Who gets to claim “self-defense?”

Author David Garlock (pictured on the right) served thirteen and a half years in an Alabama state prison after taking the life of his abuser in self-defense. He reflects on the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse and its drastic difference from his experience as a survivor of abuse.

He was seventeen years old

He left his own state and city to go “protect” property during a protest

He received a gun he couldn’t legally own

So he could walk the streets

And put fear in those who were involved

In the protests around the killing of Jacob Blake

In a matter of moments he had taken two lives

And severely wounded another

He was able to walk away from the encounter 

That night as police just waved

Outpouring of money and support came in

He was called a National Hero

For killing two people

And attempting to kill a third

A two million dollar bond was paid for

By those who supported his GoFundMe

A trial took place and he was found not guilty

I was nineteen years old

My brother and I had been sexually abused for years

Our abuser had tried to kill us numerous times

We made an irrational decision to take our abusers life

After four months I was arrested

I was given a $50,000 bond

Which I could not make since I didn’t have family members who would help out

I had to have a court appointed lawyer defend me

(If “lawyer” is what you would call it)

This lawyer only wanted to get a plea deal

We settled and received a twenty-five year sentence

The system did not look at us as victims

But just as people who took a life

Which is self-defense?

He sought out this divisive situation

Where my brother and I were trying to escape

Why did he get a free pass

Where we had to spend years in prison?

It’s not just race—he and I are both white

Political violence was congratulated and accepted

Where an act to escape abuse was frowned upon

Our system needs to do better for true victims

Who have escaped an abusive situation

Author’s statement: The criminal legal system does not provide justice to anyone involved in it. Individuals who fight back after they have been sexually abused or trafficked and individuals who have been victims of domestic violence are still in prison today. The system only looks at them as offenders. In PA, numerous women and men have received Death By Incarceration (Life Without Parole) sentences for escaping their abuser. Self-defense laws should protect those who are escaping abuse, yet these individuals are demonized for committing a heinous offense. The years of abuse and trauma mean nothing to a system that cannot allow mitigating circumstances to give a lesser charge or sentence. A one-size fits all legal system does not work and punishes those who have been abused for years.

David Garlock served over a decade in prison for taking the life of his abuser. Kyle Rittenhouse will serve zero years.

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