black women

Renisha McBride vs. Trayvon Martin: Why these cases are NOT the same

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wafer-mcbrideby Dr Boyce Watkins

I was recently on CNN to discuss the case of 19-year old Renisha McBride.  McBride was shot by 55-year old Theodore Wafer after knocking on his door after a car accident.  The case was tragic, and as the father of daughters that are close to Renisha’s age, I could feel her family’s pain.

The case has been described by some as a black teen who was inexplicably shot when knocking on a stranger’s door to get help, and has been compared to the killing of Trayvon Martin.   When I was studied the facts about the case and stated what I knew on television, someone asked me, “Why aren’t defending this black woman who was shot?”

I thought about it for a second and replied to the person, “I certainly defend Renisha’s right to fairness, truth, justice and equity.  But I am not willing to tell lies in order to do so.”

I hate saying this, but the “innocent black child” story might be defined as a gross mischaracterization of what happened that night.  While we know that there are historic biases clearly showing that black people, especially women, have lives that are valued less than others, it would be unfair to define this case to be similar to that of Trayvon.

In fact, I have to admit that in the scores of times I’ve appeared on CNN over the years, no appearance has made me more uncomfortable than this one.

Some people are attributing the difference in the coverages of the Renisha McBride trial and Trayvon Martin case as a matter of gender discrimination.  This is a possibility, since we know that the deaths of young black women are often ignored in media.

But the case of Renisha McBride might not be the right time to presume that gender-based disparities are the reason that people aren’t fighting for her as much as they fought for Trayvon, Hadiyah Pendleton or 11-year old Shamiyah Adams, who was hit by a stray bullet in Chicago last week.

The truthful reality is that, most people know that on the night Renisha was shot, she’d drank half a bottle of vodka, smoked three blunts, got behind the wheel, crashed into a parked car, illegally left the scene of a car accident, and knocked on a stranger’s door at 4 o’clock in the morning.  It’s clear that she wasn’t in her right mind, since her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

To compare this case to that of Trayvon Martin might cause us all to look like hypocrites, since you can’t compare a kid walking home from the store with Skittles and Ice Tea to a person who’d been drinking and smoking all night before leaving the scene of a car accident to wake a stranger up at 4 o’clock in the morning.  The police and an ambulance were on their way, so it’s tough to argue that she was “looking for help.”  This chain of events certainly plays into the manner by which McBride may have approached Wafer’s house that night:  Did she knock politely, or did she engage in the same irrational behavior that she’d been showing all night long?

Did the man have to shoot Renisha? Of course not. He should be tried for his actions and found guilty, as any of us would for shooting someone for banging on our door at 4 am.  But I also know people who live in high crime areas who would be stunned to have someone banging on their door at 4 o’clock in the morning.

While it might be simple and easy to just presume that this man wanted to wake up in the middle of the night so that he could go on a racist tirade and murder an innocent black person, it might make more sense to assume that he just overreacted.  It is also abundantly clear that, unlike George Zimmerman, Wafer didn’t go out looking for trouble that night.  Trouble came looking for him while he was in deep REM sleep, which can cause a serious jolt to your system when you’ve been interrupted.

This case didn’t just hit me close to home because I have daughters McBride’s age.  It also affected me because I’ve been in the shoes of Wafer.  I once had a drunken neighbor try to break into my house at 11 o’clock at night.  She rang the doorbell over and over again, scaring the hell out of me, and when I opened the door, she tried to come into my house.  I was shocked and remember having to be VERY physical with this woman to keep her out of my home.

The crazy thing about it was that I’D NEVER MET THIS WOMAN BEFORE IN MY LIFE.

Of course I wasn’t going to shoot the woman, but I did put my hands on her.  If I’d owned a gun, I would have had it with me.  As a man who is adamantly against violence against women under almost any circumstances, I found myself having to break my own rule to keep this woman from coming into my home uninvited.  Most amazing was the fact that when I met the woman later when she’d not been drinking, she didn’t even remember what she’d done that night when she tried to come into my house.

Years after that, I was hit in the back of my car by a drunk driver.  When I asked the person to roll down her window so we could exchange information, she refused to speak to me.  She then drove away from the accident and ran over a pedestrian at a stop light.  That didn’t stop her either, as she continued to drive all the way home.  The point here is that people who are under the influence can do things that put the lives of others in  jeopardy, which is why we should consistently warn young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Once again, should Wafer have shot Renisha that night?  Absolutely not.  Should Renisha die because she was high, drunk, driving and evading the police?  No, she should not.   Does this mean that we should not demand that Renisha’s family receive appropriate justice?  Absolutely not.

But was he this man frightened, as any of us would be?  Probably, especially living in a city like Detroit, where the police have warned citizens to arm themselves to avoid being crime victims.  This doesn’t let Wafer off the hook for what he did, but it does give us additional facts that must be taken into consideration when evaluating this case.

One thing we should not do is misuse the black liberation struggle as a way to play the race card every time a black person tangles with a white person.  Also, anyone who thinks that McBride is not getting attention because of her gender should take a look at all of the young black women we’ve marched for over the years.  In fact, I dare say that we’ve marched for more women than men in the last half decade, as black women are important figures in our community who also deserve our protection and support.

My appeal to those who seek to be fair-minded and honest, is to at least try to seek the truth and not just promote a thoughtless, uninformed agenda.  Radical feminists and hardcore liberals have some black people pushed so far against a wall that we can end up feeling like we’re being traitors when we don’t attribute every mishap to racial or gender oppression.   But when evaluating Renisha’s case, all facts must be considered, not just the ones that are politically convenient.

Renisha McBride’s case is not the same as that of Trayvon Martin.  In fact, they’re not even close, other than the fact that they were both black teenagers shot by a person who isn’t black.  There were different kinds of people involved, a different kind of neighborhood, and very different actions taken by each party on the night in question.  If we’re going to study this case and talk about it, we need to focus on the facts.




  1. Stunned

    July 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Lady u have some serious issues.

  2. m1

    July 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    What is your view of Joe Hendrix killing Ronald Westbrook in a similar manner, the way Ted wafer killed Renisha McBride?

  3. Anthony Allen

    July 25, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Her case has no similiarity to trayvon other than she was unarmed also. Negligent homocide at best. Poor girl made a couple of really bad errors. I feel for her and her family.

  4. Bb girl

    July 25, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Your article is repulsive! Who the hell cares that she was drinking and smoking weed. She needed help! Trayvon Martin was no saint!’ How dare you use the same arguments that racists have been using for centuries?? I am so happy that I am no longer loyal to black men…they have never (including family members) have always treated me with disrespect! Black women, do not listen to this fool!!

  5. Bb girl

    July 25, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I was so dang angry that I made some serious typos so here it is again:
    Your article is repulsive! Who the hell cares that she was drinking and smoking weed. She needed help! Trayvon Martin was no saint!’ How dare you use the same arguments that racists have been using for centuries?? I am so happy that I am no longer loyal to black men…the (including family members) have always treated me with disrespect! Black women, do not listen to this fool!!

  6. Bb girl

    July 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Anthony Allen: SHE was MURDERED! No damn excuses!!!

  7. Jalil Al-Amiin

    July 25, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Dr.Boyce Watkins its seems you suffer from the same journalism laziness bug, like so many other blogger types. Mr.Wafer doesn’t reside in Detroit,Renisha did. He lives in Dearborn Heights a suburb of Detroit. Which in no way shape or form, has a high crime rate or slow police response. But I get mention “Detroit” and suck in the uninformed readers… SMH

  8. Diva With A Dream

    July 26, 2014 at 12:04 am

    You are kidding. Trayvon was thought to have smoked weed and had skittles and iced tea to make a popular version of the “slizzurp” drink using cough medicine. Black women fought for Trayvon Martin and took to the streets, now when Renisha McBride gets shot by a man she was asking for help from, you assassinate her character like a White Republican? You might as well join their ranks. Black males seem to hate Black women and you write this mess to hide your hatred. Get well soon “Dr.”

  9. Reese

    July 26, 2014 at 12:21 am

    I will not waste a minute reading any other crap from him. So what if she wasn’t an angel neither were Trayvon Martin. This type of mentality from black men when the victim is a black woman is why black women are writing about not marching.

  10. Sharon

    July 26, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Stop !! I usually enjoy your comments . This time stop. Don’t be a sale out on this issue . Stop please. Keep your self respect.

  11. PghRich

    July 26, 2014 at 1:35 am

    I’m sure that this coward will get away with this murder in view of the fact that the author of this diatribe will undoubtedly be a witness for the defense
    After all he was there when Ms McBride dranked a half a bottle of vodka, smoked three blunts, got behind the wheel, crashed into a parked car, Illegally left the scene of a car accident. Was standing at the door as she Knocked on the coward’s door, at 4 0’clock in the morning, so hard that it shock the building. And I know he must have been at the morgue when they checked her blood alcohol level. How else would he be able to quote all these “facts” what better defense witness.

  12. Devon

    July 26, 2014 at 2:10 am

    1st Bb gurl or whatever okay you dont like blkmn okay maybe they dont like you becuz your attitude is nasty or ur obese and nasty or you aint cute in the face whatever…but remember somebody sired ur azz thats why you hear and somebody sired ya mama too. Cant relate to you hatin black men i just married my baby of six years sooooo anywhoo Renisha made mistakes you dont go bangin on ppl door at 4am. Ppl tried to help her she wouldnt let them. Dude was wrong for killin her. Dude fucked up and Renisha was fukked up from booze and weed. RIP

  13. Joe S.

    July 26, 2014 at 3:21 am

    First I want to say forgive me if I get her age wrong. I think one problem here is that people act as though they were never young before. I’m pretty sure when most of us were 19, 20, 21, etc. had some questionable behavior and actions. I know I did at that age. The problem I have with this situation is that it seems to be okay to bring up another black teens immature behavior which truly disturbs me. The most hurtful is the divide that seems to resonating between black men and women, it’s bad enough that we perpetuate negative images and ideas of black women and men but do we really have to get into a debate about fighting for the basic rights for each other? I thought we were in this together, that mentality will be the demise of black people as a whole. We need to stop being separatist and stand together because if we don’t what else is there to fight for? Back to young Ms. McBride’s tragic loss of life at the hands of a fearful man who heard a noise at 4 am, opened his door, and fired a shotgun at an unidentified individual. I could maybe understand a pistol being used but a shotgun hmm, what do you think his intent was that night when he opened his door at 4 am because of a noise or banging? Since we are examining young Ms. McBride’s actions that night, what about his actions, was he acting correctly, his screen door was locked, why pick the shotgun, most importantly why open the D**M door in the first place? I was always taught to ask who is it before opening the door when you didn’t expect someone, I believe that’s what peepholes were made for I don’t know I could be wrong, maybe look through the window or something but why open your door and go get the gun.

  14. Hiroader2

    July 26, 2014 at 3:51 am

    As a gun owner no identity, no communication, no “immediate” physical threat between the doors and himself.., When does “Who is it?” come into play?… And an autopsy or forensic investigation isn’t being use to disclose any “car crash” injuries before the shooting… When someone’s banging at your door, your first instinct is to hit the floor & crawl around? ***turn off all the lights*** and Grab a shotgun?… wtf.. What’s this court thinking? …

  15. marcus davis

    July 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Of course she didn’t deserve to get shot and killed ,but she wasn’t exactly helping herself either ,she shouldn’t have been driving drunk to begin with.If she had used common sense at the start that chain of events would never have happened and she would still be alive.If she had been pull over by a police cruiser prior to the accident she probably would have been charged for driving over the limit.

  16. Vnr

    July 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    People stop the bickering, a life was lost and let us pray that justice will be rendered

  17. carson queen

    July 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Wow, Doc, you threw some of your commentators for loop, gosh, no race card to play. Someone tearing your screen door to get in should expect something harsh, coupled with the embedded fear that exist in Detroit.

  18. legalchitown

    July 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Firstly this is poor journalism at best. The ending you openly admit to being biased. Secondly I’ve had stoned wht kids on my lawn at my door butt azz naked. I didn’t feel the need to blow their heads off. She did not pose and imminent threat to him to justify him murdering her. Hell she wasn’t even in the damn house. Who in their right mind would ring the door bell of someone the intended to harm. I’m sure he didn’t wake up wanting to kill her but truth is truth. WE all know IF THIS WOULDA BEEN LITTLE BECKY he would’ve invited her in for tea and cookies. Next time some one who’s impartial should perhaps do the write up. It’s an unfortunate event but you have to call a spade a spade. Nobody has to be perfect to NOT get their head blown off or else we’d all be dead.

  19. Tony Watt

    July 26, 2014 at 6:56 pm


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