On Sept. 6 2018, Amber Guyger walked into the wrong apartment and shot and killed her neighbor, Botham Jean.
Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, had returned home, exhausted, after a long shift at work, only to walk into the apartment unit above her own. 26-year-old Jean was sitting on his couch, watching TV and eating a bowl of ice cream, when Guyger burst through the door. It was left ajar, making Guyger believe that someone had broken into her home. She claimed to have given police commands before making the decision to shoot. After the shooting, Guyger called the police, telling them what she had done.
On Oct. 1, 2019, a verdict was reached and Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison. This is one of numerous cases in the United States where a white cop has shot an innocent person of color. Protests have been held arguing that the 10-year sentencing isn’t enough for how much pain Guyger has caused the Jean family.
“That sentence has struck some people as being a lot longer than they expected, and, for other people, a lot shorter than other murder sentences,” said Upper School history teacher John Monahan. “There has now been additional coverage of people who have gotten much longer sentences for much smaller crimes. It makes sense to me why this 10-year sentencing would upset them.”
Others argue that it was an honest mistake that requires forgiveness.
“I think, in legal terms, it was probably what she should’ve gotten,” shared Young Democrats co-leader Payton Selby. “It wasn’t necessarily a purposeful murder. She was obviously doing it out of what she believed to be self-defense.”
One question that many have is whether or not Guyger had racist motives.
“I think it is important to consider the ways in which there is a pattern around police officers interacting with people of color, particularly men of color,” said Spanish teacher David Dwyer. “While the officer may have walked into what she thought was her own apartment and thought that there was an intruder, I think that race did play a role in the situation. Whether we like it or not, there is an association with black men as being dangerous, even in the split second when she made the decision to shoot.”
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence of Guyger’s racist behavior. They showed the jury text messages sent by Guyger that contained racist content towards people of color. Although this proves Guyger’s general racist behavior, it remains unclear whether or not it impacted her decision to shoot and kill Botham Jean so hastily.
The key witness in the murder trial, Joshua Brown, was killed on Oct. 4, only 10 days after testifying at Amber Guyger’s trial. Brown was previously a neighbor of both Guyger and Jean in 2018, but since then moved to a different apartment complex. Brown came home the night of the murder after watching a football game. He was standing in the hallway when he heard what sounded like two people meeting by surprise. Then came the gunfire, and Brown ran for cover. Before the gunshots, he had heard two people talking, but was unable to make out just what they were discussing.
He claimed to not hear any police commands being announced. Guyger said otherwise; she claimed to have told Jean to put his hands in the air before pulling the trigger. Despite recent speculation, the Dallas Police Department was able to confirm that these two murders were unrelated. Police declared that Brown’s death was caused by a drug deal gone wrong, and three suspects are currently in custody. 12 pounds of marijuana and more than 140 grams of THC cartridges were found in his apartment.
Because of Guyger’s former status as a police officer, this case has caught national attention. Was she given preferential treatment or special circumstances because of her job as a law enforcement officer? Several allegations against Dallas police arose during Guyger’s trial. It was believed that Guyger and her partner had deleted their text messages around the time of the murder. Immediately after Jean was shot, the head of the Police Union shut off the cameras at the crime scene so that he could speak in private with Guyger. These actions have made many around the country suspicious as to whether or not Guyger got fair sentencing, however, Dallas police denied any of this being true.
“I do think that as a public servant and having a license to carry a gun, there is a sort of different treatment she is given,” said Young Conservatives member Walker McPhail. “I don’t think it’s preferential necessarily. If it was a private citizen who had gone to an apartment and shot someone and still believed that they were in their own apartment, I think the case would’ve been taken a similar way.”
This case has invoked fear in many across the country. Can Americans still place their trust in police officers to protect them from danger, or have the police become the danger that must be feared?
“As a black person with a black father and a black older brother, I am definitely fearful of the way that the outside world can perceive black men as dangerous,” said Selby. “When it comes to that, I am certainly terrified of the effects that racial bias has, especially when the people who are most heavily armed and most in power can hold those biases and what effect that can have on society and individual citizens.”