In the courtroom for the murder of Renisha McBride, there are two victims- one is dead and the other one claiming to be a victim is on trial for the killing of McBride. With a 19 year old black woman killed seeking help and a middle aged white man claiming to be a victim in his home, in a changing neighborhood, the case has all the elements of gender, race and class in America. And where race, gender and class clash, McBride is likely to get the short end of the deal.
Theodore Wafer took the stand on Monday, August 4 in his murder trial. He is the only living witness to the murder of McBride and he’s claiming it was self-defense. And if you listen to his account, McBride, November 2, 2013 was a superwoman, sounding like 2 or more people as she banged and pounded on Wafer’s door seeking help in the early morning hours. And as Wafer takes the stand, it is clear that McBride is on trial for being a black woman in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong hour of night. Wafer testified to living in a changing neighborhood due to foreclosures and several homes broken into. He spoke about one neighbor who used a gun on three men who threatened his neighbor; and another neighbor whose home was broken into. He claims he kept his gun loaded after those incidents which occurred shortly before November 2.
Wafer says he came home after having 3 beers at 7 PM and went to sleep around midnight. Although there was a toxicology report of McBride—as is standard in an autopsy, the police took Wafer at his word and didn’t take a Breathalyzer test. Wafer testifies that he hears 4-5 hits to his door, “each time getting more violent”. He says he could feel doors vibrating and windows rattling and that “it’s intense”. He hears “metal hitting the door” and the floor is “vibrating”. He looks out his peephole and says it looks like two different images. And he notes the person was dark complexion and short in stature. And that’s when he shoots and kills McBride because he “didn’t want to be a victim” in his own home or cower. He refers to the knocking as a “threat”. And although Wafer cried on the witness stand saying he didn’t expect to be fighting for his life, he did not cry after the killing, according to his testimony. In his testimony and during his video police statement following the killing of McBride, he says it was “self-defense” as far as he was concerned. And he couldn’t figure out why a female would be trying to break into his house. Almost as an afterthought, Wafer says to the police, “I should have just called you guys first.”
According to the Twitter account of @Oralandar_DN, a Detroit News Journalist present in the court room, one juror cried listening to Wafer’s testimony. Wafer was not crying on the stand for his killing of McBride. Those tears were for himself as he fights a murder charge. And the jury will need to decide if his claim of self-defense known as the “Castle doctrine” will be enough to avoid a murder and a manslaughter charge.
When a majority white jury hears a middle aged white man claim that he felt threatened due to the loud banging and pounding on his doors and windows, that a dark figure is at his door in a deteriorating neighborhood, that multiple persons could have been at his door and he didn’t want to be a victim, the outcome does not bode well for a guilty verdict. Those white jurors will likely put themselves in the shoes of Wafer and think he did what was reasonable under the circumstances. What was reasonable under the circumstances was for Wafer to have called the police first. He would not have been on trial for his life and Renisha McBride would have had the rest of her life before her.
The jury is likely to see the trial in subtle ways based on gender, class and racial terms. And all those stereotypes of the black woman will surface and all the fears of a white middle aged man trapped and cowering in his house in an ever changing neighborhood will be present. And the sentiment that Wafer said to the police will be present. He couldn’t understand why a female would be breaking into his home. He never seriously considered that McBride would be needing help. Wafer, on the witness stand, has probably cried himself out of a 2nd degree murder conviction. And gender, race and class bias may get him an acquittal on the manslaughter charge.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried murders, burglaries, robberies, narcotics and sex offense crimes. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog, in 2009 to address issues of gender and race in law and politics. She is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center and the Huffington Post. She appears frequently in the media including Arise TV, BET, C-Span, Fox 5, RT America, Sky News, TV One and WUSA 9, among others.