Friday, November 8, 2013


On the Death of Renisha McBride

Renisha McBride was a 19-year-old girl who'd just graduated from Southfield High School and gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company. Late last Friday night, she got into a car accident, alone. With her phone dead, she left her white Ford Taurus on foot to seek help. An hour or so later, she reached Dearborn Heights, a city west of and adjacent to Detroit, and knocked on a stranger's front door. He shot her point-blank in the face with a shotgun and she died.

Her family was not notified of their daughter's death until Monday. The police initially told the family that McBride's body was "dumped" at a nearby intersection; they are now stating that the young woman died on the stranger's porch. Her death has officially been ruled a homicide, but because Michigan is a Stand Your Ground state, prosecutors have not yet charged McBride's killer, a 54-year-old man whose name and race and background are still unknown.

Her killer's attorney has stated, “I’m confident when the evidence comes it will show that my client was justified and acted as a reasonable person would who was in fear for his life." Dearborn Heights Police Lieutenant James Serwatowski said, "She was in a car accident, but I don't know if she was trying to get help or what she was doing." Details are still missing, so I have been trying to imagine the worst possible things that unarmed, stranded Renisha McBride could have been doing. None of them are scary enough for a finger on the trigger and a shotgun in her face.

Stand Your Ground allows for the use of deadly force when a person “honestly and reasonably believes” such use is necessary to prevent "imminent death, great bodily harm, sexual assault" or to protect against the “imminent unlawful use of force by another individual.” Renisha McBride was unarmed and her killer shot her in the mouth.

Dearborn Heights is 86% white. Detroit is 82% black. Gun ownership correlates positively with racism. Police Captain Jeffrey Seipenko said, "As far as I am concerned we don’t have a [problem]. Dearborn is a very mixed community, you know – white, black, Arab – for years, it’s been that way. So I am a little confused as to where that is coming from.” McBride's family told police reporters that they don't understand how anyone could have been afraid of their 19-year-old girl.

Renisha McBride's funeral took place today in Detroit, a city that's seen this over and over, most shockingly in the 2010 death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in her own house during a police raid engineered to give A&E a better reality show. There was a protest calling for justice yesterday; another protest is scheduled for 6 PM tonight. I teach in Ann Arbor, which is a 45-minute drive from Detroit. Yesterday I asked my mostly-white class of freshmen if they'd heard of either Renisha McBride or Aiyana Stanley-Jones; they said no. They stared at me blankly when I brought up stop-and-frisk.

At Salon, Roxane Gay writes: "Increasingly, we are faced with a horrifying truth. The environment in the United States is toxic for black people. There are exceptions, certainly, but Aiyana Stanley-Jones was murdered in her own home, by law enforcement. Trayvon Martin was murdered while walking home from a convenience store. Renisha McBride thought, like any reasonable person, that she could ask a stranger for help."

A toxic environment for black people, and yet a very friendly environment for gun owners, gun users and gun mis-users associated with whiteness in any way. Renisha McBride was shot in the face while looking for help after a car accident, and Fox News used this headline: "Self-Defense Mistake?"

29 Comments / Post A Comment


It may be that he acted in a way that a reasonable person in fear for their life would, but was it reasonable for him to be in fear for his life?
I mean, I am a white woman in my early 30s and I think that if someone knocked on my door in the middle of the night I might pretend not to be home, or keep the security chain on when I answered the door and have 911 ready on my cell, so I get being suspicious of strangers, especially in the middle of the night, but I don't think I would SHOOT someone unless/until they proved themselves to be a threat. Of course, I don't have a gun, so it's moot.


@Blushingflwr Exactly. I completely get being nervous about who is at the door unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Someone rang my doorbell at 3 am one night and it scared me but I just stayed in bed with my head under the covers and ignored it. I was torn because I kept thinking "what if this person needs help and I'm just ignoring them and then something bad happens to them?".

But then again, most likely if they are a "bad person" ringing the doorbell they are trying to find out if someone is home and if you turn a light on or show that someone is at home they'll leave.

But geez, To grab your gun and shoot them without giving them a chance to explain?? My head, my heart. I can't stand this madness.


@Blushingflwr This is the whole problem with Stand Your Ground laws. It's not about what an objective "reasonable person" would do. That's not the standard. Rather it's a completely subjective standard ie. was THIS PERSON fearful for his/her life in the instant the crime was perpetrated. That's very dangerous because it basically legally sanctions racist fears.


@Jen@twitter Right? I mean, usually people who want to rob/maim/rape/kill me are not going to be ringing my doorbell. I would either ignore it and make sure I know where my sharp scissors are, or I'd veeeeeery carefully try to figure out what the deal is by opening my window a crack and yelling out of my 2nd-story apartment to figure out what's happening. I don't own a gun but I probably will when I eventually leave NYC.


Haha oh man lemme tell you about the time the CPD smashed down my downstairs neighbor's door with a warrant for five figures in cash and a name no one had heard of! They did ransack the place from 12am to 2am, I presume looking for something to justify the raid after the fact, though, so it wasn't all wasted hahaha.

I suppose I should be glad that there weren't TV cameras in tow so there wasn't the need to shoot someone (maybe me??) for ratings!

There are a couple of admirable cops I've heard of in Chicago history, all of them black. Otherwise, I give everyone of any color the same advice about CPD: stay the fuck away.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

I just hope that the truth comes out. This doesn't sound like a complete story. What if she was in some other kind of danger? What if she had tried getting help elsewhere first, and other people turned her down? What if there's some detail we don't know about that would make the shooter think they had a reason to shoot? Why wasn't her family notified earlier?
I don't know... am I just super naive to think that most people don't keep shotguns right next to their doors? What was wrong with that man?


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) yeah, there does seem like there is an IMMENSE amount of information being withheld by police on this.


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) There are people who keep shotguns next to their doors, or next to their beds (or their bedroom doors). I don't think it's "most" people, but I don't think it's super uncommon among those who own guns for home defense.


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) also, why has the shooter's name not been released?

let me be clear, I am wholly in favor of privacy and privacy rights, but he was arrested. Shouldn't his name be a matter of public record? Why are they making an exception for him, when it's all but impossible to keep rape/DV/SA survivors' names out of the press?

also, how on earth did it take the police an entire weekend to tell her parents?!


@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Yeah, it's incredibly sketchy on so many levels. And I say that as the granddaughter of someone who does keep a loaded rifle over the door (crazy pioneer farmer lady) and has been ROBBED and still managed to never shoot anyone! Christ.


@stonefruit the placement of the body "issue" makes me so, so, so, so, so upset


@j-i-a yes, that in particular is so shady. There is a huge, material difference between "dumped at an intersection" (wtf does that mean) and "died on the front porch"!


@j-i-a also what the HELL is with shooting someone point-blank in the face and not calling the police your own self?!?!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, if we are white, cisgendered, straight men.

The Wub

In other SE Michigan news, there were 3 arrests made in the death of the Michigan med student after a multi-state manhunt. I knew him so I've read more than my fair share of murder investigation coverage in the past few months. Seeing the difference in police reaction and public concern between his case and Renisha's is making me kind of crazy.



@The Wub I lack the words for this disparagingly constant disparity, yet an ultra sad emoticon seems a tad trite. Yet, :((((((((((.


This sickens me beyond words, even more so because I had to learn about it on the Hairpin and not from, say, news.

I live in a very pro-gun state that rhymes with Mexas and you cannot approach the topic with anyone around here without hearing "Well whut're you gonna do when all the bad guys have guns an' you cain't protect yourself?" GET ME OUT OF HERE.


Also from the (wonderful!) Roxane Gay's article:

I want to be able to say something meaningful about all this but these are circumstances beyond words. These incidents, and so many others, are painful reminders about the value of black life. How do we bring black children into this world? How do we prepare them for a reality where they are in danger in their own homes, and when walking home from the store, and when driving, and when walking through the streets of New York, and when trying to ask for help? Do we raise a generation of children to be fearful and paranoid? Do we dare not to?

This gnaws at me, daily. I so desperately need an outlet to figure it out. I want to gather my brother and all of my sisters and cousins and future nieces and nephews and children and grandchildren and just take them somewhere where I know they'll be safe.


Thanks for writing about this, Jia! I was at the protest last night, and the majority of the people there were kids. Babies! Babies who live in a world that constantly broadcasts to them that their lives do not have value, that it could easily be them on any given day who gets a bullet to the face for no good reason & no one in power will give a fuck. I just - ugh. I love this city, but I'm getting more militant by the day


@hallelujah GIRL shoot me an email if you hear about anything protest-wise happening saturday or sunday that i can go to. i thought about you actually and wondered if you were there. ughhhhhhhhh


@j-i-a I gotchu. There's an organizing meeting in the morning, I think something's probably brewing for Sunday.


'The police initially told the family that McBride's body was "dumped" at a nearby intersection; they are now stating that the young woman died on the stranger's porch.'

Makes me feel physically sick.


Thank you for writing about this, Jia!


Thank you for sharing the Mother Jones article about the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. It's really moving.


@adorable-eggplant ahh yes!! yeah, that article... ahhhhhhhh

Fear Biter

Roxane Gay <3<3<3! Can Roxane Gay please be my personal mediator for all new information/decisons? I feel like I don't want to form an opinion on anything until I know what she thinks about it. Not that she changed my mind here ... but all day long I've been nothing but spluttering incoherent rage, and she is all elegiac grace

up your ziggy

This is so sad :( and reminds me of the Glenda Moore, the woman who tried in vain to get Staten Island residents to help her find her two sons who had been swept away by the water :( No one wanted to help her.


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