Lat­est killing by cop shocks US

The Southland Times - - News -

It has been called the worst po­lice shoot­ing yet: a death that has shocked even Amer­ica’s law and or­der con­ser­va­tives, as more and more de­tails emerge of how Botham Jean lost his life in his own flat in Dal­las.

He was shot dead by an off­duty po­lice of­fi­cer, Am­ber Guyger. He was black. The of­fi­cer was white. She claims she en­tered the wrong flat, mis­tak­ing it for her own, thought she was fac­ing an in­truder and felt it nec­es­sary to dis­charge her firearm.

Jean’s death 10 days ago is the lat­est in a long line of po­lice killings, but one slight con­so­la­tion is that the ex­treme cir­cum­stances of it have at least served to high­light the trou­bling re­course to deadly vi­o­lence that is an all-too-com­mon fea­ture of Amer­i­can polic­ing.

Jean, as it hap­pens, was an upstanding cit­i­zen who had never been in trouble with the law. The 26-year-old, who was orig­i­nally from St Lu­cia, worked for the con­sul­tancy com­pany PwC. He was a reg­u­lar church­goer, a deeply re­li­gious man who loved to sing.

‘‘He was al­ways in ser­vice of oth­ers, even when it wasn’t con­ve­nient for him,’’ said Alexis Stos­sel, a friend of Jean, at an emo­tional me­mo­rial ser­vice held last week. He was ‘‘the big­gest ex­tro­verted ac­coun­tant you’d ever find’’, she added, imag­in­ing him in heaven ‘‘bounc­ing around, singing at the top of his lungs’’.

But in truth Jean’s com­mend­able char­ac­ter is be­side the point. He died while in his own home, in a block of flats on Dal­las’s south side. Guyger’s story is that she ar­rived home and ac­ci­den­tally en­tered the wrong floor of her build­ing, walk­ing into a flat that was not hers. When she saw a ‘‘large sil­hou­ette’’ in the flat, she de­cided she was be­ing bur­gled and opened fire, killing Jean.

Guyger says she re­alised her mis­take only when she turned the lights on. She has been charged with man­slaugh­ter, but the pro­test­ers who have pick­eted Dal­las’s po­lice head­quar­ters all week be­lieve she should have been charged with mur­der. ‘‘No jus­tice, no peace, no racist po­lice,’’ they sang for hours out­side the build­ing for much of last week.

Some wit­ness re­ports have

‘‘The best ev­i­dence in­di­cates that race is more of a fac­tor in mod­ern polic­ing than I wanted to be­lieve.’’ David French, a le­gal scholar and con­ser­va­tive author

added trou­bling de­tails. One wit­ness re­ported hear­ing a woman shout­ing, ‘‘Let me in! Let me in!’’ be­fore the gun­shots were fired, and a man’s voice say­ing, ‘‘Oh my God. Why did you do that?’’ af­ter them.

What is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing about the case is that many prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tives have weighed in to reg­is­ter their dis­gust, sug­gest­ing a sub­tle shift in how the killing of black men by po­lice of­fi­cers is per­ceived even out­side lib­eral cir­cles.

‘‘The sheer in­jus­tice of what hap­pened to this man is out­ra­geous,’’ said Sohrab Ah­mari, a writer for Com­men­tary mag­a­zine. ‘‘There is an idea hard­wired into the An­glo-Amer­i­can le­gal and moral tra­di­tion that a man’s home is his cas­tle. The idea that he can be shot there for no rea­son is ap­palling on its own terms.’’

Ah­mari has long been a staunch de­fender of Amer­i­can polic­ing and the right of of­fi­cers to de­fend them­selves. But he be­lieves this case mer­its a sig­nif­i­cant pause for thought.

‘‘If I put my­self in the shoes of some­one in the AfricanAmer­i­can com­mu­nity, you can’t help but see that these cases tend to play out on a cer­tain fact pat­tern, and a cer­tain racial pat­tern,’’ he said. ‘‘To put your­self in those shoes is to say, boy, that cry for jus­tice res­onates. How many will it take for us to say there is a sys­temic is­sue?’’

David French, a renowned le­gal scholar and con­ser­va­tive author, echoed the point. He also picked up on the fact that the de­fence of­fered by Guyger – that Jean did not obey her com­mands when she en­tered the flat – was a fa­mil­iar re­frain that did not hold water given that she had il­le­gally en­tered his home.

‘‘This wasn’t a warn­ing shot gone awry,’’ he wrote in the National Re­view. ‘‘The pis­tol didn’t dis­charge dur­ing a strug­gle. She com­mit­ted a crime by forc­ing open Jean’s door, de­lib­er­ately took aim, and killed him.’’

French added: ‘‘The best ev­i­dence in­di­cates that race is more of a fac­tor in mod­ern polic­ing than I wanted to be­lieve.’’

Last week it was re­ported that marijuana was found in Jean’s apart­ment dur­ing a search by po­lice. This was widely felt to be a smear leaked by the Dal­las po­lice depart­ment, with many ask­ing what rel­e­vance it had to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

‘‘They went in with the in­tent to look for some sort of crim­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the vic­tim,’’ said Lee Mer­ritt, a lawyer for the Jean fam­ily. ‘‘It’s a pat­tern that we’ve seen be­fore ... we have a cop who clearly did some­thing wrong. And in­stead of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the homi­cide – they went out specif­i­cally look­ing for ways to tar­nish the image of this young man.’’

Amer­ica has made strides in ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of po­lice vi­o­lence. In Chicago the trial has be­gun of Ja­son Van Dyke, a white po­lice of­fi­cer who in 2015 dis­charged 16 shots into a 17-yearold black youth called Laquan McDon­ald. It is be­ing seen as a lit­mus test of the progress made on this prob­lem.

The case, one of the land­mark deaths held up by the Black Lives Mat­ter protest move­ment, sparked out­rage when – af­ter a de­lay of more than a year – a po­lice dash­cam video of the in­ci­dent was re­leased on the or­ders of a judge.

It shows McDon­ald be­hav­ing er­rat­i­cally on a street in the city’s south side, try­ing to break into cars and slash­ing their tyres with a small knife. Po­lice of­fi­cers fol­low him in their cars, call­ing for a Taser to im­mo­bilise him. In­stead an­other po­lice car ap­pears, and Van Dyke gets out with a gun and starts fir­ing.

On the eve of the trial, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Barack Obama’s for­mer chief of staff, an­nounced he would not be run­ning for an­other term. His city hall had been ac­cused of sit­ting on the tape of the killing, which blighted his may­oralty and de­stroyed his cred­i­bil­ity in the black com­mu­nity.

The death of Botham Jean may have been a tragic ac­ci­dent, but the chill­ing ease with which it hap­pened is a re­minder that there is plenty of progress still to be made.

‘‘For our own san­ity, for our own sense of safety, we need to think we have some sense of con­trol over stuff like this,’’ said Elis­a­beth Epps, co-leader of the Den­ver Jus­tice Project.

‘‘It would be dev­as­tat­ing to walk through the world think­ing you have no con­trol over your own home.’’ – The Times


Grant Jean, 15, and his mother Al­li­son Jean, who are the brother and mother of Botham Jean mourn with an­other church­goer dur­ing a prayer ser­vice for Jean at the Dal­las West Church of Christ.

Am­ber Guyger has been charged with man­slaugh­ter af­ter shoot­ing dead Botham Jean in his own Dal­las home.

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