A Detroit, Michigan, woman who was poised to spend two years in prison for brandishing a weapon to defend her then-pregnant self and her family has had the convictions overturned.
Siwatu-salama Ra, 28, was found guilty of felony assault and “felony firearm” in February 2018 after an incident at her mother Rhonda Anderson’s home in July 2017. At the time, an altercation occurred at the residence stemming from a prior fight between Ra’s niece and her teenage acquaintance, A’Kayla Smith. Smith arrived at Ra’s mother’s house and a dispute reportedly ensued between Ra and the friend’s mother, Channell Harvey, after Smith was told she was unwelcome at the home. Harvey had arrived to pick up her daughter.
“She had come to our house upset, very upset, very angry,” Ra, an environmental and racial justice advocate, said in a video obtained by Democracy Now! “She started yelling at me, screaming at me, cursing at me. In the midst of this, I’m asking this woman to leave, right? I’m asking her to leave, just go, you know, and she wouldn’t. And so the next thing that she did was ram her car into my car. Plus, my baby was in the car. She was in the car playing. That shocked fear in me, and I jumped and got my baby out of the car. So, she’s literally going back and forth with this car, putting it in reverse and fixing herself to come at us again and go after my mom. My mother, who was also standing very close to me, wasn’t able to run.”
The incident led Ra to defend her mother, herself and her 2-year-old daughter, Zala, by grabbing her registered handgun from her vehicle’s glove compartment.
“That’s when I made the decision to reach for my firearm, that was unloaded, with no bullets. I was afraid. And I told her, ‘You have to leave now,’” she said.
Doing so defused the conflict.
But Harvey reportedly snapped three photos of Ra holding the gun and headed to the police. Ultimately, Ra was imprisoned.
The Michigan Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously overturned the convictions against Ra. It said in the August 20 ruling that “the trial court’s failure to give the jury instruction regarding the use of non-deadly force in self-defense was erroneous.”
Court documents also stated it is “more probable than not that the lack of proper instruction affected the outcome of the case.”
Now, the case for Ra, who the Detroit Free Press reported gave birth to her son, Zakai, at the Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility, has to be appealed by the prosecutors in the Michigan Supreme Court. Alternatively, they’ll have to choose to pursue a second trial or dismiss charges altogether.
“The Michigan Court of Appeals again showed itself to be the thoughtful, deliberative judiciary that citizens can rely upon to carry out justice,” said Ra’s attorney Wade Fink in a press release. “This is a huge victory for justice. Siwatu acted in self-defense and we hope the case is completely dismissed. But if this case is brought again, we intend to prove it – this time in a fair trial where Siwatu is permitted to present a defense.”