A District Attorney Campaigned on Freeing a Domestic Violence Victim. He’s Now Prosecuting Her.
Tracy McCarter's ex-husband allegedly demanded money from her and became violent, forcing McCarter to defend herself with a knife. She was charged with murder.JusticePolitics
In March 2020, Tracy McCarter, a Black woman who had been physically abused by her estranged white husband, Jim Murray, came home to find him at her door. Murray had struggled with alcoholism for years, and a 2019 video shows him physically assaulting her. When McCarter let Murray into her home that night to help him, he demanded money from her and became violent, forcing McCarter to defend herself with a knife. He eventually died from a stab wound in the chest that night, and McCarter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
At the height of the pandemic, she spent six months on Rikers Island before a grand jury hearing for her case indicted her on the second-degree murder charge. Prosecutors notably declined to present evidence of Murray’s violence toward McCarter, past police reports detailing his violent behavior, witness testimony that McCarter had administered CPR on him and screamed for help, or testimony that he’d gone on a drunken bender throughout her building. The then-Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, permitted McCarter to be released on electronic monitoring—still barring her from “continuing her work as a healthcare professional, completing her advanced degree at Columbia University, seeking the treatment she needs to recover, or visiting her family, including her first grandchild,” who was born while she was incarcerated, a Color of Change petition for McCarter notes.
In September 2020, current Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg—then the chief deputy attorney general of New York who was running for his current office—responded to McCarter’s indictment by tweeting out his support for her. “I #StandWithTracy,” he wrote, sharing a link to her story. “Prosecuting a domestic violence survivor who acted in self-defense is unjust.”
Two years later, Bragg, who won his election last November, is now prosecuting McCarter, and her trial is set to begin on Nov. 28. Thousands of her supporters have since called for Bragg to drop the charges against McCarter, citing Bragg’s previous support for her on the campaign trail. They delivered a petition with 21,000 supporters to Bragg’s office this week and hosted a rally for her on Monday.
Bragg—who once called McCarter “a domestic violence survivor who acted in self-defense” and the charges against her “unjust”—has the power to drop charges against McCarter, her supporters say. And to their point, it wouldn’t be unprecedented: Bragg dropped charges against a bodega worker who stabbed a violent customer in self-defense, back in July.
Bragg previously proposed a plea deal in which McCarter would enter an Alford plea (not requiring an admission of guilt) for second-degree manslaughter and menacing. Per the proposed deal, if she’s not arrested for separate crimes in the next year, the manslaughter conviction would be vacated, leaving her only with a misdemeanor “menacing” charge. In August, Bragg also submitted a motion to reduce the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter. The judge overseeing McCarter’s case has stated she’ll neither accept the Alford plea from McCarter nor accept Bragg’s motion to reduce the charges.
In a statement to Jezebel, Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Bragg’s office, said the “dignity and wellbeing of survivors is at the center of the Office’s work, and the Special Victims Division leadership supervising this case has deep experience in survivor-centered and trauma-informed practice.” But “because this case is open and pending,” Bragg’s office declined to comment further on the specifics of McCarter’s case and the decision to not drop charges, instead emphasizing its offers to reduce the charges and propose a plea deal.
McCarter’s supporters insist that Bragg could do more to support her. McCarter herself, who remains active on social media ahead of her trial, last month shared a tweet from the organization Survived & Punished NY, stating that Bragg is “falsely claiming his office somehow *can’t* drop the case” against her, despite how other district attorneys’ offices have dropped charges against survivors who acted in self-defense, and urging Bragg to “end the lies!”
“[Bragg] is really trying to deceive New Yorkers into thinking he’s done everything he can, they’ve offered plea deals, and all that—but ultimately, that is meaningless, because they’ve admitted that she is a survivor of domestic violence and do not believe that it was murder,” Siobhan Dingwall, an organizer at Survived & Punished NY who’s working with McCarter on her case, told Jezebel. “For two-and-a-half years, Tracy has been punished at every turn. We won’t stand for the manipulation from [Bragg], especially knowing that he exploited Tracy’s story to win his campaign, now only to turn around and continue prosecuting her because it’s politically convenient, and he doesn’t want to be accused of being ‘soft on crime.’” McCarter, Dingwall points out, “hasn’t been convicted of any crime.”
While speaking at the rally on Monday, Samah Sisay, another organizer at Survived & Punished NY, said “the criminal legal system has become another abuser to [McCarter].” In a press release shared with Jezebel, Susan Hadley, a civil rights organizer with the criminal justice organization VOCAL-NY, called McCarter “a Black woman who is being prosecuted for daring to survive.”
Cases like McCarter’s have been commonplace for years. A 2015 survey found about a quarter of women who called police to report intimate partner violence were arrested or threatened with arrest, themselves.
In 2012, a woman named Marissa Alexander defended herself from her abusive husband by firing a warning shot that caused no physical harm. She was prosecuted and sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. In 2014, Nan-Hui Jo escaped her abusive, American citizen partner and took her young child to seek safety. She was then arrested for child abduction and portrayed by prosecutors as a manipulative “illegal immigrant” attempting to game U.S. systems, rather than a victim. Also in 2014, Marcela Rodriguez called the police for help during a domestic violence incident. Instead, the police arrested and turned her over to ICE, forcing her into deportation proceedings. And most famously, Cyntoia Brown was imprisoned for 15 years for killing her abuser while she was a child sex trafficking victim.
On top of sharing McCarter’s story, Dingwall says New Yorkers who want to support her should remember that the district attorney is an elected position. “[Bragg is] a representative of the people who needs to listen to our demands,” she said, and he can be held accountable in future reelection campaigns.
As we await her trial next month, McCarter should be known as more than a survivor who had to act in self-defense, Dingwall told Jezebel. “She’s a nurse, an advocate, an artist, a writer. She loves her community, she loves music, and deserves to be free and heal from this experience.”