AFRICANGLOBE – Renisha McBride was apparently seeking help after a car accident in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, when she knocked on Theodore Wafer’s door early one morning last November. He shot her in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun through a locked screen door.
Now he’s on trial, and he’s claiming it was self-defense. The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday after presenting 20 witnesses over five days of testimony, and his team is now presenting its side to the jury.
Before the trial started, Judge Dana Hathaway denied Wafer’s request to show the jury cellphone pictures in which McBride is seen allegedly posing with guns, marijuana and cash – noting that there could be a million reasons why McBride would pose that way and that “nothing in the photographs that establishes a reputation for violent or aggressive behavior”. Cheryl Carpenter, Wafer’s attorney, told reporters that their defense strategy had been “to argue to the jury that she could have been up to no good”. (They now claim that she was with an unknown second person, who was trying to break in.)
F*cking punks. Those a**holes, they always get away.
It’s a common defense strategy – America will readily embrace the narrative of the inherent criminality of Black kids – and it’s common because these shootings are increasingly common.
McBride’s death was preceded by that of a Florida A&M football player, Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot and killed by North Carolina patrolmen after a car accident. (Voluntary manslaughter charges against the officer, Randall Kerrick, are pending.) Before that, Jordan Davis, a 16-year-old African-American teenager, was shot outside of a Florida gas station by a white man who claimed to be distressed by the teen’s loud music. (The jury in the trial of the shooter, Michael Dunn, deadlocked on the murder charge but convicted him of four counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors have promised a retrial.) And just prior to that, in my hometown of Milwaukee, a 13-year-old African American boy, Darius Simmons, was shot and killed in front of his mother by a White neighbor, John Spooner, who said that he believed that the child had stolen items from his home. (Spooner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.) That death was preceded by the shooting death of a 16-year-old African-American boy in Florida, Trayvon Martin, by a self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, George – who whined about those “f*cking punks” to a 911 operator before shooting the unarmed boy. (Zimmerman was eventually acquitted.)
The loud music trial. The hoodie trial. The porch shooting trial. In all of them, a familiar narrative surfaces. The accused killers are White, and insist that they feared for their lives; the dead are Black, and were all unarmed. The killing of a Black teen is justified first, and only questioned after. It took 46 days for Zimmerman to be arrested. It took 13 days for Wafer to be arrested. Spooner, at least, was arrested on the spot – but it was broad daylight, there were multiple witnesses and he calmly admitted what he’d done.
There’s more to the argument that the shooters feared for their lives than just that it’s the only plausible defense. There’s a belief by the shooters – and a wider acceptance – that, because the people that they supposedly feared were Black, that their fear is plausible … even reasonable.
An MSNBC-commissioned report by the Urban Institute this past spring notes that “Among homicides overall (perpetrated by both men and women), [an Urban Institute analyst] found that 11.4% of murders of Black people committed by White people were found justified, compared to 1.2% of Black-on-White murders. The disparity is widest in states with Stand Your Ground statutes.”
White racial fears are informed by the deeply historical legacy of slavery and White supremacy: America has taught its citizens to fear Black bodies. For instance, the decades of lynching of Black men in America – including 14 year-old Emmett Till in 1955 – were allegedly to protect the purity of White women. Black, in our culture, long ago became synonymous with wickedness and violence – and we were ultimately dehumanized.
We are left with a culture still clinging to that fear and bias. This past spring, a study showed that Black boys are perceived as older and less innocent and another study showed that many White people don’t believe Black people feel pain in the same way as Whites. Writing about the latter, Jason Silverstein explained at Slate that “The researchers concluded that ‘the present work finds that people assume that, relative to Whites, Blacks feel less pain because they have faced more hardship.’”
The vulnerability of Black women in this context gets exacerbated: our womanhood gets eclipsed by our blackness (depending on the eye of the beholder) and our femininity erased. We become perceived as equivalent to men, and undeserving of – or without a need for – compassion, protection or help.
Perhaps here we can point to the myths of the strong Black women, the “angry Black woman”, the hypersexed female – or to any of the ways that we deny the full humanity of Black women. A black Woman in distress is more easily seen as a threat than a victim, and no one rushes to her defense.
The multiple efforts of Wafer’s defense attorney to show the jury McBride’s cellphone pictures is just an effort to place her in this same narrative: an “angry” Black woman, banging on a door, late at night in a neighborhood that isn’t hers. She was unarmed and she was shot in the face, but the defense wants the jury to consider who was the “real” criminal.
The willingness to accept or promote a singular narrative about the Black experiences in American society is a denial of the multitudes of lives of Black men and women. Obama, in his remarks one week after the Zimmerman verdict, offered this challenge to Americans, “[At] least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?”
Instead, we reconstruct the lives of these dead Black kids in defense of their killers. We look for some photograph, some musical choice, something that allows us to slot them into these preconceived notions of inherent criminality, all to say that they weren’t good enough people, and that their killers were justified in believing that they were up to no good and deserved to die. And then we wait for the next one.
By: Syreeta McFadden