‘You get to a boiling point’
Botham Jean’s killing revives community’s fear of injustice
It’s a case that has sparked local protests and drawn national attention: The killing of a man in his Dallas apartment by a woman who says she thought it was her own home — but further complicated by the fact that she was a white police officer in uniform and he was an unarmed black man.
That dynamic, layered with the lingering frustration over a pattern of police violence against black men who committed no crime, has prompted skepticism, anger and fears that justice will prove as elusive as it has before.
“There’s this fatigue and frustration that has definitely hit a nerve, because we just want it to end,” said Richie Butler, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas. “You get to a boiling point.”
As such, the killing of Botham Jean has provoked a vis-
A night after Jean was killed in his home in the Cedars neighborhood, demonstrators demanded justice at a vigil for the Caribbean native outside Dallas police headquarters, a block from where the shooting took place.
On Wednesday, protesters interrupted a Dallas City Council meeting, calling for changes they hope will bring an end to police brutality.
And on Friday, more than 100 demonstrators again called for justice and fair treatment during a rain-drenched march that began at police headquarters and wound through downtown.
“There’s a lot of anger in the streets,” said Frederick Haynes, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. “We’ve seen this movie too often.”
Edwin Robinson, executive director of the religious-based network Faith in Texas, said relations with law enforcement are strained — not because the black community fears the badge, but because “historically they’ve been able to kill us and get away with it. And that’s a pretty salient reason to have fear.
“Now it’s entered a new level,” Robinson said, “where we have to be afraid to answer our own doors. Where we can be shot in our own homes.”
‘Time will tell’
While Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall earned praise for quickly ceding control of the investigation to the Texas Rangers, critics have since grown dismayed by perceived special treatment for Officer Amber Guyger and what they see as the Police Department’s lack of community accountability in general.
Guyger, who lived directly below Jean’s apartment, shot and killed him the evening of Sept. 6 after she said she mistook his apartment for her own. She told police the door was open and she believed Jean was an intruder.
On Sunday, she was charged with manslaughter, three days after the shooting at an apartment building mere blocks from police headquarters.
“One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly in the community,” Haynes said, “is that you would think if you live close to a police officer that you’re safer.
“But this proves that if you do and you’re black, that may not be the case.”
Botham “Bo” Jean, 26, was a risk-assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and a member of Dallas West Church of Christ, where he was known for his leadership and powerful singing voice — “the spiritual tip of the spear,” as one church member put it.
Jean’s killing forced a sobering recalibration of expectations barely a week after former Balch Springs police Officer Roy Oliver was sentenced to prison for murdering Jordan Edwards, a black teen who was shot as he left a party in April 2017.
The Oliver verdict inspired hopes that a societal shift might be under way, after Jordan’s name joined a list of other black people killed in controversial police shootings — among them Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
“We consider that to be progress,” John Fullinwider, co-founder of Dallas’ Mothers Against Police Brutality, said of the Oliver verdict as he attended Jean’s vigil. “But whether it’s precedent or some kind of aberration, only time will tell.”
At the same vigil, the senior pastor at Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in Dallas spread the word that Jean’s mother, Allison, was on her way to Dallas to mourn her son.
“This is only the latest in a stream of mothers and fathers who have had to receive their loved ones in a box,” Michael Waters said.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who now corepresents Jean’s family, characterized the killing as the product of a systemic suspicion of black men, while artist Lauren Woods added: “This is programming that emboldened somebody with a badge.”
‘Not going to get played’
The decision by the department that employs Guyger to quickly hand the case over to the Texas Rangers was lauded both by activists and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who called for patience as the case moved forward.
“We want transparency and expediency,” Rawlings said. “But let’s not let expediency get in the way of the truth.”
Such efforts by city officials, Haynes said, likely “precluded an explosion from taking place” as anger simmered in the community. But questions still outnumber answers, he added, and he said the community will continue to pressure law enforcement to ensure justice.
“As we say in my community, we’re not just going to fall for the okey-doke,” he said. “We’re not going to get played.”
Anger over conflicting versions of how events played out the night Guyger killed Jean was only matched by fury over the days it took authorities to arrest and charge the 30-year-old officer.
Anyone not in a uniform, critics said, would have been sitting in a jail cell that night.
“If she had been arrested like anyone would be, the community would have felt a little more at ease,” said Robinson, of Faith in Texas. “There’s no story, of the multiple stories she’s told, that should not have prompted an arrest on the spot.”
That’s why, Haynes said, so many internet detectives felt compelled to seek out and share information and innuendo on social media in a search for answers.
“You discover that there’s power in taking things into your hands,” he said, “to at least make sure a climate is created where they know they [police] are going to be held accountable.”
Adding to their exasperation was a sense that minorities are presented in a negative light by the news media. That feeling was only heightened when a TV station’s tweet highlighted Dallas police’s discovery of marijuana in Jean’s apartment — a revelation many charged was part of a “smear campaign” against Jean while his killer escaped scrutiny.
The finding was one of several items, including spent cartridge casings, documented in a police search warrant that was requested by local media soon after the shooting and released to the public on Thursday — the day that Jean was laid to rest at a Richardson church.
“Those are the things that happen that spark general outrage,” Robinson said. “That just should have never entered the conversation. And it isn’t just this case. This is a consistent refrain.
“Even when we are not the culprit, they look for the worst possible way to present us.”
At Friday night’s march, demonstrators made their first stop at the South Side Flats, where the fatal encounter had taken place.
“This is sacred ground,” activist Dominique Alexander told the crowd as many knelt for a moment of silence.
As the march continued downtown, some took to the freeway, temporarily blocking traffic on westbound Interstate 30.
In addition to stops at KDFW-TV (Fox 4), WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and
the group briefly rallied at other public locations such as the Omni Hotel, where valets echoed chants and some guests even joined the march.
Merritt, the Jean family attorney, joined the demonstration, too, demanding that law enforcement seek justice for Jean rather than “assassinate his character.”
“We will not tolerate this anymore,” he said, as a peal of thunder shook downtown and the rain began to pour.
The Rev. Jeff Hood, a Dallas activist, added: “When the thunder is rumbling, you know God is with you.”
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson has said her office will collect all available evidence as the case moves forward, with a grand jury to ultimately decide whether Guyger will be charged with murder, manslaughter or nothing at all.
It’s safe to say tensions will remain on edge in the meantime.
“Some of us are going to settle for nothing less than a murder charge,” Haynes said.
“It’s quite possible that the disappointment will be deep if the grand jury comes back and she’s only charged with manslaughter.”
No matter the outcome of the case, “there will be people who are not satisfied,” said Butler, of St. Paul United Methodist Church.
“So from a leadership standpoint,” he said, “we have to focus not only on justice but also on how we rebound as a community from this.”
The case is one that deserves to be politicized, Robinson said, given its greater context.
“Not to take away from the heinous, heartbreaking loss of life,” he said, “but politicians need to pass laws and make policies so that this doesn’t happen again.”
He said he hopes the district attorney approaches the case “swiftly and judiciously” and that she doesn’t opt to “kick the can down the road” to avoid making it a talking point as she runs for re-election.
In the meantime, questions will remain about what really happened that night and why Jean is dead as a result.
“No matter what occurred at that door,” Robinson said, “he should never have died.”
Dominique Alexander (center) talked to the crowd at Jack Evans Police Headquarters during a protest on Monday over the shooting of Botham Jean by Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger.
Pamela Grayson raised her fist with others at a Mothers Against Police Brutality candlelight vigil for Jean. “Young King” Solomon Grayson, 6, peeked from behind her sign.
Brandt Jean (center) fought back tears during a news conference last week about the shooting of his brother. Brandt Jean was joined by his mother, Allison Jean, and attorney Benjamin Crump.