Hayes and 'All In' Panel Hype Racism While Ignoring Evidence to the Contrary

July 17th, 2013 4:40 PM

On the Monday night edition of All In, Chris Hayes featured a segment decrying what he considered a racially-motivated overzealous prosecution of Marissa Alexander, an African-American Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot in the vicinity of her estranged husband, with whom she was having a dispute. [Link to the audio here]

Hayes hosted a panel which included Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) to discuss the story, and its implications when compared against the outcome of the Zimmerman case. Rep. Brown passionately exclaimed that this case showed “institutional racism” in the justice system. Hayes and the panel agreed with Brown about her opinion that Alexander had been overcharged for her crime and called into question the legitimacy of “mandatory minimum” laws, which require a preset minimum sentence if convicted of certain crimes. But according to an Associated Press report, the story is a lot more complex than that. 

Alexander had gone to her former home, where her husband, who she had a restraining order against, was staying, to retrieve some clothes in August of 2010. She only went because she thought he was not there; however, upon finding him at the home with his two sons, the two got into a heated argument.

According to Alexander’s defense at one point during the dispute, she felt threatened and went out to her car to retrieve a firearm and return. Alexander claimed that she then fired a warning shot at the wall, but Gray claimed that she pointed the gun at him, closed her eyes, and simply missed him. Although no one was injured in the confrontation, the two disagree as to who was the initial aggressor.

State's Attorney Angela Corey -- who also headed the prosecution against George Zimmerman -- charged Alexander with aggravated assault with a firearm but offered her a plea deal that included only three years of jail time. However, when Alexander, who was subsequently charged with domestic battery on Gray in a separate case, decided to go to court under the “Stand Your Ground” law, she was convicted when the judge decided that her leaving the scene and then returning with the gun proved that she could have simply left the situation and did not fear for her life.

Despite cries from Alexander’s family for leniency, given it was her first offense, the judge was not able to comply because of Florida’s mandatory-minimum law for gun-related crimes, which requires a 20-year sentence if one fires a gun during the commission of felony.

Due to the fact that Alexander is a black woman, critics think that she should have never been charged and said the decision, which they claim was too severe a sentence for the crime she committed, especially considering no one was injured, showed that “if you are black, the system will treat you differently.”

Unfortunately, in a clear example of how Hayes and MSNBC push their opinions about racism despite the evidence, no one on the panel brought up an extremely similar case in which a white man from Davenport, Florida, was prosecuted of the very same charges.

Mentioned in the AP story but originally reported by The Lakeland Ledger, 53-year old Orville Lee Wollard was charged in 2009 with aggravated assault with a firearm after he fired a warning shot to scare off his daughter’s boyfriend, who he claimed was acting threateningly toward his daughter and had even punched a hole in the wall. Again, no one was injured in the incident, but, after rejecting a plea deal, Wollard was sentenced and is currently four years into serving his own 20-year sentence.

Regardless of how one feel about the merits of Florida’s “stand your ground” and mandatory-minimum laws, it is clearly evident that race does not seem to play a role in the Florida justice system’s prosecution of these laws. Once convicted, there is only so much latitude a judge has in gun-related offenses, which is why you have hefty 20-year sentences in these cases. Hayes’ inability or refusal to mention both these cases, which were even mentioned in the same report, clearly illustrates his commitment to advancing liberal memes rather than give his audience a better command of the facts of the underlying cases.

For reference, the transcript is provided below:


All In with Chris Hayes


8:46 p.m.

HAYES: Here's another case that Angela Corey prosecuted, albeit far more successfully. In 2010, Corey’s office charged Marissa Alexander, a 31 year old black woman and mother of three, with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after she fired a bullet at a wall in 2010, what she described as a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband during an altercation. Two children were in the house, but no one was hurt. Alexander argued she fired the weapon in self-defense against her estranged husband who's twice been arrested for domestic battery. She tried to invoke Florida’s now famous Stand Your Ground law, but state’s attorney Angela Corey argued the Stand Your Ground gun law did not apply because Alexander acted in anger. The judge agreed saying that by returning to the house after she had gone to the garage and come back with the gun, she showed he was not in fear of her life. In May of 2010, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That 20-year sentence is required under Florida’s mandatory minimum gun law. After Alexander's family urged leniency in the sentencing, Judge James Daniel described the issue as “out of my hands”, saying “the legislature has not given me the discretion to do what the family and many others have asked me to do.” Congresswoman Corrine Brown represents Jacksonville where Marissa Alexander is from. Here's how she reacted to the outcome of the case.

BROWN: This is the beginning, not the end. 


BROWN: This is the beginning. Clearly there is institutional racism. There is no way. She overcharged by the prosecutor. Period. Overcharged. She never should have been charged. 

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She sure shouldn't have. 

BROWN: And how in Jacksonville you shoot in the air and no one gets hurt, and you get 20 years. 

HAYES: Marissa Alexander's jury was out just 12 minutes before they convicted her. And it’s hard in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict not to put these two cases up for comparison and come to some pretty awful conclusions about the state of justice in Florida. Joining me now at the table, Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history, Director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Barry Scheck, civil rights attorney, co-founder and co-director of the innocence project. And joining me from Jacksonville is Congresswoman Corrine Brown, democrat from Florida. Congresswoman, I'll begin with you and ask you why you've paid such careful attention to this case. What about this case has captured your imagination and precipitated your advocacy? 

BROWN: First of all, let me just tell you that Sanford, Florida, is also in my district, and my heart is just so heavy for the Martin family. You need to know that, and I contacted the justice department as soon as this incident happened along with the Congressional Black Caucus and asked them to investigate. Now, the case in Jacksonville, Melissa Alexander has a master's degree, never had any trouble with the law. And the case shows that she was abused, beaten, put in the hospital pregnant with a baby of this, her husband at the time. She shot a warning shot. She was overcharged and got 20 years. The week before, someone convicted of murder got 15 years. Let me just say that the criminal justice system is not working for the people that I represent. It's not working for not just blacks, but poor people. Something needs to happen, and you can’t not just expect the president or congressperson, but you've got to arm yourself, you've got to be registered. You've got to vote that ballot. You've got to vote for the attorney general, the judges. I mean, everybody got to do their part because this is unacceptable. 

HAYES: Barry, let me ask you about mandatory minimums. That's a huge part of this case and, it seems like this is one of those cases, you see them occasionally, where judges will just say essentially without saying it; this is ridiculous; this is a ridiculous sentence; I wish I didn’t have to. Mandatory minimums have been a huge trend in American criminal justice and do lead to a lot of unjust outcomes. 

BARRY SCHECK: That's the number one reason that we’ve had this skyrocketing increase in incarceration, overcriminalization. It's destroying our misdemeanor courts; it’s destroying our felony courts. The disproportionate number of people in prison in this country, particularly by race, is unimaginable. That should be one great thing that comes out of this Trayvon Martin case that you know Congressman Jeffries is actually having an overcriminalization hearing in the House. And they had five Republicans and five Democrats appointed to this commission. You have the right on crime people, Mark Levin and others, are taking seriously this whole issue of overcriminalization. So the first thing, as the congresswoman said, is that the judge had no choice, but this case was overcharged. And I want to say, I wonder if the congresswoman agrees that Angela Corey’s predecessor, Harry Shorestein would have never, ever charged this case. 

BROWN: Never. Never. Never. Never. He never would have charged her like this. Never. 

HAYES: And Congresswoman 

BROWN: And you're talking about someone who had no priors, a person who had a master's degree, had a job. And it was an incident. 

HAYES: Right. 

BROWN: One incident. And the week before a person got convicted of murder and got 15 years, and the next week she got sentenced to 20 years. And I want you to know when I to talk to my colleagues, and I've talked to different groups and organizations around the country, its hard for them to believe that a person could actually get 20 years for firing a warning shot and no one got hurt, but yet, in Sanford, you kill a youth and, yet, you're not guilty. I'm not comparing it, but it's something wrong with the system, and we need to double down and change the law.  That's the state legislators. We need judges to give them more discretion. 

HAYES: Yep. 

BROWN: I mean, we need to -- we need to deal with the criminal justice system. And let me just say one thing, as a mother, we tell our children, do not talk to strangers

HAYES: Right. 

BROWN: And we work with them to talk with the police force, but George Zimmerman was not a police officer. He had no business saying anything to that young man, none whatsoever.

HAYES: I think everyone agrees they wish that that he had stayed in the car that night. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.