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Court: Virginia man who hung noose in yard not protected by 1st Amendment

Jack Eugene Turner, of Rocky Mount
Jack Eugene Turner, of Rocky Mount(WHSV)
Published: Nov. 22, 2016 at 1:53 PM EST
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The Virginia Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a man who was sentenced to six months in jail for hanging a black-faced dummy in his front yard.

Jack Eugene Turner of Rocky Mount was convicted last year of violating a state law that prohibits hanging a noose to intimidate.

An African-American woman in Franklin County was driving down her street and "spotted an all-black, life-size dummy hanging by a noose from a tree" in Turner's front yard, which was located next-door to one of two African-American households on the street.

Turner displayed the dummy the same day nine black churchgoers were massacred in South Carolina.

Turner argued on appeal that his action should've been protected by the First Amendment's right to free speech.

But the court rejected that Tuesday. The court wrote that the First Amendment "protects Turner's right to be a racist" but doesn't "permit him to threaten or intimidate others who do not share his views."

According to the Court of Appeals' decision, "the record reflects that while Turner was out on bond awaiting his sentencing hearing, he placed a handmade cardboard sign against his house that read, 'Black ni**er lives don't matter, got rope.'"

"The Commonwealth will not tolerate expressions of hate, intolerance, or bigotry intended to intimidate people because of their race," said Attorney General Mark Herring. "The display of a noose as a threat has rightly been banned in Virginia because it is an unmistakable signal that evokes the horrific and shameful specter of lynching. I will always stand up for those who are subject to harassment, intimidation, or persecution, and will do all I can to call out and hold accountable anyone who violates the rights of our fellow Virginians and makes them feel fearful and unwelcome."

In its brief, the Commonwealth cited the long, violent history and unmistakable message associated with the display of a noose and its invocation of lynching. The Commonwealth cited scholarship on lynching to remind the Court that "during this country's 'lynching era'-the five decades between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Great Depression, between 1880 and 1930-at least 2,462 African American men, women, and children died at the hands of southern mobs...In short, the phenomenon of lynching exhibited American society in its most ferocious and inhuman manifestation."

The Commonwealth was represented in the matter by Assistant Attorney General Christopher P. Schandevel.

A message left with Turner's attorney wasn't immediately returned.

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