Latest killing by cop shocks US
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.