By TALA NASHAWATI ’17
Self-defense no longer means what it used to.
On Nov. 2, a 19-year-old black woman named Renisha McBride was shot in the head and killed just outside of Detroit. She crashed her car at around 4:30 a.m. and ran to ask for help, drunk and disoriented. When the resident of the house, a 54-year-old white male named Theodore Wafer, heard the banging, he naturally grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun, lest the knocker be an intruder. As he opened the door for McBride, his gun accidentally went off in her face and killed her through the screen door.
If what happened early that morning on Nov. 2 ultimately qualifies as self-defense, legally or socially, then America has no idea what that concept truly means. This shooting has also sparked heated debate about gun control, and while gun control is not the main issue, it still is something to be discussed with regards to this specific case. Finally, this case highlights the continued pervasiveness and grave consequences of racism in American society.
First and foremost, this case is about the “Stand Your Ground” laws. Wafer is being charged with manslaughter and second-degree murder, and he is claiming two different things in defense. The first is that he acted in self-defense along the lines of the “Stand Your Ground” laws of Michigan. And secondly, he claims that his gun accidentally went off.
“Stand Your Ground” laws essentially state that if you think someone is about to kill you, you do not have to run away. You can just shoot, and it is perfectly legal. Wafer’s attorney is claiming rather vehemently that Wafer acted in accordance with these laws and that there is evidence to prove it: that it was the middle of night and that McBride was drunk and knocking on Wafer’s door in a disoriented and boisterous manner.
Prosecutor Kym Worthy stated, “We obviously do not feel that the evidence in this case reveals that the defendant acted in lawful self-defense.” This perspective is more rational, and there’s a lot more evidence to back it up.
First of all, there were no signs of forced entry. Wafer had to have opened the door himself to come face-to-face with McBride. When he did open the door, he was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun—a rather large, heavy weapon. Police investigations later confirmed that McBride was unarmed. So Wafer, armed with a shotgun in his home, opened the door to find an unarmed 19-year-old girl on his porch. Then his gun accidentally went off, and he called the police claiming that it was all done in self-defense.
That makes absolutely no sense. Wafer opened the door himself, which is enough to prove that he didn’t think McBride was an intruder. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that someone of Wafer’s age, armed with such a large gun, could have so strongly felt that his life was being threatened by an unarmed 19-year-old girl. Not to mention the fact that there was a screen door between them and there were no signs of forced entry.
If Wafer is ultimately acquitted because of these “Stand Your Ground” laws, something needs to change. If not, then the laws essentially give permission to gun owners to shoot at will and later claim that they acted in self-defense. However, if Wafer is convicted, then maybe the laws are just. A guilty verdict will prove that the laws properly distinguish between murder and self-defense. At this point it is fairly difficult to know how the laws will be applied, but one thing is certain: if what Wafer did can be called self-defense, then self-defense can also be defined as murder.
Issues regarding gun control have also arisen as a result of this shooting, since Wafer claims his gun went off by accident. He shot through the locked screen door. The medical examiner’s office in Detroit confirmed that McBride was not shot at close range. Wafer shot with a 12-gauge shotgun, which is neither light nor easy to lift and shoot. It would have taken real effort to lift a gun of that size, not to mention shoot it into McBride’s face.
If Wafer did, in fact, shoot by accident, gun laws need to be strengthened to ensure that civilians who own guns know how to use them. Gun-owners need to be better informed and more aware of the rules by which they are required to abide. The National Rifle Association (NRA) lays out these rules extremely clearly in order to prevent accidents like this from happening, and Wafer was obviously not following these rules.
The gun must always be pointed in a safe direction, your finger must be away from the trigger until ready to shoot, and the gun must be unloaded until ready to shoot. These are three of the NRA’s most critical rules, and had Wafer followed them, McBride might have survived. These rules need to be circulated more effectively to ensure that citizens who own guns do not shoot 19-year-old women dead on their front porches.
Finally, there is the issue of race. McBride was a young black woman in a predominantly white suburban neighborhood just outside of Detroit, and America has flared up in response. There have been riots and calls for justice, along with claims that racism has provoked murder. Wafer, who claims that he was intimidated, likely felt that way simply because McBride was black. However, race plays a much different role in court.
The prosecutor, Kym Worthy, does not have enough evidence to prove that Wafer shot simply because McBride was black, or that he was intimidated by her race. She made a good decision in deciding to keep the issue of race out of her case. The case itself should be about the facts, which alone should be enough to convict Wafer.
Even though this shooting brings to light many different issues, including gun control and racism, it ultimately stands to have far-reaching implications on the concept of self-defense in American law. This specific case should make Americans question whether “lawful” self-defense is equivalent to murder. If what Wafer did is ruled to be self-defense, then the answer to that question will have grown closer to yes.