Restraint needed, please, in divisive Renisha McBride case

by | Nov 18, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Let’s practice saying the sentence.

“We don’t know.”

We will need to say it an awful lot in the coming months, because we may have our own Trayvon Martin case brewing.

The shooting death of a young woman, Renisha McBride, has sides lining up. And after the shooter was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm on Friday, the rumbling grew louder.

But remember. We don’t know. Say it. We don’t know anything except a woman is dead and a man allegedly shot her. I write “allegedly” — even though no one apparently disputes that — because that is journalistic protocol for how you speak before a case is decided.

We would be wise to use protocol ourselves.

Because you already may have formed an opinion when you heard that a 54-year-old white man from Dearborn Heights shot a 19-year-old black woman from Detroit when she allegedly banged on his front door in the wee hours of the morning.

But we don’t know.

You may feel certain there is no justification for such violence; the woman was just looking for help.

But we don’t know.

You may believe the woman said or did something threatening, because nobody just shoots someone for being on the porch, right?

But we don’t know.

You may argue that people get nervous with guns in their hands, and the man, Theodore Wafer, told police his 12-gauge shotgun went off by accident.

But we don’t know.

Two sides of the argument

You may say, as family members of McBride have told the media, that this was about racial profiling.

But we don’t know.

You may say the way Wafer shot McBride will prove his intentions, but the family first claimed she was shot in the back of the head and the autopsy by the medical examiner’s office revealed she was shot in the face.

And we don’t know.

You may agree with those who say, “She was just an innocent kid, her cell phone was dead, she had no options, she was trying to get home.”

But we don’t know.

You may say, “She was hardly innocent, her blood-alcohol level was 0.218% and there was marijuana in her system, according to the toxicology report.”

But we don’t know.

You may think people who answer the door with a shotgun are trigger-happy to begin with, prone to shoot first and ask questions later.

But we don’t know.

You may think every American has the right to defend his or her home, that guns are constitutionally protected, that evidence will show this woman was a threat to the homeowner.

But we don’t know.

Lessons from the past

You may think, “This is an irresponsible teen. She plowed into a parked car and fled the scene of an accident because she was drunk.”

But we don’t know.

You may claim, “This is an irresponsible shooter. There were no signs of forced entry, so what harm could he have feared that justified pulling a trigger?”

But we don’t know.

You might declare, “This is what always happens. The victim will be blamed, the dead cannot speak, the shooter will be exonerated, and just like in the Martin case, the guy will go free.”

But we don’t know.

You might fret that, “Here we go again. A man trying to protect himself will be the latest pawn in the racial finger-pointing, to be vilified unfairly for the rest of his life.”

But we don’t know.

Emotions run hot. Conclusions run rampant. Everyone wants to solve this case before the people charged to do it get a chance. But that is not healthy. That is not wise. That is historically dangerous. Because history shows we are constantly amazed at how different a case looks once all the facts are brought to light.

I have no idea what actually happened that terrible night in Dearborn Heights. I do know that nobody wants to go through another Trayvon Martin situation, and this is a delicate tinderbox of a case, a blowing candle away from exploding.

Everybody wants justice quickly. But justice should be immune to impatience. Justice should take as much time and effort as it needs to ensure everything and everyone is heard from and considered.

That’s what makes justice so precious.

And that much, we all know.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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