As a former prosecutor, I’d like to think that justice will be done in the killing of Renisha McBride who was only asking for help at the time of her untimely death. But as a woman of color, I have my lingering doubts. The trial for the man accused of murdering Renisha McBride, who knocked on his door in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013 seeking help, started on Monday, July 21st .
Last year, 19 year old Renisha McBride knocked on the door of Theodore Wafer at 4:30AM in a Detroit suburb seeking help after a car accident. Instead of helping her, Wafer came to his door and shot her in the face. Wafer is charged with second degree murder, manslaughter and firearms violations. He is relying on the Castle doctrine defense which states he has no duty to retreat if he is inside his house. The real question remains for the jury is why he didn’t first call the police. According to the Medical Examiner’s office report, there was no evidence of her being shot at close range.
The case, although not as highly publicized as the Trayvon Martin killing, is setting up to be defended much like the George Zimmerman defense. The defense has requested to show the jury photos of Renisha McBride from social media with her posing with a gun and marijuana. The same tactic was requested and also denied in the Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin to inflame the emotions of the jury.
And the defense has used verbatim the same words that Zimmerman used in describing Trayvon Martin, in describing that McBride was “up to no good”. Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said that “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.” Apparently, when it comes to African Americans, the defense of “up to no good” is a well-used one to appeal to white jurors. I would like to think that Wafer’s defense is a weak one but one never knows. The strategy of injecting subtle racial overtones that have nothing to do with the case have often worked in the past in cases involving a white defendant and a black victim.
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. And she was nowhere near home. The defense has said that Wafer was afraid of what he heard early that morning. She was probably the one who was afraid and not Wafer. 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.” Wafer admitted on the 911 call that McBride was asking for help. As a woman, a former prosecutor and particularly a women of color, I would like to think that someone who shot and killed a victim under these alleged circumstances would be found guilty of second degree murder. Before 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 requesting help.
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. But Mr. Wafer did not know that at the time of his shooting her. And her intoxication has little 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 still begs the question of why Wafer chose to shoot someone when he was inside a locked house and was able to call 911 for help. Just like George Zimmerman being told by the police that he didn’t have to follow Trayvon Martin, Wafer didn’t have to shoot. If anything, his case is even more egregious than that of Zimmerman. Zimmerman at least called the police but failed to heed their instructions . If Wafer had first called the police and followed presumably police instructions to wait until they arrived, Renisha McBride would be alive today and Wafer would not be facing the rest of his life in jail. But it all begs the question of whether justice will be done in this case or will justice be denied once again for African American youth.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who addresses issues on gender and race. She will be closely following the Theodore Wafer trial for the next several weeks.