Lawyers Call White Man's Display Of Noose With Black Doll On His Yard Free Speech
Lawyers for a man jailed for hanging a black life-sized dummy on his front yard by a noose are defending his actions to the Virginia Supreme Court as free speech.
The lawyers for Jack Eugene Turner of Rocky Mount, Va. faced the court Wednesday (Jan. 10) about the 2015 incident where he was charged with a felony and sentenced to six months in jail. The felony in question is a violation of a state law passed in 2009 which prohibits displaying a noose in a public space. Turner is the first person in the state to be convicted of the noose statue. Defense attorney Holland Perdue has questioned the legal language of the law.
On June 17, 2005, Turner suspended a life-sized black doll by a noose in his front yard in a conflict with neighbor John Mitchell and his family, who are black. He also hung a Confederate flag in a window facing Michell's home after the noose and doll were confiscated. The Roanoke Times reports things only got worse for Mitchell and his family. During the time of the trial and the sentencing, Turner was arrested for violating his bond when he displayed the sign, “Black ni**ers lives don’t matter. Got rope?”
“If he can hang a noose, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I fear for my family’s safety,” Mitchell said at the time of the trial. “Every morning, I walk out my door. Is somebody going to shoot me in the back?”
But Turner's lawyers have defended his actions, claiming his free speech rights were violated. Because the noose and the doll were hung on his private property and not on public property, Perdue says Turner is protected by the First Amendment. Last year, Turner's case was upheld after Judge Robert Humphreys explained while racist ideology is free speech, the act of intimidation isn't.
“The evidence was sufficient to support the circuit court’s conclusion that the offense occurred in a public place,” Humphreys wrote. "The First Amendment protects Turner’s right to be a racist and even to convey his racist beliefs to others..[but] constitutional limit to that allowance has been reached when an idea becomes a threat that causes reasonable people to fear leaving their homes.”
At the time of his appeal case Turner penned a letter to the outlet, apologizing for his behavior. “I would like to apologize to all Roanoke to Christiansburg and surrounding area African-Americans for my senseless and cruel actions."