Friday, November 15, 2013

Latest Racial Shooting Not Black and White

Here we go again.

Another drunk driving accident.  Another shooting.  Another instance of a black person being shot to death by a white person.

Only this time, it happened in the combustible environs of suburban Detroit.  And we're talking literally, right outside the city, practically on the line between mostly-black Detroit and one of its mostly-white suburbs.

Dearborn Heights is 86% white, and it's where Theodore Wafer, a fifty-something white maintenance man at Detroit's international airport, was awoken early in the morning of November 2 by Renisha McBride.

Earlier that night, McBride had crashed her car into a parked car not far away in Detroit, and according to witnesses, walked away from the accident scene and then returned at least once, before wandering away again, only to turn up later several blocks away, and across the city line, on Wafer's doorstep.

McBride was thoroughly intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content three times Michigan's legal driving limit.  Her family assumes that being so drunk, McBride became disoriented, couldn't use her mobile phone, and chose - for no reason in particular - Wafer's house to try to get help.

Wafer, however, after opening his inside front door, shot McBride in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun.  She had been standing on his porch, behind the closed and locked screen door.  He was arraigned today on charges of second-degree murder in the shooting.

The state of Michigan does have a self-defense law that allows a licensed gun owner to shoot if their perceived aggressor is posing an "imminent" threat to the gun owner's own health or life, or the health or life of a third party.  What prosecutors don't believe existed in this case is the "imminent" threat, since McBride was still behind a closed and locked screen door.

What the courts will have to decide is whether or not Wafer suspected McBride was ready to injure him in some immediate way.  Perhaps he believed her to be in possession of a firearm herself, and if he could convince a jury of that, some sort of "imminent" threat could be established.

Or, did he just shoot because a black woman was standing on his front porch before sun-up?  It's likely the prosecution will look into Wafer's past to see if there is any history of racist behavior that they could use to paint Wafer as a trigger-happy bigot.

Either way, there's a lot of information that will likely never be proven, since the only person alive to recount that early morning shooting is the shooter himself.

Obviously, it's early in this case, and now's not the time to draw conclusions or cast blame.  However, so that cooler heads prevail here, let's look at several observations that don't depend on unreasonable speculation.  First, it's likely that that, considering what we all know so far in terms of the circumstances leading up to the shooting, and the fact that the shooter is the only key witness, the county prosecutor, Kym Worthy, really didn't have much choice in her decision regarding whether she would be pressing charges.  The front door may have been open, but the screen door was still closed and locked.  Worthy is not the judge or jury; she's the county prosecutor, and that screen door gives her all she needs to send the case to a judge and jury to render a verdict.

It's the only chance Wafer has to clear his name.

Then there's the location of this shooting, and the uncomfortable fact that the victim was black, and the accused is white.  In a place like Detroit, with its grim history of racism, no white gun owner should expect not to be hauled into court if they shoot a black person.  Especially if there are no witnesses.  To his credit, Wafer hasn't denied pulling the trigger, and he's apparently been cooperative with the investigators, and since reasonable doubt will be a major component of his defense, he stands a decent chance of being exonerated.  In fact, considering the deep-seated enmity that's existed between blacks and whites and Detroiters and suburbanites in southeastern Michigan, if Wafer ran all of the possibilities through his mind before he pulled the trigger, and he still fired, even after evaluating the potential repercussions, his lawyers could use that in his defense.

After all, it was before dawn, and even if his porch light was on, Wafer might not have been able to see whether or not McBride, in her drunken state, and perhaps waving her hands about, had a pistol in one of her hands.  I'm not taking his side in this case; just suggesting one of the many variables that might come up during the trial.

In addition, although both Worthy and McBride's family deny it, doesn't it seem that McBride's blood alcohol level is a big part of this case?  She drove drunk, crashed into a parked car, and left the scene of the accident.  That's three violations of the law right there.  When she returned to the scene, nobody apparently cared enough for McBride's safety to try and restrain her for an ambulance to come since, as at least one witness to the accident scene told police, she had a bloody injury.  There's a lot of dysfunction in this tableaux even before Wafer gets involved.  The point is that McBride was not acting like she was in any possession of her faculties; perhaps the reason no witness to the accident scene tried to help her is because they were scared of her behavior, and unsure of how she'd react to an intervention.

Okay, so that helps Wafer's case, too.  Maybe her irrational behavior simply scared him silly at that hour of the morning.  Granted, he didn't have to shoot to kill, and that fact won't help his case.

Unfortunately for Wafer, however, stands that reality of the closed and locked screen door.  That's what pushed Worthy to go ahead and file charges, and that's what Wafer's defense team is probably going to struggle with the most.  Not that a closed and locked screen door would have provided any protection for Wafer, since it certainly didn't for McBride, but it was sufficient an obstruction between the two people that Wafer should have been able to buy some time by yelling for help, yelling threats to McBride, getting on his phone to call 911, or some other less drastic reaction than firing a weapon.

Indeed, for those who want to paint Wafer as trigger-happy, while it may be awfully early in this case to make that assumption stick, it's an easy assumption to make, since just having a license to carry a gun doesn't mean the gun owner is going to use it wisely.  If Wafer's defense team is going to overcome what appears to be an obvious assumption on the part of the prosecution, they're going to have to prove that Wafer has a history of calm, measured, responsible behavior with his weaponry.  It's easy to forget that discharging a gun is always serious business.

Wafer will be back in court on December 18, and we'll see what happens after that.  For her part, Worthy seems to have diffused a potential race war that would have compounded all of the other problems facing not just Detroit proper, but its surrounding suburbs.  And that's probably the greatest sticking point here.  For the region's blacks to be pacified, at least temporarily, Wafer had to be charged.  What is the degree to which racism played a role in the black community's pacification?  Worthy herself was not racist by charging Wafer, since she was just doing her job based on the evidence as it's currently known.  But if the black community was waiting for Wafer to be charged before backing down from what had been a growing level of contention over the case, then what does that say about race relations in southeastern Michigan?

Hopefully, everyone will stay calm and wait for all of the facts to come out in a fair trial.  And that includes not just blacks and whites in the Detroit area, but racist agitators across the country, and the national media.

Let's see if our country has learned anything.

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