Can a Black Man Defend Himself at Home?

The NAACP and activists fight for the release of a black Georgia man who shot a man on his lawn.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, second from left (Charles Cook/NAACP)
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, second from left (Charles Cook/NAACP)

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Despite their testimony, McNeil was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeal motion was filed, and in 2008, six of the seven justices of the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The sole dissenting voice was then-Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, who found the case problematic. 

The irony is that Kennesaw — a predominantly white, conservative suburb 26 miles northwest of Atlanta where McNeil and his family lived — has a 30-year-old mandatory law requiring heads of households to own at least one firearm.

“As long as John McNeil is behind bars, it is not safe for a black person to defend their family and their home in the state of Georgia,” Jealous told The Root.

Race has been mentioned as a factor in this case, but Jealous points out that throughout the case, there were white law-enforcement officials who sided with McNeil.

“Yes, this is about a white DA who did the wrong thing. But he overrode two white detectives who did the right thing,” Jealous says. The speakers, who expressed their condolences for Epp’s death, also compared McNeil’s treatment to something that would have happened in the Jim Crow South.

The McNeil case may immediately remind people of Florida’s 2005 “Stand your ground” self-defense law that allowed George Zimmerman, 28, a white Hispanic, to avoid arrest for more than a month after shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last February.  

But Jealous, sharing that the NAACP has “grave concerns about ‘Stand your ground,’ ” was quick to draw the line between the castle doctrine and “Stand your ground” laws.

” ‘Stand your ground’ laws are so broad that they allow people to racially profile with deadly force anywhere. The basic difference is that [the castle-doctrine law] allows you to protect your home. [‘Stand your ground’] allows you to appoint yourself vigilante-in-chief. And that’s what Zimmerman did,” Jealous explained, saying that the NAACP is fine with self-defense.