As a former prosecutor, I'd like to think that justice will prevail for Renisha McBride who was seeking help following a car accident when she was shot and killed. As a woman of color, I have my lingering doubts. The trial began for the man accused of murdering Renisha McBride, who knocked on his door in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013. Instead of helping her, Theodore Wafer came to his locked door and shot her in the face. The undisputed facts are really quite simple. But in the criminal justice system, a case involving a black woman victim and a white male defendant will be anything but simple.
Wafer, a 51-year-old white man says he feared for his life and suspected multiple burglars at his home when 19-year-old Renisha McBride came knocking and pounding on his front door at 4:30 a.m. He acknowledged to the police that she was asking for help. Wafer's story does not seem based in reason. And that will be a question for the jury to decide. Burglars don't usually come knocking and pounding on the door screaming for help prior to a break in to alert the home owner or resident and risk the police being called. At the end of the day, Wafer had a gun and he chose to use it. Saying he couldn't find his cell phone at first, he shot first and called the police later.
What really bothers me is the fact that Renisha McBride will be on trial along with Wafer. The defense will attempt to portray McBride as intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol. Her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, according to the autopsy report. But Mr. Wafer did not know that at the time of his shooting her. And her intoxication had little, if anything, to do with why he should shoot and kill her all the while inside his house behind a locked door. The same goes for whether she used marijuana in the past.
The case of Renisha McBride is troubling on so many levels. Her car was broke down. It was in the early morning hours and she was injured. She had no way to call for help. Before Renisha McBride's case, I would have never thought that one of my white neighbors might shoot and kill me, if I knocked on their door late at night needing help. The options for McBride under the circumstances were to do nothing or seek help. She chose the reasonable one and was killed for her actions. And the jury will need to decide if Wafer's actions were reasonable and legal.
The defense has said that Wafer was afraid of what he heard early that morning. She was probably the one who was afraid. Stereotypically, women are thought to be more vulnerable except when it comes to African American women in need of help. Then they are perceived as "up to no good" as the defense intends to portray that point with McBride. Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter argued before Judge Dana Hathaway, "our defense is blown to pieces if you don't allow me to argue to the jury that she could have been up to no good." When it comes to African Americans, the defense of "up to no good" is one often used to appeal to the subtle racial perceptions of white jurors about African Americans. The jury make up is 7 women, 7 men, including 4 African Americans.
Ultimately, the jurors will be the judges of the facts and what is reasonable. However, where race and gender clash, the black woman usually ends up on the short end of the deal. And in Renisha McBride's case, that makes me wanna holler.
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