‘You get to a boil­ing point’

Botham Jean’s killing re­vives com­mu­nity’s fear of in­jus­tice

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By MARC RAMIREZ Staff Writer mramirez@dal­las­news.com

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-

ceral re­ac­tion.

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.”

The case

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.”

Sha­ban Athu­man/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Sha­ban Athu­man/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Tom Fox/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

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