UPDATED: Black kid almost shot dead in lily-white Michigan suburb for asking for directions

Oakland County's an interesting place, and Brennan Walker is lucky to be alive.

Brennan Walker, right, with mother Lisa Wright. CREDIT: Fox 2 Detroit/Screenshot
Brennan Walker, right, with mother Lisa Wright. CREDIT: Fox 2 Detroit/Screenshot

UPDATE: The man arrested for firing a shotgun at a teenager in suburban Detroit Thursday is named Jeffery Craig Zeigler, a courthouse official confirmed to ThinkProgress. Zeigler was arraigned on one charge of assault with intent to murder and a second felony firearm charge Friday afternoon. The judge set his bond at $50,000.

A 14-year-old black kid looking for directions to his high school narrowly avoided being shot to death Thursday in suburban Detroit.

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Brennan Walker missed his bus and didn’t have his cell phone when he decided to knock on the door of a family home to ask directions to the school, according to the local Fox affiliate.

“Then she started yelling at me and she was like ‘why are you trying to break into my house,'” Walker told the station. “Then the guy came downstairs and he grabbed the gun. I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.”

The man who tried to shoot the kid has not been named, but the station said he is a 53-year-old former firefighter. Oakland County sheriff deputies took the man into custody Thursday, with an arraignment planned for Friday on unspecified charges.

The couple apparently had a special digital security system attached to their doorbell, including a surveillance camera. Law enforcement showed the video of the near-death encounter to Walker and his mother, Lisa Wright, on Thursday.

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“One of the things that stands out, that probably angers me the most is, while I was watching the tape, you can hear the wife say, ‘Why did ‘these people’ choose my house?'” Wright told the station. “If I have a question, I should be able to turn to my village and knock on a door and ask a question. I shouldn’t be fearful of a child, let alone a skin tone.”

Had the man been a little more skilled in the use of his gun, Walker might well be dead.

“I found out later the only reason [the man] missed is because he forgot to take the safety off,” Brennan’s mother Lisa Wright told the local Fox affiliate.

Renisha McBride was not so lucky in 2013, when she knocked on someone’s door seeking help after crashing her car nearby. Ted Wafer grabbed his shotgun and killed her. He was eventually sentenced to more than a decade in prison on a second-degree murder conviction.

McBride was murdered in Wayne County, where Detroit sits. Oakland County, where Walker narrowly escaped the same fate Thursday, is a model of the iron-willed segregationist impulse that white communities so often pursue.

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L. Brooks Patterson has been County Executive there for a quarter-century. Before that, he was the county’s top prosecutor for close to two decades. In over 40 years of public service to Oakland County, Patterson’s driving theme has been to keep black Detroit and its white suburbs as separate as humanly and legally possible.

Sometimes that’s come in concrete policy maneuvers, such as the county head’s key role in killing a regional transit proposal or resisting a crucial city-county deal on water and sewerage that ultimately helped resolve Detroit’s bankruptcy on slightly less harmful terms for its people.

But just as often Patterson reveals himself — and the county that’s sent him back into power again and again for years — when he opens his mouth.

“Once, he helped host a mock roast that featured a man in a Coleman Young mask and people speaking in what one reporter called a ‘guttural black dialect,'” the New Yorker’s Paige Williams wrote in a cutting 2014 profile of Patterson.

He once replied to a black woman from Detroit’s City Council who’d accused him of racism by “declar[ing] that he’d ‘rather own a 1947 Buick than own’ her,” Williams reported. “When I asked him how Detroit might fix its financial problems, he said, ‘I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.’'”

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When his kids insist on going to Detroit for an evening, over his strenuous objections, Patterson told the magazine he insists they get gas outside the city and pay extra to park in a secured garage next to whatever it is they’re going to. Patterson doesn’t necessarily apply the same level of paranoia toward black folks once he’s back on his side of the county line. But it’s hard not to see a parallel with the reflexive race-panic it would take to run downstairs and pull the trigger because a black kid’s at the door and the kind of public leadership Patterson’s provided the county for years.