February 25, 2022
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The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard University has filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Annette Stewart-Leitzsey’s request for a new trial.
The author noted that, in June 2020, shortly after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis Police officer, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a letter asking the state’s legal community to “recognize and confront the inequity and injustice that is the legacy of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, and challenge the untruths and unfair stereotypes about African-Americans that have been used to justify or rationalize their repression.”
“Ms. Stewart-Leitzsey’s case,” wrote Katharine Naples-Mitchell, a staff attorney at Harvard Law’s Hamilton Houston Institute, “offers an opportunity to reconsider how stereotypes about Black women have long led to both their victimization and criminalization — and how our law has long excused the behavior of men but failed to find remorse and empathy for Black women.”
The brief noted the long history of “white people using the threat of state violence against Black people to intimidate, harass, and cause harm,” and said that in the criminal justice system, Black women “experience intersecting systematized discrimination on the basis of both race and gender.”
“The experience of this specific racial epithet coupled with the threat of calling the police together provided reasonable provocation, warranting a manslaughter instruction,” it said.
What the letter referred to as the “heat of passion” defense “has likely long been denied to Black women in circumstances similar to Ms. Stewart-Leitzsey given pervasive stereotypes about Black women as being angry, incensed, irrational, or emotional — the ‘Angry Black Woman,’” it continued.
“Broadening the law to find mercy for and offer leniency to the victims of racist and sexist verbal attacks would be a step toward equity,” the letter concluded.