Activist state

Pregnant black activist serves 4 years over protest comments


Brittany Martin, second from left, wearing striped clothing, confronts police in front of protesters in support of the George Floyd march with an escort around downtown Sumter, SC, May 31, 2020. Martin, a A pregnant black activist serving four years in prison for her behavior during racial justice protests, her sentence is set to be reviewed as she strives to meet her due date behind bars. (Micah Green/The Subject via AP)


A pregnant black activist serving four years in prison for her behavior during racial justice protests will have her sentence reconsidered as she struggles to reach her due date behind bars.

Raising questions about free speech and equal justice, Brittany Martin, 34, was found guilty this spring of gross and aggravated breach of the peace following comments she made to the police. Her lawyers have been pushing for a lesser sentence amid growing concerns over her health and that of her baby, due in November.

Black Voters Matter advocates circulated a petition calling for his release. Civil rights attorney and former state legislator Bakari Sellers will tell the judge on September 12 that the sentence is unjust.

“She’s in jail because she spoke in America,” said Sybil Dione Rosado, her lawyer. “She’s a dark-skinned black woman who is decidedly black and radical.”

Martin moved with her four young children to Sumter, South Carolina, from Iowa in the spring of 2020 and was “ready to go protest” after the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked a national protest this that year, his sister said.

But Martin also had someone else in mind: In 2016, Sumter police killed his brother-in-law 19 times when officers said he had fired a gun after a car chase stolen. When she took to the streets, she carried grief over her family’s past.

In court, prosecutors presented footage from police body cameras, including clips from those protests. Shared with the AP, they do not show her getting hold of officers. Videos from May 31, 2020 show Martin chanting “No justice, no peace” in the face of an officer. Police donned riot gear and discussed the use of tear gas before allowing the crowd to disperse.

Martin used stronger language a few days later.

“Some of us are going to suffer. And some of you are all going to suffer,” Martin told the officers. “We’re ready to die for this. We’re sick of it. the blue I’m ready to die for the Black.

The jury acquitted Martin of inciting a riot and returned no verdict on whether it threatened the lives of the officers. Her legal team was “thrilled” when jurors found her guilty only of breach of peace, which carries a maximum fine of $500 and 30 days in jail, investigator Tony Kennedy recalled.

State law defines peacebreakers as any disruptive, “dangerous and disorderly person” or anyone who utters “threats or threatening speech.” But prosecutors framed the charge as a “high and aggravated” felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Rosado said Judge Kirk Griffin did not allow him to explain the distinction and the possibility of a much harsher sentence to the jury.

Prosecutors did not respond to interview requests. Sumter Police said it would be inappropriate to comment, given the potential for further action.

Sellers called the phrase “beyond pale”.

“The fact is, you have people who have stormed the Capitol, who have led to the death of law enforcement, who have tried to overturn an election and fracture democracy. And they get two months, three months, six months,” Sellers said. “And Brittany Martin gets four years.”

Of the approximately 850 people charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 uprising, more than 330 have pleaded guilty to receive lesser sentences, mostly offenses punishable by more than a year.

In a court filing, Sellers points to other people convicted of the same charge who had their sentences reduced. A more high-profile case involved an intoxicated University of Alabama football fan who knocked out a University of South Carolina fan after the Gamecocks upset the Crimson Tide. The man was pronounced dead after a motorist unknowingly drove over his body. The fan was sentenced to three years in prison, the remainder of his 10-year suspended sentence.

Martin said her body “couldn’t feel comfortable with the baby” and that in July she had lost 12 pounds while incarcerated, despite being pregnant. She was taken to hospital by ambulance twice that month, once after going into labor and another after going into premature labor at 25 weeks, according to her sister Whitney Martin and Rosado. Martin’s prison report shows she attended eight outside medical appointments in July and August.

Martin was recently sent to solitary for refusing to cut her dreads, a violation of a policy Rosado called “racial biased.” According to the grooming policy, which aims to “promote safety”, the prison only allows neatly braided hair and corn rows when worn straight and individual braids, but not dreadlocks or twists.

Martin said she was verbally harassed by guards and injured by inmates. Rosado reported seeing scratches on Martin’s face and a bloody right eye during a recent visit. Martin’s jail report shows she was sent to detention for 35 days on June 5 for threatening to harm an employee and again for 22 days on July 28 for refusing or failing to obey orders .

National Racial Justice Network President Dr. Candace Brewer wants to make sure Martin “doesn’t end up where Sandra Bland” did, referring to the black Chicago woman who died in a Texas jail after a soldier said she did not signal a lane change.

Much has changed in the two years since the protests.

In November 2020, Martin received 7 years of probation for willfully injuring and leaving a crime scene in Iowa, where in August 2019 her teenage son accused her of deliberately hitting him with her SUV and to escape. Iowa court documents allege Martin told her son – who was hospitalized with minor injuries – that she hoped he died. Rosado said the South Carolina judge – who did not respond to an interview request – did not mention the Iowa conviction in his sentencing decision.

In 2021, Martin co-founded Mixed Sistaz United, a grassroots group that served meals to the homeless, ran voter registration drives, and held a June 19 celebration.

Last January, Martin’s 18-year-old son was shot and killed in his car outside a convenience store in Waterloo, Iowa – a loss Martin and his family still mourn.

Martin’s sister takes care of the younger children, whom she says “miss their mother”. The 5-year-old doesn’t look happy on the phone, Martin said.

“There were times in this prison where I started giving up for a second, mentally and emotionally,” Martin said. “It looked like the Holy Spirit just put that spoon in my mouth, like, ‘Come on, you gotta eat. You have to get up.

“I had to think about my babies. I had to think about my love for them, that’s why I’m even in this situation,” she said.


This story was originally published September 5, 2022 8:12 a.m.