Dear “Reverend” Ken Adkins and other unnamed individuals of local Florida clergy, et. al.,
I recently read an article which stated that you and “other local pastors” have urged Marissa Alexander to accept the original plea bargain offered by state prosecutors instead of opting to stand trial in her hard-fought retrial on aggravated assault charges in Tampa, FL. As you know, Alexander was convicted after firing what she claims was a warning shot in self-defense at her domestically abusive husband in the presence of their children. As you also are undoubtedly aware, no one was harmed by the shot.
Where are my manners? Pardon me for failing to properly introduce myself.
We’ve actually never met, but it does appear we share common interests in the legal system. I admit that I am not overwhelmingly familiar with your prior work, and have not ever spoken with any of your parishioners. The modest research I have done on you has not uncovered much in the way of the remarkable. I do not say this to be rude, just giving you some background. I saw that you were quoted by local news outlets during the Michael Dunn trial for the slaying of Jordan Davis. On their face, your comments seemed to reflect an appropriate awareness of the racial dynamic in the justice system as well as the hope for justice that so many in the Black community held, even in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Again, on their face, your comments seemed appropriate. Yet, in hindsight I’m sensing a little shuck, jive, and what may be a tinge of Negro neurosis.
And now we are here. I'm not sure who or what prompted you to write your letter, as the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office has not even re-offered the original 3 year plea deal to Marissa Alexander. I’m not sure who the other unidentified clergy are that this article references who allegedly stand with you. I'm not sure what your other motivations might be to engage in this incensing act of forcing what may amount to injustice down Ms. Alexander's throat. What I am sure of, however, that neither you nor I were there in Marissa Alexander’s home when this happened, and that there are more than enough people of color who are railroaded by America's criminal justice system daily such that encouraging a single person more to "just take the plea" in the name of…whatever it is you are claiming, is ludicrous and short-sided (and, in your case, possibly self serving).
As a former prosecutor, I am speaking from experience when I say that there are cultural and institutional biases which often place “reasonable doubt” that much farther beyond the reach of defendants of color. Prosecutors are acutely aware of these biases, and will often use this unspoken reality to their advantage by forcing plea bargains even when the facts may not be the strongest. I wouldn’t expect you to know this because, well, you’re a pastor, not a lawyer.
It borders on the offensive to me that you would suggest Marissa Alexander's saga is a "distraction” to the Florida community. Really? Alexander is the distraction? Not Michael Dunn, not George Zimmerman, not Stand Your Ground? Not the issue of sensible gun laws, or adequate resources or protection for our young people in urban communities…not the state of Florida ITSELF with its myriad and well-document issues of criminal and social justice? It’s Marissa Alexander? Her trial is the problem?
Respectfully, sir, I must disagree.
Listen, I’m sure you’ve watched countless episodes of Law and Order, which means, of course, that you are basically kinda like almost an attorney. But you making suggestions to Marissa Alexander about what she should do in regards to a plea bargain is as irresponsible and ill-advised as me telling someone when they should give their life to Christ simply because I grew up in the church (shout out too Black folk, everywhere). FYI, even real lawyers don’t tell their (paying) clients what to do when considering plea bargains, so please keep the unsolicited opinions to yourself and let Alexander continue her fight for her truth the way that she sees fit. If your goal is to lobby the State Attorney’s Office for a lenient plea bargain, then do so without comment to Marissa Alexander about what you believe is “a very fair deal.” I have never experienced life in jail and could not fathom “settling” for three minutes behind bars—much less three years—for a crime that I had not committed. Marissa Alexander should not either. She has every right to reject any plea deal in the same way if she cannot allocate to any guilt with a clear conscence.
Reverend Adkins, we are all entitled to our opinions, however misguided they may be. I'm not sure when or how you and whatever other unidentified "local pastors" became the speaking authority on local legal matters with national implications…but I am sure of this:
You and your peoples should have a seat. Several, in fact.
Aint nobody got time for this. We are not here for you and your foolishness.
Good day, sir.
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a former Kings County (Brooklyn), NY prosecutor and presently functions as a federal trial attorney specializing in civil rights and employment discrimination. Follow him on Twitter @CFColemanJr.