In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

Renisha McBride

By Sikivu Hutchinson

A white family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a black homeowner in an African American neighborhood. In this parallel universe the killer walks free, enjoying the benefit of being viewed as having defended his home from a violent intruder, while the big city D.A. decides whether or not to charge him.

It is no revelation to many black women in neo-apartheid Americana that being white and female pays deep dividends in everyday life.  Among these dividends is the ability to be seen as an innocent victim under dire circumstances and to have the weight of the American criminal justice system behind you upholding that perception.  Another is the advantage of secure access to elite suburban enclaves without fear of criminalization. Stranded in the early morning hours after a car crash in a predominantly white suburb outside of Detroit, nineteen year-old Renisha McBride had no such benefits.  A recent high school graduate, McBride had just gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company when she was brutally shot in the face by a white male resident after seeking help from the crash. Her family described her as warm and loving. As of this writing her killer has not been apprehended nor charged.

McBride’s killing is part of a long legacy of black female murder victims who have been devalued in a misogynist apartheid system of state-sanctioned violence that thrives on the urban/suburban racial divide. In 2010, seven year-old Aiyanna Jones was murdered by a Detroit police officer in her own home during a botched police raid. In 1999, a homeless fifty four year-old 5 feet tall black woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by LAPD officers in an affluent Los Angeles retail district after a dispute over a shopping cart. The officers in the Mitchell case were not charged. The officer in the Jones case was recently granted a retrial after the jury in his initial involuntary manslaughter trial deadlocked.  Civil rights activists and community protestors have compared McBride’s killing to that of Trayvon Martin, Emmet Till, Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo, globally known black male lynching victims whose white killers never saw jail time.  But the problem with these comparisons is that they unintentionally minimize lesser known black female victims of white supremacist violence such as Mitchell, Jones, Eulia Love, Eleanor Bumpurs, Alesia Thomas and Mitrice Richardson. Although the circumstances of these women’s deaths were quite different, the lack of sustained national and global attention (relative to black men who have been murdered under similar circumstances) unites them.   National civil rights activists and feminist organizations must ask themselves why these names have not become as prominent or high profile in national activism.  Mainstream civil rights organizations have long had a sexist, patriarchal blind spot when it comes to critical consciousness about the specific gendered and racialized ways in which black women are demonized, sexualized and criminalized in the U.S.  Historically, much of the language around black civil rights uplift has been oriented toward redeeming black men and pathologized black masculinity.  In K-12 education, students are typically taught about American history in general and the modern civil rights movement in particular as though they were merely a procession of events spearheaded by Great white men, a few exceptional men of color and Rosa Parks.  From MLK to the Black Panthers, black women’s self-determination was never part of the mainstream civil rights’ social justice calculus or platform.  Thus redressing the epidemic of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in African American communities has never been a major part of African American civil rights organizing.  Nor has the skyrocketing number of black women in prison and the ways in which this regime has led to the exponential increase of black children that are homeless or in foster care.

McBride’s murder underscores how gender, race and segregation intersect in the everyday experiences of black women as policed female bodies.  Black women, unlike white women, do not have the social privilege and advantage of the dominant culture’s belief in their feminine “innocence”, “fragility”, gentility or right to be protected from men of another race.  But in the justifiable national focus on the criminalization of black men, black women’s daily criminalization—on the highway, in stores, in schools and in the workplace—is minimized.  Next to black boys, black girls are the most suspended and expelled student group in the nation.  They are typically charged with posing a “threat” or exhibiting “willful defiance”.  Black students receive harsher punishments for non-violent offenses than do whites who commit identical or even more serious offenses such as theft or assault.  This disparity is a linchpin of the school-to-prison pipeline.  Consequently, one of every nineteen black women will be imprisoned during their lives; an atrocity that has had a devastating impact on black families and communities.

The national groundswell of support for Marissa Alexander, a young African American woman who, despite invoking Florida’s stand your ground defense, was sentenced to twenty years in prison after attempting to protect herself against an abusive spouse—has shed a long overdue spotlight on the specific ways in which black female victims of violence are criminalized.  Alexander’s well-documented history of spousal abuse didn’t prevent her from being slapped with a mandatory minimum sentence.  Conversely, McBride’s killer is still walking free as the Wayne County D.A. “assesses” and “investigates” whether he should even be charged.

McBride was buried this weekend, violently branded as guilty until proven innocent.


Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride
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15 thoughts on “In Cold Blood: The Murder of Renisha McBride

  1. 1

    My deepest sympathies to the young lady’s family and those who loved her.

    It’s one more way white privilege works in ways that are invisible to eyes raised with that privilege until looked for: that no number of good acts as an ally in fighting racism can ever put me on that porch and have the man on the other side of the door fear me as much as he did this young woman, and for no other reason than stereotypes related to our relative melanin proportions, aka racism. Same applies with mall security and the police they call, a distinguished professor trying to get into his own home, and TSA and border patrol and DAs and corrections officers and so many more. 🙁

    And there is no real way for me to not have that privilege through any action of my own, save to fight against the kind of racism that makes that privilege available

    1. 1.1

      Thankfully, her murder has been now ruled a homicide (by the medical examiner), which should help the investigation going forward. If it had been found to be accidental or by misadventure, it would have been a lot harder to get a charge laid.

      One obstacle to a faint echo of justice down. Only several thousand to go.

  2. 2

    I got thanked today by a friend of mine who’s a WOC who said that I am one of the few/only white women she knows who “gets it” as opposed to being bumblingly, annoyingly well-intentioned about race. I only mention it because I think the thanks are owed to you, Sikivu, as well as many other women of color I’ve met online who’ve done so much to help me learn how to be a white person who tries to help without being an ass about it. So, thanks. What you’re doing is working.

  3. 4

    On Black women and girls killed where their killers got away with it, I’d probably add Latasha Harlins as well, who was shot over (supposedly) attempting to steal a bottle of juice, for which the shooter got probation. Given that her killer was Asian, it also plays into the specific belief that, among minorities, Black people are uniquely prone to crime and violence and that *everybody* seems to be entitled to fear Black people.

    All said, shooting someone who knocks on your door? It isn’t like she tried to force herself in, and a 911 call would have been the right move which (perhaps, if I’m thinking optimistically) would have brought someone who could determine McBride needed medical attention. If someone knocks on your door and is *behaving strangely* calling 911 would make sense, but this could very well be the type of person who fantasizes about someday getting to shoot someone, probably a not-white someone as part of some violent fantasy.

    And being white does pay off, specifically being white and female. I notice that at stores, it’s like I get *permission* to lug around a bag even when it is obviously not a purse without suspicion. If I try to point out that I’ve been overcharged or billed the wrong amount, I’m not called a liar straight away and blown off. The list really goes on and on.

    1. 4.1

      Yes, Latasha Harlins is another tragic example. I didn’t initially think of her because that case involved a civilian assailant of color who was charged (even if the “punishment” was deeply offensive/egregious), unlike that of the majority of the other women cited.

      1. True, overwhelmingly, white people seem to have special rights regarding guns and shooting people who are not white where it’s almost assumed that they *must* have been justified.

  4. 5

    An editorial mistake perhaps:

    A white family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a black homeowner in an African American neighborhood. In this parallel universe the killer walks free, enjoying the benefit of being viewed as having defended his home from a violent intruder, while the big city D.A. decides whether or not to charge him.

    Shouldn’t it be a black family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a white homeowner?

  5. 7

    I have trouble commenting on this coherently. All I can do is imagine my child on that doorstep in desperate need of help and it makes me want to rage against the murderer, people like him and people who give them cover. I don’t know what to do to make things better. I don’t know what to say to the parents of this poor girl or to anyone else. “I’m so sorry”, does not cut it. I’m ashamed of my country right now and afraid for the children of color growing up in it.

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