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The McNeil family was not the only one to have an issue with Brian Epp. David Sampson and his wife, Libby, had hired an attorney to send Epp a letter ordering him to stay clear of their property, and the couple later testified that they “carried a gun” to protect themselves from Brian Epp.
The afternoon of December 6th, 2005, Brian Epp showed up in John McNeil’s yard. McNeil’s son, La’Ron, testified that Epp threatened him with a knife, and La’Ron ran into the house to call his father on the phone. McNeil immediately called 911 for help, and when he arrived in his driveway, Epp was getting something from his own truck. John McNeil grabbed his handgun from the glove compartment, as Epp quickly approached him. McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground, trying to keep Epp back. As Epp kept coming towards him, he reached into his pocket, and John McNeil shot Brian Epp once in the head.
A neighbor who witnessed the incident corroborated McNeil’s statements to the police, and John McNeil was not arrested. Georgia has a Stand Your Ground law, and John McNeil’s actions-defending his family against a threatening and violent intruder-were the classic Stand Your Ground case. A year later, John McNeil was on trial for murder, he was convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison. The prosecutor received “anonymous” emails, including one discovered to be from Brian Epp’s widow, demanding the state try John McNeil. And the prosecutor gave in.
Now we have George Zimmerman, claiming the exact same law protects him from facing any sort of punishment in the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. The NRA, ALEC, Republican pundits and commentators are all calling for Florida to “do the right thing,” and not punish Zimmerman for defending himself. Neo Nazis are patrolling Sanford, Florida, protecting the white citizens (their words) from possible race riots. The New Black Panthers put a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman’s head. Fox news is orgasmic over this case, as is the rest of the 24 hour news media.
So what’s the difference? Where was all this indignation when John McNeil was charged with murder in what is a textbook case of Stand Your Ground? Where were Fox and the NRA and ALEC and all these pundits? Where were the liberal champions for Brian Epp? What’s the difference?
John McNeil is black and Brian Epp was white. Civil rights activist Markel Hutchins has filed a lawsuit in Georgia, seeking to strike down the Stand Your Ground law. According to the lawsuit, some courts have “accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide.” Hutchins says that in those circumstances, the law as it is written now does not offer him and other African Americans equal protection.
Because Brian Epp was white, a jury and a court in Georgia believed he posed no imminent threat to John McNeil. Even though the Sampsons testified to their own experience with Epp, John McNeil’s son described Epp threatening him with a knife and a witness for the state, Bobby Smith, gave testimony that maintained Epp was the aggressor, John McNeil was sentenced to life in prison. An appeal was denied and the conviction was upheld by a 6-1 margin.
According to the language of Stand Your Ground, John McNeil followed the law. He was defending his safety and the safety of his family against a man who was a known threat in the community. George Zimmerman was not shooting an armed robber or someone who was trespassing on his property. But the NRA and all the right wing pundits are protecting and championing George Zimmerman, while they were deathly silent when John McNeil was arrested, tried and convicted for defending his family against an armed man who had threatened McNeil’s son. So why the different responses? Why is Zimmerman shooting and killing an unarmed 17-year old perfectly fine to the NRA, but John McNeil shooting and killing a man who had waved a knife in his son’s face, been ordered to stay off his property and had a history of threatening behavior garners no support?
What do you think? Is there a racial double standard when it comes to Stand Your Ground? If John McNeil was white, and Brian Epp had been black, would there have been a different outcome? And if George Zimmerman was black, and Trayvon Martin had been white, would Stand Your Ground still apply, or would Florida be following in Georgia’s footsteps? Comment and let us know how you feel about this seemingly glaring double standard.
Thanks to Melissa Perry and Republic Magazine for contributions to this article.