Photo above by Ariel Robbins. Tracy McCarter and her daughter, Ariel Robbins (left).
Continuing a four part series on the case of criminalized survivor of domestic violence, Tracy McCarter, and the grassroots defense campaign to free her, Jessica Washington examines how the campaign was key to enabling Tracy’s freedom. Read the full story at The Root. Excerpt below.
In November, by the time District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced his decision to end his prosecution, outrage over Tracy’s case had reached a fever pitch.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers—including prominent doctors, nurses, domestic violence survivors, respected domestic violence organizations, and celebrities—had thrown their support behind the #StandWithTracy movement.
How Did the World Learn About Tracy McCarter?
Initially, there was no in-depth coverage of Tracy’s case outside of vague references to a stabbing on the Upper West Side in the New York Post back in March 2020. According to Siobhan Dingwall, a communications specialist and volunteer with the advocacy group Survived and Punished (which pushed for Bragg to drop Tracy’s charges), that’s typical of a case like Tracy’s—especially when they involve Black women.
“Sharing Tracy’s story in a way that centered her and her family, and made connections to the stories of other criminalized survivors, was critical early on,” says Dingwall.
Because this occurred at the start of the pandemic, it was hard to host the kind of rallies that would become more commonplace later on in the effort to free Tracy. Social media, op-ed, and letter-writing campaigns featured heavily in the group’s early efforts, and one of those social media posts caught the attention of then-Gothamist reporter Victoria Law.
“I do cover criminalized survivors quite a bit, but usually I don’t cover them until after they’ve gone through trial and then imprisoned,” says Law. “Because most of the time their lawyers don’t want them talking to media.”
Tracy was still incarcerated at Rikers, so Law did the only thing she could: she wrote her a letter.
“I said, ‘Ms. McCarter, my name is Victoria Law. I write about these things… here’s my phone number. Feel free to get in touch,’” says Law. “I assumed I was just shouting into the void.”
But to her surprise, Tracy responded.
It started with phone calls once a month. They never discussed what happened the night Tracy was arrested; they mostly just chatted about the notoriously horrendous conditions at Rikers and how Tracy was holding-up. At this point, Law still wasn’t sure if she’d be able to write about Tracy’s story. Tracy’s lawyers were wary of these phone calls and hadn’t agreed to anything on the record. As time went on, Tracy stopped calling entirely. But while sitting on the beach at Coney Island the Friday before Labor Day, enjoying a beach read, Law got a call she wasn’t expecting.
“Survived and Punished reached out and said, ‘Will you cover this? Her grand jury hearing is next week,’” Law says. “And so I typed out a pitch to my editor on my phone sitting on the beach… and so that’s how I ended up writing the first [detailed] story about Tracy.”