There’s no doubt the killing last year of Botham Jean, 26, an African American man, was tragic and completely unnecessary. But was it racist?
The shadow of racism hung over the trial of ex-Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger, who is white. She was convicted Tuesday by a jury of murdering Jean and now faces up to 99 years in prison.
When the jury verdict was announced, a crowd outside the courtroom reportedly chanted “black lives matter” in raised voices.
Yet, there is no evidence that Gugyer shot Jean because he was African American or that she even knew he was African American prior to shooting him.
Guyger, 31, testified at her trial that she mistakenly went to the wrong floor of her apartment building and opened a door that she thought led into her apartment. She testified the room was dark, illuminated only by a flickering TV, and she saw the “silhouette” of a figure rise up from a seated position and walk toward her. She said she was scared, pulled out her service weapon and shouted, “Show me your hands.” Within seconds, Guyger fired two shots that ended the life of a promising and gifted young man who was completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
The tragedy that befell Jean, a certified public accountant from Antigua, does not appear to have had anything to do with his race.
Judge Tammy Kemp instituted a strict gag order with respect to the attorneys in the criminal case and sequestered the jury with instructions to ignore media coverage. However, the gag order did not extend to the attorneys who are representing the Jean family in a private civil lawsuit filed against the city of Dallas last October. These attorneys, Daryl Washington, Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump, camped out in the courthouse lobby and held impromptu press conferences for local and national media anxious for insider news and updates.
The media repeatedly referred to Washington, Merritt and Crump as “civil rights attorneys” but they are more than that in the context of Guyger’s case. They have a vested interest in its outcome of the criminal case because Guyger’s conviction, especially on the more serious charge or murder, will likely encourage a hefty settlement of the civil lawsuit. Washington, Merritt and Crump stand to get a substantial cut of any settlement of the civil case.
Merritt called Guyger’s conviction a “huge victory ,,, for black people in America.”
Crump said of the verdict: “For so many unarmed black and brown human beings all across America, this verdict is for them”
The civil lawsuit charges Dallas police with a “pattern practice, history and custom of using excessive force against minorities, including approaching them with guns drawn.” The complaint alleges that Guyger, who was off duty at the time, used excessive force in violation of Jean’s civil rights and that city officials “failed to implement and enforce such policies, practices and procedure… that respected Jean’s constitutional rights.”
There is no debate that Guyger should be held accountable for the senseless shooting death of an innocent man in his own home. To do nothing would strip a valuable life of its meaning and importance. But the evidence shows that Guyger had worked for more than 13 hours that day and was distracted by a conversation with a colleague with whom she was having a secret sexual relationship. She made a series of blunders, mistakes and bad judgments that had disastrous consequences. There is no evidence that Guyger killed Jean because he was an African American and it is unfortunate that the issue of racism was permitted to fester and inflame opinions in the case.