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Stay away from Dearborn Heights.

Those were five unsettling words I remember as a teenager growing up in Detroit during the mid-1960’s. I was warned to steer clear of Dearborn Heights, an affluent, predominantly white Michigan suburb that had a region-wide reputation for not welcoming black folks to the neighborhood.

There were all kinds of rumors back then: White supremacists lived in Dearborn; black teenagers could get attacked while biking through the well-manicured neighborhoods; black men could get beat up just for glancing at a white girl; and white boys would yell the N-word at black pedestrians in the area.

But like most of my friends, I never ventured into Dearborn Heights, or nearby Dearborn, because I was black.

And it wasn’t just because of perception.

”City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,”’ David Good, a 54-year-old lifelong resident of Dearborn, told The New York Times in 1997.

As a teenager, I always heard that a black person could easily get shot just for passing through the Dearborn Heights city limits.

And that’s exactly what happened to 19-year-old Renisha McBride, an unarmed black woman from Detroit who was shot and killed while seeking help in Dearborn Heights after a car accident on Nov. 2.

“This was a young black woman in a neighborhood that is predominantly white,” LaToya Henry of the Detroit branch of the N.A.A.C.P. told The New York Times.

McBride’s family said they believe McBride was walking door-to-door looking for help after her car stalled and her cellphone died. They believe she was shot while walking from the suspect’s porch — and that she was racially profiled.

According to the U.S. Census, Dearborn Heights, a southwestern suburb of Detroit, is 86 percent white, and Dearborn, a neighboring city, is 89 percent white.

“You see a young black lady on your porch and you shoot?” Bernita Spinks, McBride’s maternal aunt, told The Detroit News. “He killed my niece and he needs to pay for it. He needs to be in jail.”

COMMENTARY: Renisha McBride’s Death: Justifiable Shooting or Murder?  was originally published on

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