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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?

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