No charges made in Detroit shooting of unarmed black teenager

Renisha McBride was shot in the face while seeking help after a car accident, prompting outrage in local community

From left, Pastor W. J. Rideout, Renisha McBride's Aunt Bernita Spinks and Ron Scott of Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality speak to the press during a vigil in Dearborn Heights on Wednesday in front of the house where she was fatally shot.
Ricardo Thomas/AP

Prosecutors are seeking more information from police before deciding whether to charge a man who fatally shot a black woman on the porch of a Detroit home in a predominately white neighborhood, sparking accusations of racial profiling.

Renisha McBride, 19, was killed by a shotgun blast in Dearborn Heights early Saturday.

Her family says she likely approached the home, in the predominantly white neighborhood of Dearborn Heights, to seek help after getting into a car accident. The case is reminiscent of the September death of a young, black man in North Carolina who was shot 10 times by police after he sought help after getting into a car accident. The officer involved in that shooting was charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Dearborn Heights police said the shooter told investigators that his shotgun accidently discharged, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Police say they’ve identified the person who shot McBride and requested a warrant in the case. The Wayne County prosecutor’s office said it sent the request back to police Wednesday for additional investigation before making a charging decision.

McBride’s aunt Bernita Spinks, who is acting as family spokeswoman, said the family believes the shooting was racially motivated and wants justice.

“Why didn’t he call 911? That’s what I want to know. ... It’s racial profiling,” Spinks told the Detroit Free Press.

A graduate of Southfield High School, McBride was described by those who knew her as a friendly person who worked hard. She recently got a job at the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn on the inspection line, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“She was sweet,” Spinks told the newspaper. “She didn’t get into trouble.”

A rally in support of McBride’s family took place Thursday evening outside the Dearborn Heights Police Department.

Dream Hampton, an author and human rights activist from Detroit who attended the rally, said she was “outraged that a 19-year-old girl was shot in the face and no one is in custody.”

Hampton said that’s what the rally is about – letting the police department know they are angry that an arrest has not been made.

“This is a rally for justice, and to stand with her family,” Hampton said. The Dearborn Heights Police Department declined to comment Thursday.

'Senseless killing'

Pastor WJ Rideout, another local activist, said he also disagreed with the way police handled the case.

 “This young lady didn’t have a weapon, wasn’t threatening — she was crying out for help and she was shot down viciously,” Pastor Rideout of All God’s People Church in Detroit told Al Jazeera.

Social media users have responded angrily to McBride’s death, with some users already comparing her death to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

Like Florida, Michigan has its own version of the controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law — used to concrete George Zimmerman’s self-defense case in Martin’s killing — called the Castle Doctrine.

The doctrine states that a homeowner has the right to use deadly force against anyone trespassing on their property or attempting to break into their home. It applies even if the homeowner simply believes someone is attempting to break in.

Others tie the incident to a recent case in Charlotte, N.C., when a police officer shot 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, who had just been in a car accident and was seeking help at a nearby home on Sept. 14.

The resident of the home called the police and when they arrived, Ferrell, a former Florida A&M University football player, reportedly ran towards them. Police shot Ferrell 10 times, killing him. The officer, Randall Kerrick, was charged with voluntary manslaughter.

McBride’s case again brings the issue of racially motivated crimes to the forefront in the U.S.

Rideout, who went to the house where the shooting took place with other activists Wednesday, said he “got a visual” on the alleged shooter and said he “was not black.”

He said if the shooter had been black, he would not be out free. Dearborn is a predominantly Middle Eastern and white area.

Hampton said this crime is tied to the “idea that black bodies are considered dangerous and criminal.”

“Anyone who does any kind of sociology work knows that Michigan is one of the most segregated areas of the country — it’s a kind of apartheid. The city of Detroit is about 80 percent black and is surrounded by various segregated suburbs,” Hampton said.

She added that Dearborn is called what social justice advocates refer to as a “sunset town.” The term goes back to the 50s and refers to towns that would post signs warning black people to leave by sundown or face intimidation or even bodily harm.

Rideout said tougher laws must be put into place to make sure anyone who commits murder, whether accidently or not, is held in jail until there are cleared — not to be left free to kill again.

“This is giving people the idea that they can just go shoot a human being down like they’re shooting a deer — it’s just ridiculous,” Rideout said.

“There’s all this senseless killing going on, and I’m tired of seeing it. I’m deeply devastated, deeply hurt inside. It’s not a race thing. It’s a soul thing.”

Al Jazeera and wire services. Renee Lewis contributed to this report.

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