Renisha McBride and the criminalizing of black corpses

Dream Hampton and I were on Democracy NOW! with Amy Goodman this morning discussing the tragedy of Renisha McBride.


Renisha McBride and racial perceptions

Nov 13, 2013, 9:35 am     Local Politics | National Politics | Politics | State Politics                

Renisha McBride and racial perceptions



It’s been over a week since the homicide of a black teen by a white male homeowner in Dearborn Heights, reviving old discussions about the role race and class play in law enforcement detainments, investigations and the criminal justice system.

Renisha McBride, who was killed at the front door of a Dearborn Heights home was unarmed. According to the shooter’s attorney, he accidentally – yet justifiably – shot her because he was frightened. In fact, he was so scared that he opened up the door to shoot her, instead of keeping the door closed.


I have vocally posed the question at rallies: Would the Dearborn Heights Police have bought that excuse and not detained and charged the shooter had he been a black, Latino or Arab male shooting an unarmed white girl? I’ve also audibly wondered if the white shooter would have been scared if he saw an injured white female teenager at his door.

Race plays a part in how people view situations. Skin color and dress trigger visceral reactions in most of us. How many of us view a threat based on these prejudices? Let’s be honest.

Our country was founded on racial hierarchies, and our criminal justice system has these vestiges in terms of investigative and prosecutorial discretion. Private citizens have been influenced as well. It is, therefore, an easy conclusion for many of Renisha McBride’s relatives as well as numerous folks in the black community that she was viewed as a threat in large part because of her outward appearance. Moreover, this is why many of us are making comparisons to the Trayvon Martin case in which an unarmed black teen was profiled and killed because of his physical appearance.

I’m glad that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is doing her due diligence in thoroughly investigating this case. Many of us in the civil rights community are confident that she will charge the shooter. Even if the shooter killed McBride by accident, it would qualify as an involuntary manslaughter charge.

The bigger issue: Are we willing to have an honest conversation about how we are not a post-racial nation? How race affects the everyday lives of people of color differently from whites? How we can better ensure that our justice system truly treats everyone equally?

I don’t think that we are, but I pray that we will be one day.




One thought on “Renisha McBride and the criminalizing of black corpses

  1. A Message from Britain on the Death of Renisha McBride

    I am a middle-aged White British man who lives in Harlow, a town approximately 22 miles Northeast of the centre of London. I am a writer (so far without any commercial success).

    I read about the tragic case of Renisha McBride last Friday in a British newspaper called The Guardian, and wrote the following verses in response. Anyone who feels that my composition may be useful is free to use it in any form they see fit. I ask only that my authorship is acknowledged.

    The following verses are also attached to this email in the form of a Word document, to facilitate their use.

    I hope that justice can be served in this case, those responsible punished, and the law changed.

    Regards and Best Wishes

    Paul T Kegan

    The Dear Folk of Dearborn Heights

    There’s a suburb of Detroit City
    Goes by the name of Dearborn Heights
    Where householders stand their ground
    Where they know their Goddamn rights

    Their idea of assistance
    Is a bullet in your head
    If you’re young and Black and female
    They’ll probably shoot you dead

    The highway of compassion
    It bypasses Dearborn Heights
    On blistering August days
    And cold November nights

    Renisha McBride crashed her car
    At the tender age of nineteen
    Early one Saturday morning
    On streets unfriendly and mean

    She knocked on his door and asked him for help
    He picked up his gun and he fired
    As from his house she turned away
    And on his front porch she expired

    “The local police aren’t racist!”
    I imagine the outraged cries
    How then do we explain
    Their filthy racist lies?

    Renisha she was dumped
    That was what they said
    On the porch of an innocent man
    She was already dead

    The Prosecutor vetoed arrest
    In Wayne County it wasn’t a crime
    To shoot in the back of her head
    A woman, unarmed, in her prime

    Because killing Blacks is legal
    It’s written in Michigan law
    They’re free to gun you down
    If you knock upon their door

    Black folk can expect no sympathy
    In good ol’ Dearborn Heights
    Where householders stand their ground
    Where they know their Goddamn rights

    Paul T Kegan 10 November 2013

    In memory of Renisha McBride.

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