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The politics of holding police accountable

David L. Horne, Ph.D | 10/3/2019, midnight

In one of the rarest moments in U.S. history, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, a White police officer was found guilty of murdering an unarmed Black man.

Amber Guyger, a former Dallas, Texas police officer coming in from work, who had mistakenly entered the wrong apartment within the complex in which she lived, found Mr. Botham Jean, a native from St. Lucia, who had carved out a successful life in the U.S.A as a college graduate and an accountant, sitting in his shorts alone in his apartment, shot and killed Mr. Jean. She offered little first aid to the man she shot, and had tried neither her stun gun nor tear gas on Mr. Jean, although she had access to both. Her first response was to go lethal, as she claimed to be in fear for her life.

The case, coming out of a September, 2018 arrest of Ms. Guyger, became a national cause celebre,’ mainly because Ms. Guyger is White and Mr. Jean was Black. Police shooting unarmed Black men and women was and still is a major issue in the U.S.A., and is almost never decided in favor of the Black victim, especially when police simply say they were in fear for their lives as a defense.

Originally, the district attorney’s office had recommended that Ms. Guyger be charged with manslaughter or reckless endangerment and conduct. Instead, the Dallas grand jury indicted Ms. Guyger for murder, and that’s what she was convicted of on Tuesday, by a racially mixed jury and an African-American judge.

Ms. Guyger now faces the distinct possibility of life in prison for her actions, and the sentence phase of the trial is occurring right now. The judge in the case is Tammy Kemp.

Ms. Guyger, who said she was just coming home from a 13-hour shift at work, did not pay attention to wall signs that indicated she was on the wrong floor of her apartment building, was texting sexual messages to her police partner at the time, and was surprised that a half-naked Black man was sitting, she thought, in her apartment, quickly drew her service weapon and shot Mr. Jean several times in the chest. Her defenses at trial were the aforementioned “fear for her life” and the Castle Stance (Stand Your Ground) defense.

The jury rejected both of those attempts and took less than 24 hours to render the guilty verdict.

Attorneys S. Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump, both lawyers for the Jean family, said that, “this verdict is a great victory for so many unarmed Black and Brown human beings all across America.”  And further, “It’s a sign that the tide is going to change in Dallas (and elsewhere). Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions and this is going to change police culture over the world.”

Clearly, this guilty verdict is audaciously different, but we need to be very cautious about proclaiming this decision as “the second coming.”’  Let’s see whether this really signals a change in the Black—Police relationship. I, for one, doubt it.

Instead, it is just a one-off, and one for the history books.