Back in October 2013, 27-year-old single mother of two, Shaneen Allen, was pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike in Atlantic City for making an “unsafe lane change”. When the officer approached, Allen divulged that she was carrying a gun in her purse, the 38-caliber Bersa Thunder she legally purchased in Pennsylvania shortly after being robbed twice within a year.
Allen never thought her confession would land her in hot water. After all, the Pennsylvania gun permit is recognized in thirty states.
But unbeknownst to Allen, New Jersey was one of the 20 states that doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania’s permit, hence the moment her car crossed state lines, she’d committed a felony.
Allen was arrested on-the-spot, charged with illegal possession of a firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. Allen was denied admission into New Jersey’s pre-trial intervention program for first time offenders that precludes felony conviction and prison time. Superior court Judge Michael Donio refused to dismiss the weapons charge and prosecutor Jim McClain offered her a plea deal for three and a half years.
Allen declined, opting to stand trial where she would face 11 years if convicted.
Her life continued to unravel. She was fired from her job as a phlebotomist and eventually lost her home. Even worse, barring jury nullification, she stood to lose her two young kids.
In spite of growing opprobrium from lawmakers and activists on the left and the right, the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office didn’t flinch, insisting instead that Allen’s draconian punishment would serve as an example to would-be offenders.
And then on September 8th, everything changed. Video surfaced of NFL running back Ray Rice knocking his former fiance Janay Palmer unconscious before dragging her body with a level of care usually reserved for soiled dishrags.
The incident devolved into a PR nightmare for the NFL, and soon the cloud of suspicion looming over commissioner Robert Goodell spread to the Atlantic County as well where, as papers began to report, Rice had been accepted to the same pre-trial program that denied Allen months prior. That’s in spite of the fact that the program is typically reserved for non-violent, “victimless ” crimes.
The double standard was glaring, even to those who weren’t looking all that hard. The star athlete who knocked a woman unconscious deserved clemency. A working class mother-of-two who mistakenly carried her legally-purchased handgun over state lines did not.
That sends one hell of a message to Black women. When you forgive a man for assaulting a woman, but throw the book at a woman attempting to protect herself, its an endorsement of abuse.
But I digress.
Amid growing backlash from the Ray Rice scandal, Prosecutor Jim McClain announced that he would reconsider his position on the Shaneen Allen case. On Wednesday September 24th, less than a month before her scheduled trial, McClain announced his decision to admit Allen into the pre-trial program.
Alas, she was free to go and rebuild her life, at least what was left of it.
If not for the negative publicity emanating from Rice’s attack, Allan might still be an unkown woman headed to prison. (Though for the sake of humanity we hope that someone would have come to their senses.) This peculiar case can only be described with an oft-repeated quote from Martin Luther King which states, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
Janay Palmer and Shaneen Allan have never met and chances are that they never will, but I can’t help but think their lives are somehow connected on that moral arc.
Un momento mas: Good thing the universe is colorblind, because justice, left in the charge of people, is a complete crap-shoot.
Ayesha is a writer, dancer, and the founder of WomenLovePower.com, a tech-enabled brand that provides resources on charm, seduction, sacred sexuality, and feminine warfare. A self-confessed afromantic, Ayesha's first love is romantic fiction and poetry. When away from her keyboard, she enjoys New Jack Swing throwbacks, 90's sitcoms, running, sleep, and Cabernet.
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