Art above by Jared Rodriguez for Truthout
Just in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Tracy McCarter published the striking essay, “As a Black Woman Accused of Killing a White Man, I Was Never Innocent Until Proven Guilty” about defending her life from her abuser, being criminalized for self-defense, and her work with the powerful grassroots campaign that helped secure her freedom. This essay was awarded the Keeley Schenwar Memorial Essay Prize by the Truthout Center for Grassroots Journalism. Excerpt below:
One of the hollowest principles within the criminal legal system is the presumption of innocence until court-proven guilt. I know this firsthand. When my white husband died, I — a Black woman — was accused of his murder. The mere fact of my arrest on a second-degree murder charge set off a tsunami of consequences. Being arrested equated to being punished; “innocence” was never part of the calculation. All of society’s systems, it seems, were activated against me.
The night of March 2, 2020, my drunken husband came to my home, choked me and tried to take my purse. I screamed for help. No one came. I grabbed a knife to try to scare him away. It did not work. Deciding it was safer to give him the money he was demanding, I put the knife away to look for my wallet. When I was unable to find it, he became more enraged. He launched himself at me again.
As a nurse, I knew better than many the danger I faced when he put me in chokeholds, simultaneously compressing both my carotid arteries. I knew each time he did this, he could easily choke me to death. To defend myself, I grabbed another knife. He stumbled coming at me, impaling himself on the blade.
I called 911. I was desperate to save him. The wound proved too grievous. He died.
When the ambulance arrived, so did the police. I was arrested within minutes.
Denied bail, I was taken to Rikers Island, one of the country’s most notorious jails. Most people there are incarcerated pre-trial, meaning they have not been found guilty by a court of law. Yet the correctional officers immediately started calling me “inmate,” refusing to use the term “detainee,” as mandated by the New York City Board of Corrections.
I would soon become better known by my book and case number than my name. My very identity was an early casualty.
Read the whole essay here.