A little before 1 a.m. on Nov. 2, Renisha McBride crashed her car in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights.
What happened next isn't exactly clear. What we do know, thanks to a newly released autopsy report, is that McBride died as a result of a shotgun blast to the head on the porch of a house belonging to a 54-year-old white male.
McBride's family insists that she was looking for help after the accident.
"This was an unarmed girl," said Gerald Thurswell, the attorney representing the McBride family. "He had the shotgun in her face, the shotgun has a safety on it, in order for that gun to go off he would have [had to release it]."
The homeowner, who police haven't named because no charges have been filed against him, said through his attorney that he thought McBride was a home invader because he heard a "lot of banging" at his door. He also reportedly said that he felt "devastated" at her death.
Details are still coming in. But the fact that nobody has been arrested for the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager has naturally led to comparisons to the case of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The fact that Michigan, like Florida, has a strong stand-your-ground law has also stirred up national interest.
"After knocking on a neighbor's door, instead of being aided in the situation or police called for an investigation, she was shot fatally in the head," said the Detroit branch of the NAACP in a statement. "This shooting must be investigated at every level."
That investigation is still in its early stages. While the Wayne County Medical Examiner concluded that homicide was the cause of death, prosecutors could charge the alleged perpetrator with anything from involuntary manslaughter to the much more serious crime of voluntary manslaughter — or nothing at all. Not many other details have been released, except for the statement that "no evidence of close-range discharge" was discovered, meaning that she was shot from at least a foot away.
As long as an unarmed, 19-year-old teenager is dead and the person who allegedly shot her is free, the Martin comparisons will continue. The Guardian's Teresa Wiltz commented:
Renisha's shooting triggers memories of other cases — recent cases — of racial profiling run amok. Cases where the victim was black and the shooter wasn't, where the shooter claimed to be fearing for their life and so, naturally, was justified in pulling the trigger. Cases like Trayvon Martin. Or cases like the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former college football player who in September was gunned down by police in Charlotte, N.C. He, too, had just been in a car accident and was running toward police, looking for help. [The Guardian]
In Salon, author Roxane Gray wrote that "Trayvon Martin was murdered while walking home from a convenience store" while "Renisha McBride thought, like any reasonable person, that she could ask a stranger for help." Both of their deaths, she argued, are evidence that the "environment in the United States is toxic for black people."
The McBride family, however, has been cautious in calling for the man's arrest.
"It's fine that the office takes its time," Thurswell told The Daily Beast. "We don't want charges, we want a conviction. We want charges that will stick."
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