Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

She Could Have Been Me: A Tribute to Renisha McBride

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

She Could Have Been Me: A Tribute to Renisha McBride

Article excerpt


"I could have been her."

This was the first thought to enter my mind as I heard the news about Renisha McBride. Renisha was an unarmed, Black Detroit teenager who had been shot in the face by a homeowner with a shotgun while she knocked on the door, seeking help after a car accident.1 As a then twenty-two-year-old Black woman who had grown up in Detroit, I felt a certain connection to nineteen-year-old Renisha, and saw a bit of myself and my best girlfriends in her tragic story.

There was no doubt in my mind Renisha had been unlawfully killed, but after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, an event that left me teary-eyed and in shock, I knew there could, and likely would, be a doubt in the jurors' minds.2

I figured Theodore Wafer, the fifty-four-year-old Caucasian shooter, would somehow contend his shooting of Renisha through his locked screen door was justified. Just as I predicted, Wafer initially told police the gun went off by accident, conveniently switching to a self-defense claim when the investigation made it clear an accidental discharge of his shotgun was unlikely.3

"I could have been her," I thought aloud, weeks later, while reading the many articles online, as the facts of the case began to publicly unfold.

On 2 November 2013, Renisha and her friend Amber took shots of alcohol while chatting and playing a drinking game at the McBride residence.4 Renisha's mother was away at work.5 After Amber left, Renisha's mother returned home and found her daughter charging her phone at the kitchen table, while dirty dishes sat in the sink.6 A typical mother-daughter fussing match between Mrs. McBride and teenage Renisha about undone chores led to the intoxicated teen's abrupt exit from her home.7 Her unsuspecting mother, who had gone upstairs to change her clothes, returned downstairs to an empty room.8 In her frustration and confusion, Mrs. McBride could not have anticipated this would be the last time she would see her daughter alive.

At some point on her drive to her friend's home, Renisha swerved and hit a parked car, sustaining severe head injuries that left her dazed and confused.9 The disoriented teen wandered from the accident scene, returning at some point to be met by a resident of the neighborhood whose parked car she had struck.10 Noticing Renisha was discombobulated, unable to state her phone number, and holding her head with blood on her hands, the resident told Renisha to wait while she hurried inside to call EMS.11 However, when responders arrived, the injured teen had again vanished from the scene.12

Where Renisha wandered during the subsequent three hours that passed remains unknown.13 However, what is known is the injured teen somehow ventured on foot from Detroit's city limits to Dearborn Heights, a predominately White suburb.14 It was here, at around 4:40 a.m., she happened to bang for help on the windows and doors of Theodore Wafer's home.15 Wafer, who was reportedly startled awake by Renisha's banging, chose to grab his shotgun, unlock and open his front door, and fire a fatal shot at Renisha's face through the screen door, which remained locked.16 He was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and use of a firearm in commission of a felony.17

Weeks and months later, I could not get the picture of Renisha's face out of my head. The thought of her grieving family lingered daily in my mind, accompanied by the anxiety about whether justice would be served. It wasn't until writing this piece that I realized the sadder truth. Yes, I could have been her. You, your daughter, and your sister could have been her. But the most tragic part of Renisha's story is that she could have been me, she could have been us; she could have still been alive.

Who Was Renisha McBride?: A Typical Teen Behind the Tragedy

Typical teen. The word "typical," although simple, holds much power. In the context of criminal tragedies, the murder of the typical teen is the one that receives the community's outrage, society's empathy, and the media's attention. …

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