The killings of Renisha McBride in Detroit and Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte show that perceptions of young Black people can be wrong – and fatal.
You’d think that the sight of an African-American person at one's door would not be an altogether jolting experience for white Americans. But in this age of Obama, Oprah and Jay Z and Beyoncé, the very presence of an African-American stranger at close range can clearly evoke a panic strong enough to result in mortal consequences.
That certainly was the case with Renisha McBride, the 19-year-old Detroit resident who was shot to death earlier this month on the porch of a suburban house after she sought help from a resident after her car malfunctioned.
Tragic as it was, hers was far from an isolated incident. It came after Jonathan Ferrell, a 25-year-old African-American former college football player, was shot to death in September in North Carolina after he, too, sought help, this time from a police officer after his car had been involved in an accident.
Of course, all of this falls in the aftermath of the incident that galvanized the nation: The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s fiancée in a gated community near Orlando in 2012. For a time, George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s killer, had considered invoking Florida’s "stand your ground" law, which gives Floridians license to use deadly force against another individual is they feel the threat of imminent danger.
It is outrageous that in a country that prides itself as holding a tradition where people take care of the urgent needs of others, being Black seems to often trump any convention of neighborly compassion. The knee-jerk reaction it seems for many white Americans is to see their darker citizens as likely offenders and lawbreakers for whom gunfire is the most reasonable greeter.
Even without the horrendous incident of Trayvon Martin, these killings should ignite a renewed discussion in many American legislatures about the irrational foolhardiness of the wave of "stand your ground" legislation that has been enacted in far too many states around the country.
There will be many who will argue that repealing such laws would be unnecessary. They will point to the fact that the police officer in the death of Ferrell was charged with voluntary manslaughter. They will also point out that Zimmerman was ultimately charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, even though he was acquitted.
The greater point, however, is that there is no justification for the killing of any human being based on the mere perception that he or she may be a threat. The deaths of McBride and Ferrell should remind Americans of how easily snap judgments are made that are both erroneous and deadly.
It should serve further as a case study in why laws like the irrational Florida "stand your ground" law have no place in a civilized society.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Brian Kaufman)