It takes a COMMUNITY: The Michael White Story

The tension was thick in room 306 of the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Michael White, 21, was being charged with killing Sean Schellenger. I was moved by the number of supporters present for Mr. White. It wasn’t just family and friends. It was neighbors, classmates, and even the bishop. It was a COMMUNITY that came out to support Michael White.

What is Michael’s story? Who is this young man?

Life wasn’t easy for Michael White growing up. His family situation was complicated and money was tight. Despite his struggles, he was working hard to carve a place for himself in world. He is a poet and is on a Philadelphia Youth Poetry league for a national team that competes all over the country and has been featured on HBO. Michael has never been convicted of a crime—he was charged with a minor marijuana violation that was in the process of being wiped clean from his record. 

To earn money, Michael White worked as a bike courier for Uber Eats. It’s a dangerous job. Long time bike messenger Michael Sanders, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he and other bike couriers often times carry protection. In his 20 year tenure as a bike courier Sanders has had a gun held to his head, had a knife pulled on him.

And who was Sean Schellenger?

According to press reports, Mr. Schellenger was a Penn State quarterback turned real estate developer. His friends called him a risk taker, a pillar of the community. At thirty-seven, he was a self-made millionaire. As reported in The Inquirer, Schellenger’s father, a former Radner high school principal, described his late son as “a-bigger-than-life presence” and that he was, “the best at everything he did.” 

Press reports state that on July 13, 2018 Schellenger was riding with two of his friends, Norris Jordan and Uri Jacobson.  Jordan was driving his Mercedes Benz. According to witnesses, a car was in front of the Mercedes, blocking traffic. Schellenger was in the passenger seat, and he got out of the car.

It’s unclear how Schellenger’s attention was drawn from the car in front of the Mercedes to Michael White, but for some reason, according to press reports of witness statements, Sean Schellenger tackled Michael White. Schellenger, a former division one football player, must have seemed mammoth to White, who looked in court to be no more than 150 pounds soaking wet.

The press reports that after Schellenger tackled White, he was stabbed in the back, once, by White, who fled, leaving behind his bike and his Uber eats delivery bag--lonely artifacts of the abject terror he was fleeing from.

In Pennsylvania the self-defense statute provides that:

“The use of force is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion. . .   

The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat; . . ."

If I put myself in Michael White’s position, I can’t help but think that I’d have believed I was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.  

I am hoping the system will not fail this young man, that the DA will not seek to toss him into prison when he should be free.

I hope the COMMUNITY that rose to support Michael White at his preliminary hearing will remain diligent and continue fighting for him.