Commentary: In Detroit, Justice Attained for Renisha McBride

Many in Michigan and beyond were stunned that Theodore Wafer was found guilty of the murder of the 19-year-old Black woman.

Posted: 08/08/2014 02:53 PM EDT

Up until just a few days before the verdict was rendered in a Detroit courtroom in the emotionally charged case of the death of Renisha McBride, legal pundits appeared on television news shows and predicted that it would be difficult for prosecution to win its case.

After all, they reasoned, Theodore Wafer, the man accused of the murder of the 19-year-old African-American woman, had spoken powerfully, soberly and convincingly when he was on the stand speaking in his own defense. Some legal experts predicted that the trial was likely to end in a hung jury.

But that was far from the case. The jury in fact shocked a good deal of the world’s onlookers by finding Wafer guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The jury decided that Wafer had taken the law into his own hands when he decided to shoot McBride after she walked onto his porch in the suburb of Dearborn Heights and knocked on the door, ostensibly seeking assistance after an accident.

Wafer, who is white, said he believed the teenage McBride was attempting to break into his home and explained in the trial that he was acting in self-defense.

While the prosecution downplayed the role of race in the fatal confrontation, it has everything to do with many African-Americans' reaction to the verdict. It comes a year after George Zimmerman was exonerated in the death of another unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. To many Americans, Black and otherwise, that seemed to be as clear a case of racial profiling gone fatal as anyone could imagine.

The other issue is that this country does not have a long track record of white Americans being convicted of killing young people of color. It’s simply not part of our experience with the criminal justice system. And so the verdict, coming in about two days of deliberation, stood out in a way few jury decisions do. Even McBride’s mother said she was astonished by the verdict.

It can be attributed in part to the fact that there were significant nuances in Wafer’s story that shifted from the time of the killing until the trial. But more than anything it is overwhelmingly satisfying to see justice served in this case. It is not just a comfort to the family of McBride, but also to a significant portion of a nation that craves justice on an equal footing for all its citizens.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: AP Photo/The Detroit News, Clarence Tabb Jr.)

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