On Dec 6 , 2005 John McNeil 46, a long time resident of Kennesaw, Georgia rushed home after receiving a call from his teenage son about a strange man lurking around their property. Like any other self respecting family man the safety of his family is important to him. When McNeil got home he found out that Brian Epp, a contractor that he had difficulties with in the past, confronted his son with a knife. Epp refused to leave Mr. McNeil's property after repeatedly being told to do so. After calling 911, McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground. Undeterred, Epp then charged toward McNeil while reaching into his pocket. McNeil fired at point blank range fatally shooting Epp in the head.
This sounds like a open and shut case, and in fact, Kennesaw Police Detectives found that McNeil acted in self defense after completing their investigation, and did not charge him. Georgia has a law in place called the "Castle Doctrine" law. This law allows anyone to use deadly force to protect their home or anyone in it from a violent trespasser. This sounds pretty cut and dry unless you are an African- American in Kennesaw, Georgia protecting your home from a trespasser who just happens to be Caucasian. Then things get a little complicated. A year later, Pat Head, the district attorney for Cobb county, made a decision that seemed reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. He decided to prosecute McNeil, even though Kennesaw Police refused to arrest him. The Cobb County Sheriffs department arrested McNeil at Heads urging.
When the case went to trial the two senior detectives who investigated the case, and a couple who say that they felt threatened by Epp when they hired him, all came to McNeil's defense. All are white. Despite their testimony McNeil was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, for having the audacity to defend his home and family. An appeal was filed and in 2008 6 of 7 supreme court justices upheld the decision. The only voice that found this case problematic was then Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, who was the only African-American member of the court at the time.
The irony of this situation is the fact that Kennesaw, a prodominently white suburb 25 miles north of Atlanta, where McNeal chose to raise his family, has had a mandatory law on the books for 30 years requiring heads of households to to own at least one firearm. Obviously both this law and the castle doctrine do not apply to African-American's.
It is difficult not to compare this to the Trayvon Martin case. John McNeil and Trayvon Martin are both victims whose rights are not being protected by the laws that were established to do so. George Zimmerman murdered Martin, and used Florida's "Stand your Ground" law as his defense despite the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that his life was in danger. Even though Zimmerman constantly gets caught in lies and inconsistency there is still no Justice for Trayvon.
John McNeil thought he had protection under a similar law giving him the right to protect his American dream, his family, and his home. But the system failed him and there is no justice for him either.
Every time I hear about cases like these it makes me think that my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as an African-American in this country is at someone else's descretion, severely limited by a racist system that alters laws by interpretation and applies them without objectivity. This sends a dangerous message, black life has no value in America, or at least not as much value as the lives of those who are not African-American. Actions speak louder than words, and the fact that the McNeil case has gotten very little media attention makes me suspect that there may be a concerted effort to prevent his struggle from playing out on the national stage, in hopes that this story will fade away behind bars with Mr. McNeal. Sometimes I wonder if justice can see right through her blindfold.