm ET


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Emmett and Trayvon l Washington Monthly

January/ February 2013

Washington Monthly

Emmett and Trayvon

How racial prejudice in America has changed in the last sixty years.

By Elijah Anderson


A tale of two teens: After their tragic and premature deaths, both Emmett Till, 14 (left), and Trayvon Martin, 17 (right), became symbols of the unique challenges that have faced young black men in America.

Separated by a thousand miles, two state borders, and nearly six decades, two young African American boys met tragic fates that seem remarkably similar today: both walked into a small market to buy some candy; both ended up dead.

The first boy is Emmett Till, who was fourteen years old in the summer of 1955 when he walked into a local grocery store in Money, Mississippi, to buy gum. He was later roused from bed, beaten brutally, and possibly shot by a group of white men who later dumped his body in a nearby river. They claimed he had stepped out of his place by flirting with a young white woman, the wife of the store’s owner. The second boy is Trayvon Martin, who was seventeen years old late last winter when he walked into a 7-Eleven near a gated community in Sanford, Florida, to buy Skittles and an iced tea. He was later shot to death at close range by a mixed-race man, who claimed Martin had behaved suspiciously and seemed out of place. The deaths of both boys galvanized the nation, drew sympathy and disbelief across racial lines, and, through the popular media, prompted a reexamination of race relations.

In the aftermath of Martin’s death last February, a handful of reporters and columnists, and many members of the general public, made the obvious comparison: Trayvon Martin, it seemed, was the Emmett Till of our times. And while that comparison has some merit—the boys’ deaths are similar both in some of their details and in their tragic outcome—these killings must also be understood as the result of very different strains of racial tension in America. The racism that led to Till’s death was embedded in a virulent ideology of white racial superiority born out of slavery and the Jim Crow codes, particularly in the Deep South. That sort of racism hinges on the idea that blacks are an inherently inferior race, a morally null group that deserves both the subjugation and poverty it gets.

The racial prejudice that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is different. While it, too, was born of America’s painful legacy of slavery and segregation, and informed by those old concepts of racial order—that blacks have their “place” in society—it in addition reflects the urban iconography of today’s racial inequality, namely the black ghetto, a uniquely urban American creation. Strikingly, this segregation of the black community coexists with an ongoing racial incorporation process that has produced the largest black middle class in history, and that reflects the extraordinary social progress this country has made since the 1960s. The civil rights movement paved the way for blacks and other people of color to access public and professional opportunities and spaces that would have been unimaginable in Till’s time.

While the sort of racism that led to Till’s death still exists in society today, Americans in general have a much more nuanced, more textured attitude toward race than anything we’ve seen before, and usually that attitude does not manifest in overtly hateful, exclusionary, or violent acts. Instead, it manifests in pervasive mindsets and stereotypes that all black people start from the inner-city ghetto and are therefore stigmatized by their association with its putative amorality, danger, crime, and poverty. Hence, in public a black person is burdened with a negative presumption that he must disprove before he can establish mutually trusting relationships with others.

Most consequentially, black skin, and its association with the ghetto, translates into a deficit of credibility as black skin is conflated with lower-class status. This deficit impacts poor blacks of the ghetto one way and middle-class black people another. While middle-class blacks may be able to successfully disabuse others of their negative presumptions, lower-class blacks may not. For instance, all blacks, particularly “ghetto-looking” young men, are at risk of enduring yet another “stop and frisk” from the police as well as suspicion from potential employers, shopkeepers, and strangers on the street. Members of the black middle class and black professionals can usually pass inspection and withstand such scrutiny; many poorer blacks cannot. And many blacks who have never stepped foot in a ghetto must repeatedly prove themselves as non-ghetto, often operating in a provisional status, in the workplace or, say, a fancy restaurant, until they can convince others—either by speaking “white” English or by demonstrating intelligence, poise, or manners—that they are to be trusted, that they are not “one of those” blacks from the ghetto, and that they deserve respect. In other words, a middle-class black man who is, for instance, waiting in line for an ATM at night will in many cases be treated with a level of suspicion that a middle-class white man simply does not experience.

But this pervasive cultural association—black skin equals the ghetto—does not come out of the blue. After all, as a result of historical, political, and economic factors, blacks have been confined in the ghetto. Today, with persistent housing discrimination and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, America’s ghettos face structural poverty. In addition, crime and homicide rates within those communities are high, young black men are typically the ones killing one another, and ghetto culture, made iconic by artists like Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, and the Notorious B.I.G., is inextricably intertwined with blackness.

As a result, in America’s collective imagination the ghetto is a dangerous, scary part of the city. It’s where rap comes from, where drugs are sold, where hoodlums rule, and where The Wire might have been filmed. Above all, to many white Americans the ghetto is where “the black people live,” and thus, as the misguided logic follows, all black people live in the ghetto. It’s that pervasive, if accidental, fallacy that’s at the root of the wider society’s perceptions of black people today. While it may be true that everyone who lives in a certain ghetto is black, it is patently untrue that everyone who is black lives in a ghetto. Regardless, black people of all classes, including those born and raised far from the inner cities and those who’ve never been in a ghetto, are by virtue of skin color alone stigmatized by the place.

I call this idea the “iconic ghetto,” and it has become a powerful source of stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination in our society, negatively defining the black person in public. In some ways, the iconic ghetto reflects the old version of racism that led to Till’s death. In Till’s day, a black person’s “place” was in the field, in the maid’s quarters, or in the back of the bus. If a black man was found “out of his place,” he could be punished, jailed, or lynched. In Martin’s day—in our day—a black person’s “place” is in the ghetto.

If he is found “out of his place,” like in a fancy hotel lobby, on a golf course, or, say, in an upscale community, he can be treated with suspicion, avoided, pulled over, frisked, arrested—or worse.

Emmett and Trayvon

Elijah Anderson is the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University. His latest book is “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.”