You already know about John McNeil, the black man in Georgia who was imprisoned for shooting a man who had just threatened his son with a knife.
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 meet Marissa Alexander, who is waiting to be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for aggravated assault.
In an unprovoked jealous rage, my husband violently confronted me while using the restroom. He assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave. After a minute or two of trying to escape, I was able to make it to the garage where my truck was parked, but in my haste to leave I realized my keys were missing. I tried to open the garage but there was a mechanical failure. I was unable to leave, trapped in the dark with no way out. For protection against further assault I retrieved my weapon; which is registered and I have a concealed weapon permit. Trapped, no phone, I entered back into my home to either leave through another exit or obtain my cell phone.
He and my two stepsons were supposed to be exiting the house thru the front door, but he didn’t leave. Instead he came into the kitchen that leads to the garage and realized I was unable to leave. Instead of leaving thru the front door where his vehicle was parked outside of the garage, he came into the kitchen by himself. I was terrified from the first encounter and feared he came to do as he had threatened. The weapon was in my right hand down by my side and he yelled, “Bitch I will kill you!”, and charged toward me. In fear and desperate attempt, I lifted my weapon up, turned away and discharged a single shot in the wall up in the ceiling. As I stood my ground it prevented him from doing what he threatened and he ran out of the home. Outside of the home, he contacted the police and falsely reported that I shot at him and his sons. The police arrived and I was taken into custody.
According to Marissa, she had an injunction for protection against her husband in place when this happened. Nonetheless, the judge dismissed her motion for immunity under stand your ground.
“The law says you need to be in reasonable [fear] of deadly force at the time you’re using the force,” former prosecutor Jay Plotkin said. “She was in the garage away from the person. She claimed she was in fear and there was no indication this person was going to attack her or confront her.”
Plotkin, who didn’t work on this particular case, said Marissa’s attorney still used the self-defense claim, but the jury didn’t buy it.
Stand your ground laws depend on the shooter convincing someone else–sometimes an entire jury–that they have a right to be afraid in the situation in which they use deadly force. A black man had to ask for that right to be recognized. It was denied, even with this law in place. An abused woman had to ask for that right to be recognized. It was denied, even with this law in place.
The systems that denied them that right have a well-documented history of unequally denying rights to people who share skin color and gender identity with these two. Given all that, who is this law actually for?