Sunday, August 10, 2014

Justice For Renisha McBride - Theodore Wafer Found Guilty of Murder

Theodore Wafer and Renisha McBride [Photo ABC News]
A court ruling last week reminds us that there are ocassional victories for the sense of humanity, decency and fair play that define what America is supposed to be about.

Back on November 15, 2013  when I blogged about 19-year-old Renisha McBride's death, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about the chances of her and her family getting justice from the court system.

The grisly shooting that took her life in the early morning hours of November 2nd, 2013 was part of a disturbing pattern that is more prevalent in the United States - an innocent and unarmed African-American with no criminal record being shot and killed by a white male on the premise of feeling "threatened".

Let's review the facts.

McBride had spent an evening doing what millions of other people do; drinking alcohol and smoking weed. She was legally intoxicated when she was involved in a single car accident in a Dearborn Heights, Michigan neighborhood.

After stumbling around in confusion for awhile, and with no power in her cell phone, at about 4:40am she walked up to 54-year-old Theodore Wafer's porch and knocked on his door to ask for help.

Wafer opened his door and shot her in the face with a shotgun through a screen door at point blank range, killing her instantly.

George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin
Just after the shooting, Wafer lied to police stating the shotgun had gone off accidentally.

He also falsely claimed McBride was trying to break into his house.

The shooting occurred in the wake of the controversy of George Zimmerman being found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Did you hear that back in March Zimmerman was at a Central Florida gun show signing autographs and shaking hands with admirers?

Evidently smitten with the fact that he shot an innocent 14-year-old black kid walking home from the store to his father's home with a bag of Skittles and some juice, and got away with it.

McBride's death happened less than a month after a 27-year-old white North Carolina police officer named Randall Kerrick shot Jonathan Ferrell ten times and killed him.

Ferrell was an unarmed 24-year-old African-American college athlete who made the mistake of knocking on a woman's door and asking for help after a car crash.

In a panic she called 911, the cops showed up, saw Ferrell walking towards them (thinking they'd come to help him) tasered him, then promptly shot him ten times.

Jonathan Ferrell and former Charlotte-Mecklenberg
PD officer Randall Kerrick
In the context of those events, I felt like the prospects for Renisha McBride getting justice were slim, but the courts proved me wrong.

Last Thursday afternoon a jury of seven men and five women found Theodore Wafer guilty on three counts of second-degree murder, manslaughter and a felony firearms charge following nine days of harrowing testimony and two days of deliberation.

The racial implications in the McBride case are clear, but the jury's decision is much bigger than that.

In my view it sends an important message to the NRA, the Tea Party and Republican lawmakers who dangle at the end of the strings held by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who are collectively responsible for introducing laws like 'Stand Your Ground' in Florida which allowed George Zimmerman to stalk, attack and murder unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012.

Or the 'Shoot First' law introduced in Michigan in 2006.

Laws which have the effect of conferring upon white citizens a sense of a right to use deadly force against citizens of color under the shaky and ambiguous pretense of  "fearing for their life" - therefore sanctioning a dangerous "shoot first ask questions later" firearms policy. 

Now Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law is not specifically written with language that suggests it's only for white people to invoke.

Ex-US Air Force Airman Michael Giles
But I use the term "white citizens" because cases like that of former USAF Airman Michael Giles (who is African-American) make clear that Florida prosecutors hold people who use a 'Stand Your Ground' defense after firing a weapon are held to totally different standards based on their race. 

Where George Zimmerman targeted, stalked, confronted and murdered Trayvon Martin and was able to convince a Florida jury he was justified because he was standing his ground, Michael Giles was punched in the back of the head and knocked to the ground during a 2010 melee at a Florida nightclub.

He took out his handgun, which he had a concealed carry permit for, and shot his attacker in the legs, injuring two bystanders with bullet fragments - the jury rejected his claim of self defense and he was found guilty of aggravated battery and sentenced to a mandatory 25 year sentence.

There's an ongoing grassroots social media campaign to get Giles, who served two tours overseas in the Middle East, freed.

But the outcome of the Renisha McBride case in Michigan makes clear that these laws do not give Theodore Wafer or any other citizen free license to kill innocent people with guns - especially when their lives are not actually threatened.

I think it also makes clear that Michigan wants to carefully distinguish itself from states like Florida, who's absurd 'Stand Your Ground' law is so abstract as to encourage mentally unbalanced people like George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn to commit murder - or Georgia where the state recently passed laws allowing people to carry loaded handguns into bars or even churches.

The jury decision in the McBride case reminds us that we are a nation of laws.

It won't bring back Renisha McBride's life, but if it serves as a warning for trigger-happy gun owners to think twice before shooting a human being and call 911 instead, perhaps it gives her death meaning and her family and friends some measure of solace knowing that the loss of her life could very well save someone else's.

I think the essence of the case boils down to a simple quote from the parents of Renisha McBride, as her father said after the court verdict, "That could have been anybody's kid."    

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