She says her estranged husband was charging at her. Now she’s in jail.
A black woman in Selma, Alabama, says she shot and killed her abusive husband because he charged at her and she feared for her life.
Now she’s facing a murder charge — despite living in a state with a “stand your ground” law in place, and despite a history of domestic violence, including a 2016 order of protection filed against her husband because he punched her in the face repeatedly.
The case raises questions about Second Amendment rights, particularly when it’s women — specifically women of color — who are exercising them. Just a few months ago, another case drew national attention when a black woman defended herself with a registered (and unloaded) gun but ended up in jail for it anyway.
“Stand your ground” laws became a flashpoint in the national debate about race and criminal justice in 2012 when George Zimmerman was set free after shooting teenager Trayvon Martin, who was black, because Zimmerman purportedly believed his life was at risk. He argued that Florida’s “stand your ground” law gave him the right to shoot the teen. At the time, critics of “stand your ground” laws responded by saying that the laws imperil the lives of people of color, like Martin, by giving anyone a defense to claim.
Now, “stand your ground” laws are starting a debate around a new racial dimension: Courts have ruled again and again that men are entitled to stand their ground, but when it’s a woman, particularly a black woman, it’s a very different story.
The facts of the case
Here’s what we know so far. On the morning of July 31, Jacqueline Dixon shot her estranged husband, Carl Omar Dixon, in the front yard of her home. According to Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson, the shooting took place after Carl Omar Dixon had reportedly found what he believed to be evidence of his estranged wife’s infidelity. He then allegedly charged at her aggressively, and Jacqueline Dixon shot him with a small-caliber handgun. (It’s not yet clear to whom the gun belonged — in Alabama, there’s no state-level requirement to either register handguns or apply for a gun license permit to purchase or own one.)
There was a history of domestic violence in the Dixon household — in 2016, Jacqueline requested an order of protection against Carl Omar, which was granted by a judge. She also received full custody of the couple’s two children. According to court records, Jacqueline requested the order after Carl Omar punched her in the face multiple times and swore at her repeatedly.
But Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier told the Alabama news site Al.com that Jacqueline didn’t consistently seek enforcement of the order of protection, adding, “The order is simply a piece of paper if the complainant does not seek its enforcement. Regardless, it is a sad case and Selma PD joins the community in praying for both families.”
Alabama does have a “stand your ground” law in place, but …
Since 2006, Alabama has had a “stand your ground” law in place. Under state law, while a person can’t use deadly force if he himself is the aggressor, he no longer has to a “duty to retreat” if the other person is:
- About to use unlawful deadly physical force
- A burglar about to use physical force
- Engaged in kidnapping, assault, robbery, or rape
- Unlawfully and forcefully entering a home or car, or attempting to remove a person against their will
- Breaking into a nuclear power plant
But though Jacqueline Dixon has claimed she shot her estranged husband as he was preparing to attack her, she has been charged with murder and is being held on a $100,000 bond in advance of a grand jury’s review. In a statement to the criminal justice-centered news outlet the Appeal, Dixon’s attorney Richard Rice said, “At the time of the shooting, she did feel like her life was in danger. In that type of situation, she should have a right to defend herself and defend her family.” I reached out to Rice but have yet to hear back.
Historically, “stand your ground” laws have not always protected victims of domestic violence — and have certainly not served black women who use a gun in self-defense.
As I wrote on a case involving another black woman invoking “stand your ground” earlier this year:
The Urban Institute found that in “stand your ground” states, when white shooters kill black people, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3 percent of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white. Even when black shooters kill black people, those shootings are less likely to be deemed justifiable in a court of law than those involving white shooters who kill white people.
And even when “stand your ground” is allowed as a defense in court, the complex nature of relationships where domestic violence takes place can mitigate it.
Take the case of Pamela Smith, a Kentucky woman who shot and killed her estranged husband in 2016 when he entered her home, in violation of a protective order. Though Kentucky has “stand your ground” laws in place, Smith was indicted on manslaughter charges and eventually found guilty of reckless homicide and sentenced to two years in prison. According to the Trace:
In prosecuting arguments, the attorney arguing against Smith’s claim of self defense said “she was still seeing this young man in spite of the fact that there was a protective order” and, on the night of the fatal shooting, “she had actually let him into the house.” It would appear that Smith’s continued relationship with her abuser, a common occurrence in domestic violence situations, disqualified her from the right to stand her ground.
Jacqueline Dixon is currently sitting in jail, awaiting a Dallas County grand jury’s review of the facts of her case. If she is indicted on murder charges, “stand your ground” legislation — and whether laws intended to protect people who use guns in self-defense really do apply to everyone — will be tested.
Author: Jane Coaston