On Thursday afternoon, the jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Ted Wafer, the man who shot unarmed, 19-year-old Renisha McBride in the face through a locked screen door when she banged on his door following a car crash in Dearborn Height, Mich. in November. Wafer was found guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and felony firearm possession, in a decision that surprised some legal analysts. In reporting the verdict, HLN described it as "shocking," based on the expectation that the jury would, instead, return a manslaughter conviction:
After unsatisfactory verdicts in trials for the killers of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida, and the recent killing of Eric Garner by New York City police, the Wafer verdict does, at least, avoid another unjust devaluation of black life. On the other hand, that devaluation is still evident in the surprise greeting this verdict, and in the way the 19-year-old victim is spoken about, as in this tweet from The Associated Press, reporting the verdict:
Wafer faces a possible life sentence with parole, but as that Associated Press article notes, could get a much shorter sentence. Whatever satisfaction there is to be had from Wafer spending a number of years in prison (presumably under the nickname "Nilla"), is blunted by the fact that Renisha McBride will remain dead, her life needlessly, permanently cut short.
This is an insufficiency that exists any time an innocent person is murdered, that even the most final retribution falls short of true "justice," but in this case, in cases like it, that empty sensation is exacerbated by the knowledge that the current that causes them runs deep in our country, and a hundred verdicts like this won't reverse it.
Not only is it a matter of public policy that black people are a threat, it turns out that the more you point out how racist our criminal justice system is, the more white people want it to be more racist. That's according to a new study by Stanford researchers:
Hetey and Eberhardt conducted two experiments involving white subjects. In the first, white people were asked to watch one of two videos containing mug shots. In one video, 25 percent of the mug shots were pictures of black men, while in the other video, 45 percent of the mug shots depicted African American males. After watching the video, the subjects were then asked whether they would sign a petition calling for one of California’s strict sentencing laws to be eased.
The result: “Over half of the participants who’d seen the mug shots with fewer black men signed the petition, whereas only 27 percent of people who viewed the mug shots containing a higher percentage of black inmates agreed to sign.”
In the second experiment, two groups of white New Yorkers were shown different statistical data about the racial makeup of the prison population. One group was shown data indicating that 40 percent of prisoners are black while the other group was shown that 60 percent are black. Once again, the group that was led to believe that fewer people in the criminal justice system are African Americans were more likely to support liberalizing criminal justice policies. In this case, the New Yorkers were asked if they would sign a petition calling for the end of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. Thirty-three percent of the subjects who were led to believe that fewer African Americans are incarcerated were willing to sign the petition. Only 12 percent of the other group were willing to do so.
Time will tell what sort of justice is meted out in the killing of Eric Garner. In a case similar to Renisha McBride's, police officer Randall Kerrick shot unarmed Jonathan Ferrell 10 times, killing him, after a homeowner called police because Ferrell was knocking on his door seeking help after a car accident. A North Carolina grand jury refused to indict the officer, but a second grand jury did return an indictment: voluntary manslaughter. Ted Wafer's verdict avoided such an insult, but it wouldn't matter if all of these folks had the book thrown at them. As long as it is okay to treat one group of people as a threat because of the way they look, this will keep happening.