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Surviving Violence Is Not a Crime: Justice for Cierra Finkley

Cierra Finkley and her 5-year-old daughter. (Photo courtesy of YGB)

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Twenty-four-year-old Cierra Finkley was arrested August 18, in Madison, Wisconsin, because she stabbed her ex-boyfriend and attacker, 31-year-old Terrence Woods, after he attempted to run over Finkley and her 5-year-old daughter with his car and later kicked down the door to her apartment to further brutalize them.

Finkley defended herself and her daughter, and Woods later died from his injuries. The Dane County District Attorney’s office wanted Finkley held on $100,000 bail. However, after sustained advocacy efforts in Wisconsin and beyond, Finkley was released on a signature bond with GPS monitoring on Friday, after being locked in the Dane County Jail for three days.

The district attorney’s office suggested that it will pursue first-degree reckless homicide charges against Finkley, which come with a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison. The announcement of the charges will be made formally at her hearing on Thursday, August 27.

The Young Gifted and Black Coalition fights state violence against Black folks and for Black self-determination in Madison, Wisconsin. Upon learning about what happened, we immediately rallied to demand justice for Finkley. We connected with her family, helped them obtain legal representation and organized a group of people to join them at Finkley’s initial hearing. There is no doubt that the power of the people and the watchful eyes of the media influenced the judge’s decision to deny the prosecutor’s $100,000 bail request.

Supporting Cierra Finkley is important to us because we recognize that state and intimate violence against Black women are entwined struggles in our movement for Black liberation. And further, as the Chicago-based Love and Protect said in its solidarity statement last weekend, “Cierra is one of many Black women who have been criminalized for protecting themselves and their children from life-threatening violence.”

The devaluation of Black women’s lives extends from slavery to the present day in this country. Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than white women. Homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner is among the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15-35 in the United States. Black women are also the targets of state violence as they are disproportionately represented in jails and prisons, and transgender women of color are killed at an incredibly high rate compared to their percentage of the population.

The relationship between state violence and intimate violence is complicated but tightly connected. Often in domestic violence situations when Black people are involved, a victim is arrested right alongside a perpetrator. In addition to being automatically criminalized, Black victims are often not believed or viewed as worthy of police protection.

Finkley called the police three times on the day she finally took justice into her own hands to protect herself and her daughter. Police responded after the first call by suggesting she should leave her own home for safety. After Finkley defended herself, however, police responded promptly, arresting her and tentatively charging her with first-degree reckless homicide.

This is not the first time a Black woman was labeled a criminal instead of a victim. Marissa Alexander of Florida faced the same criminalization after defending her and her children’s right to live.

The connections between Cierra Finkley’s situation and that of Marissa Alexander are stark: Both had court orders against their abusers, both had long been victims of violence and both acted in self-defense. Yet neither was protected by “stand your ground” laws, and neither was perceived by authorities as an actual victim. Both however, were further victimized by an abusive system. Alexander faced, and Finkley may face, 60 years in prison.

We hope that our efforts will lead to a different outcome for Cierra Finkley than Marissa Alexander, who spent three years behind bars. Surviving violence is not a crime.

Please support our efforts by signing our petition and asking the DA to refuse to press charges, to keep the state’s hands off Cierra Finkley, and to show that Black women’s lives matter too. #Justice4Cierra

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