After over a year of uncertainty surrounding Amber Guyger’s conviction and sentencing, jurors penalized the former Dallas police officer, 31, on Oct. 2, 2018 with a 10-year prison sentence for the murder of Botham Jean. Events both leading up to and directly following the verdict have shaken the Dallas community, raising questions surrounding police accountability as tensions run high.
On Sept. 6, 2018, Guyger, off-duty but still in uniform, entered Botham Jean’s apartment one floor above hers. Guyger mistook his apartment to be her own, per her testimony. According to Guyger, she thought Jean was an intruder and reacted by firing two shots, killing him. Far from an aggressor, Jean, a Harding University graduate and accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, was watching television and eating ice cream moments before his tragic death.
Almost immediately, prosecutors and the public pointed out a possible racial dynamic to the killing, noting a connection between Guyger’s actions on Sept. 6 and the many other instances of violence against unarmed black Americans by white police officers. Questions of racism on Guyger’s part and police accountability as a whole remained heavy issues throughout her trial, prompting passionate response in Dallas both during and after the trial.
Many saw Guyger’s 10-year sentence as too lenient, especially with the possibility of parole after just 5 years in prison. Chants of “No justice, no peace” echoed through the halls of the Frank Crowley Courts building immediately after the jury’s decision was announced. Small but ardent protests continued into the evening on the streets of downtown Dallas, resulting in one arrest, according to the Associated Press.
“I feel like we have a dog bite with the murder conviction, but the dog has no teeth,” said Dr. Frederick Haynes, present at the protests on Oct. 2. Many activists and members of the public shared Haynes’s sentiment, regarding the conviction as a rare victory in a case involving the fatal police shooting of a black man, while the sentence as a slap in the face. The prosecutors originally requested no less than 28 years, honoring the age Botham Jean would have reached during the trial on Sept.. 29.
Regarding comments that the sentence was too short, attorney S. Lee Merritt representing the Jean family said, “Of course that’s inadequate. The entire system is inadequate and the work must continue.”
Amplifying the public’s suspicion and distrust, bombshell news broke on Oct. 10 that Joshua Brown, a key witness for the prosecution against Guyger, was shot and killed in a parking lot near his apartment. According to Dallas police and the Washington Post, Brown’s death resulted from a “drug deal gone bad.”
Despite authorities’ investigations and conclusions, there was no shortage of contrasting theories nationwide and here in Dallas especially. Suspicion that supporters of Guyger or the Dallas Police Department coordinated Brown’s murder in some way ran rampant. The theories were baseless, yet they demonstrated a deep divide and poignant break in trust between Dallas minorities and the police force.
While the verdict and sentencing brought undeniable tension and pain to the Dallas community and communities around the nation, Guyger’s trial also displayed to the country inspiring images of hope. Brandt Jean, brother of victim Botham Jean, gave a moving victim impact statement at the conclusion of the trial, in which he expressed forgiveness and asked Judge Tammy Kemp for permission to hug Guyger. The resulting moment was captured by courtroom cameras and dominated the news cycle for days thereafter: Jean and Guyger in a tearful embrace, a fittingly shocking scene of compassion to end a case which had astounded observers for over a year.
Guyger’s actions and trial placed a spotlight on Dallas’s unstable relations between police and the public, illuminating areas for improvement which the police department has taken steps to fix. Just as powerfully, though, images like Brandt Jean’s forgiveness revealed beautiful compassion, suggesting that, amid brokenness, hope exists.
Image courtesy of Dallas Morning News