The Case of Renisha McBride

 I believe that we live in a country that justifies killing in response to someone "banging" on your door. I hope I am wrong.

It's been a little more than two weeks since Renisha McBride was killed in Dearborn Heights. An inebriated McBride crashed her car, and somehow, wandered on to the porch of Theodore Wafer. McBride was evidently knocking on the door. Wafer responded by killing her:

The Dearborn Heights homeowner dialed 911, telling the dispatcher: “I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun banging on my door.”

When police arrived, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was lying on her back with her feet pointed toward the door, a shotgun wound to her face, a newly released police report says.

On Friday, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced second-degree murder and other charges against homeowner Theodore Wafer, saying the evidence suggests he opened the front door before he fired through the closed and locked screen door, killing McBride.

“I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams of what that man feared from her to shoot her in the face,” her mother Monica McBride said on Friday. “I would like to know why. She brought him no danger.”

Unfortunately whether Wafer was in danger or not is irrelevant to whether he will be convicted of any crime. He has been charged with second-degree murder. The standard for self-defense in Michigan provides for the use of "deadly force or force other than deadly force honestly and reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in conduct described in subdivision (a)" (my emphasis).

Here is a preview of what you will likely hear:

It’s not yet clear what kind of argument Theodore Wafer, the Dearborn Heights man accused of shooting the 19-year-old McBride through his screen door on Nov. 2 and charged with 2nd-degree murder on Friday, might use in his defense. But the bar will be high.

“The standard for self-defense is that you reasonably perceive a threat of death or serious bodily harm from the other person. You respond with equal force. You can’t use deadly force ample to defend your home or to prevent someone from stealing your property. It can only be used for self-defense or defense of others,” Henning says.

Authorities say McBride came to Wafer’s door around 4:30 a.m. after crashing her car. A toxicology report found twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood.

Could there be valid argument of self-defense in this case if the defendant was behind a locked screen door? “Certainly that’s a possibility,” says Henning. “It is possible that there was shouting, or perhaps an effort to open up the door, or bang on a window or something like that could give him a basis to believe that there was a threat that someone was going to break into his home. From there, you could infer a threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

I'm not optimistic about this case. There are no eyewitnesses. The killing happened at the man's home as opposed to out on the street. And the only direct narrative will come from the lips of a killer who has every interest to shape that narrative in a way that justifies his actions. 

I haven't written much on this case, because I don't know what else to offer beyond my deep skepticism of the courts as a likely resolution. It is painful to keep writing this. I believe that we live in a country that justifies killing in response to someone "banging" on your door. I hope I am wrong. It is sickening to believe myself right. It is sickening to see a polite society submit to gun law.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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