TN NAACP Opposes Bill that Promotes Racially-based Vigilantism

Nashville, TN (TN Tribune)- The Tennessee state and local chapters of the NAACP are speaking out against a bill they say promotes racially-based vigilantism.

In November, Representative Jay Reedy of Houston County filed HB 0011 in the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill permits the use of “deadly” force in order “to protect real or tangible, movable property,” including specific language allowing property owners to kill persons suspected of theft during night-time hours.

NAACP officials say the proposed legislation is nothing more than a backlash response to recent protests against police and vigilante killings—attempts to give legal standing to unjustifiable and racially-based, vigilante killings.

The Tennessee State Conference NAACP, along with area NAACP Units, released the following statement:

In addition to allowing gun owners to self-deputize, HB 0011 gives them the leeway to be judge, jury, and executioner in incidences of real or perceived theft. In doing so, the bill suffers from constitutional ambiguities and legalizes murders over common-sense and gray area interactions among neighbors, family members, and bystanders.

What happens if a person is placing a delivery package on someone’s door and their action is misinterpreted by the property owner? What happens if a person makes a food delivery to the wrong address and it is assumed by the  property owner as an action of theft? Does the law apply to someone’s residence or can it be extended to a rally in which one protester is taking a sign from another protestor? What happens, as in the case of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, when a person is jogging in the “wrong” neighborhood or visits an unfinished house to inspect the interior design? What about a person who is mistakenly suspected of theft, yet is wearing suspicious attire or a hoodie such as what happened to Trayvon Martin? What about non-White construction workers installing a roof in a mostly White neighborhood after the sun goes down and are mistakenly targeted? What happens to law enforcement officials who confront armed property owners during night-time investigations?

In all these examples, HB 0011 would give property owners who perceive themselves as victims of theft a license to kill the alleged offenders. Even in cases of real theft, Reedy’s bill makes no distinction between a person who may steal a newspaper or other Class A property, a lawnmower, or a car. The proposed legislation deputizes property owners regardless of the value of the stolen property and irrespective of whether the alleged offenders have a weapon.

Reedy’s legislation will also legalize racially-based vigilantism. Martin, Arbery, and countless other Blacks walking, jogging, and working in the “wrong” neighborhood have previously been targets of revenge confrontations.

In addition, HB 0011 will have the protective cover of an unfair and racially-biased, legal safety net specifically benefitting Whites who use deadly force against Blacks. An Urban Institute study of 2,631 “justifiable” homicides that were similar to the George Zimmerman killing of Trayvon Martin found that Whites who killed Blacks were overwhelmingly more likely to be exonerated. The racial disparity for justifiable homicides—meaning the exoneration of Whites who kill Blacks—was much greater in Stand Your Ground states. The study confirms that the deck is stacked in favor of Whites who “justifiably” kill Blacks compared to intra-racial homicides.

The Tennessee NAACP urges all Tennesseans to stand up and against Reedy’s bill. HB 0011provides legal cover for racial vigilantism—or legalized lynching—and fails to pass the constitutional litmus test. We also call on our state lawmakers and officials, including Governor Bill Lee and Attorney General Herbert Slatery, to stand against it.