We want justice for Cierra Finkley

August 24, 2015

In a case compared to Marissa Alexander's, Cierra Finkley is facing prosecution for defending herself, write Liam Manjon, Gretchen Sager and Alex Buckingham.

CIERRA FINKLEY, a 25-year-old women of color, was arrested on August 18 after defending herself and her 5-year-old daughter from a boyfriend she describes as abusive. Earlier that day, he allegedly assaulted Cierra, attempted to hit her and her daughter with his car and broke down her door in an attack.

Protecting herself and her daughter, Cierra says that she stabbed him in self-defense. He died at the hospital. The state is now pursuing charges of first-degree reckless homicide against Cierra.

Her case is reminiscent of Marissa Alexander's--the African American woman in Florida who was prosecuted and initially sentenced to 20 years in prison after shooting a warning shot in the air at her abusive partner, despite the state's "stand your ground" laws.

Madison activists are standing against the racist double standard now impacting Cierra Finkley. The Young Gifted and Black (YGB) Coalition responded in Cierra's defense by calling for a rally at a bail hearing on August 20. A multiracial crowd of 50 gathered at the Dane County Jail.

Demanding justice for Cierra Finkley
Demanding justice for Cierra Finkley

Alix Shabazz, the rally emcee and a YGB member, said of Cierra: "She was defending her right to life." Shabazz argued that George Zimmerman, after stalking and killing Trayvon Martin, was portrayed as a victim defending himself. When a Black women defends her home, her daughter and her life from an attacker, however, she is thrown into prison. Shabazz continued, "They want to tell us Black women's lives don't matter...We are not criminals for defending ourselves."

Cierra's mother, Carla Finkley, spoke at the rally. "Cierra should not be there for trying to defend her daughter," she said, adding that domestic violence "is serious, affecting all people, all genders, all colors." She talked about Cierra's previous work traveling to teach teenage mothers about HIV, while at the same time balancing motherhood and school.

Speaker Kabzuag Vaj, a domestic violence advocate with Freedom Inc., told the crowd: "Black women are routinely criminalized for defending themselves from domestic violence, like Marissa Alexander in Florida. We stand with Young Gifted and Black to call for justice for Cierra."

AFTER THE rally, the crowd moved to the courtroom, where the prosecution proceeded to assassinate Cierra's character. The group was told no signs would be allowed in the court, though activists reported that previous demonstrations at the court were allowed to bring signs.

The state claimed that Cierra was financially dependent on her abuser and dragged out her criminal history to paint her as a villain. Prosecutors asked for a $100,000 bail and for Cierra have no contact with her daughter.

But activists say the actual events tell a clear story, one that exonerates Cierra. Her abusive partner had been on probation since last year for attacking Cierra. The police were called to their home on August 18, but reportedly did not respond. Instead, according to reports, they suggested Cierra not go home.

The clear-cut case of self-defense, the strength of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the local coordination and turnout of activists led to Cierra's release with a signature bond and a GPS bracelet. Celebration filled the courtroom as supporters hugged each other. It was a small victory for the Black community in Madison, after the demoralization following the decision of prosecutors not to indict Officer Matt Kinney for the murder of Tony Robinson Jr. in March of this year.

As organizers pointed out, this was one victory--with more needed. Activists are planning to raise funds for Cierra's defense to mobilize for her court date on August 27 in order to build our movement and win justice for Cierra.

Kiah Price contributed to this article.

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