Yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who shot and killed an unarmed black man outside of his home. The court ruled that the prosecutor injected race into his argument when, in fact, there was no evidence the shooting was racially motivated. The judge who wrote the ruling, John Tyson, called the prosecutor’s argument, “wholly gratuitous and inflammatory.” The judge’s ruling also ignores the weight of history. 

According to the police report, the killer, Chad Copley, called police and warned them that he was about to shoot somebody. He claimed “a bunch of hoodlums” were roaming his neighborhood and that he was “locked and loaded.” In the trial, Copley is the one who brought up race, claiming some black men yelled at him, “Go inside, white boy.” In his 911 call after the shooting, he told the dispatcher, “There’s frigging black males outside my frigging house with firearms.” Copley was the only one with firearms.

What’s not disputed is that Copley shot from inside his house, killing an unarmed black man, Kouren Thomas, who was walking down the street. The prosecutor said what everybody knows: if those men had been white, Copley never would have shot them. He would likely not even have called the police to complain about them. The court’s ruling says that even though we know that, we can’t say it out loud in a trial.

Tyson’s ruling follows Supreme Court Justice John Robert’s naïve and dangerous belief that we’re living in some kind of “post-racial” world. Contrary to his opinion, the shooting was clearly racially motivated, even if Copley didn’t explicitly say, “I shot him because he was a black guy.” Instead, he used as his defense a made-up story about black men wandering his street, threatening him with guns, calling him “white boy.” He never would have shot a group of 20 year old white guys and everybody knows that. 

Copley’s unmistakable fear of black men is the type of racism African-Americans face every day. His response and defense rest on baseless Jim Crow stereotypes of black men as degenerate hoodlums, exactly as Copley described Thomas and his friends. Ironically, there’s not a huge history of black men wandering through white neighborhoods killing people but there’s a long, disturbing history of armed white men entering black neighborhoods killing African-Americans. Tyson’s ruling underscores how far African-Americans have to go to secure true equality and justice in America.  

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