Justice was carried out for the late Renisha McBride Thursday when a jury found Theodore Wafer guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of the 19-year-old.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 2, McBride crashed her car on the west side of Detroit, Michigan, not far from Wafer’s Dearborn Heights home. After hitting a parked vehicle, she left on foot saying she needed to get home, according to a 9-1-1 caller who witnessed the accident and spoke to McBride.
Three hours later, she was lying dead on Wafer’s porch—Wafer had killed her with a shotgun blast to the face.
Wafer would later testify that he was startled by an “unbelievable” banging on his door; he thought someone was breaking into his home. When he was unable to find his cellphone to call the police, he grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun. According to the prosecutor, he opened his front door and fatally shot McBride through the screen door. Wafer claimed that the gun accidentally discharged, but later changed his statement to say he fired in self-defense.
McBride’s family believed she was disoriented after the car accident and was simply seeking help when she knocked on Wafer’s door. The coroner found she was legally intoxicated and under the influence of marijuana at the time she died, which, of course, was used to put her character on trial in the court of public opinion. This poorly worded tweet, below, from the Associated Press is just one example of how McBride’s intoxication was used to victim-blame her. (The tweet was later amended after a social media backlash, but that didn’t stop the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #APHeadlines from trending.)
Race, in addition to her state of mind at the time of shooting, came into play as the killing happened in the midst of the Trayvon Martin controversy. Civil rights activists, such as Al Sharpton, rallied to defend McBride, who was African American, asserting that she was racially profiled by Wafer, who is white.
Despite attempts by both the prosecution and defense to make this a colorblind case, the murder of McBride became a racial flash point, fueling needed conversations about bigotry and privilege.
Said black feminist scholar and activist Sikivu Hutchinson on The Feminist Wire:
McBride’s murder underscores how gender, race and segregation intersect in the everyday experiences of black women as policed female bodies. Black women, unlike white women, do not have the social privilege and advantage of the dominant culture’s belief in their feminine “innocence,” “fragility,” gentility or right to be protected from men of another race. … Another [privilege that white women have] is the advantage of secure access to elite suburban enclaves without fear of criminalization. Stranded in the early morning hours after a car crash in a predominantly white suburb outside of Detroit, 19-year-old Renisha McBride had no such benefits.
Wafer denied race was a factor and said he fired out of fear for his safety. The prosecution also said that their decision to charge Wafer had “nothing to do whatsoever with the race of the parties,” calling Wafer’s actions “unnecessary, unjustified and unreasonable.” Wafer is now awaiting sentencing and could receive life in prison.
The guilty verdict restores a modicum of hope in a criminal justice system where the murder of black youth is often excused and a black person’s right to live is dwarfed by a white person’s right to fear.
Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.