Amber Guyger’s 10-Year Prison Sentence is Something, but Short of Real Justice
Amber Guyger, the former Dallas cop who illegally entered an innocent man’s apartment and fatally shot him, was just sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison for murder. Although the sentence could have easily been extended to life in prison, as many people who haven’t worn the shield are often subject to, there is something to be said for the fact that she was indicted, convicted and will actually do time in a prison system she once actively filled.
Guyger killed Botham Jean Sept. 6, 2018 when she claims that after a long day of work she mistook his apartment for her own and shot him. Guyger in fact lived in an apartment one floor below Jean’s. She was still in uniform but off duty when she opened Jean’s unlocked door. He was simply at home, eating a bowl of ice cream on his couch when a police officer walked in, drew her gun and shot him twice. She testified that she was afraid for her life when she saw a black man in what she thought was her own living room. During Guyger’s testimony, she admitted she did not perform life-saving attempts to the best of her ability.
To make matters worse, it was argued that Guyger was not only tired but distracted by explicit text messages from a lover and the combination of circumstances led her to somehow forget which floor she lived on and shoot a man without questioning why he was there.
The judge in the case allowed a controversial last-minute consideration that had real potential to sway the jury’s decision. By introducing what’s called the “Castle Doctrine,” jurors were charged with considering whether Guyger was acting in defense of her home, or “castle,” or in other words, whether she was entitled to kill an innocent man because she believed he was there to burglarize her home…sitting there, eating vanilla ice cream.
The Castle Doctrine, much like the Stand Your Ground laws in some states, is helpful if you are in fact standing your ground in your own home or in any real self-defense matter, but those laws are often twisted to benefit just some. There is documented racial disparity in application of those laws, but cases like that of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin make the racial imbalance readily apparent.
Amazingly, in light of how these police use-of-force trials tend to go when they even make it to trial, the jury came back with a guilty verdict — not for manslaughter, but for murder. Attorneys for the prosecution held a press conference following Tuesday’s conviction, claiming justice for Botham Jean as justice for countless black people wrongfully killed by police. Name after name, life after life…
Justice was handed down to some degree in this one case, but there are no winners. Justice is a necessary afterthought, but until we’ve arrived at a point where forethought comes before the trigger, there is still much work to be done. Still, Guyger’s sentence may make some officers think twice.
The victims’s mother, Allison Jean, spoke out on systemic issues outside the courthouse: Police need better training and use-of-force policies need some serious revisions.
Allison Jean said:
“If this was applied in the way that it ought to have been taught, my son would have been alive today.”
“If Amber Guyger was trained not to shoot in the heart, my son would be standing here today.”
As protesters chanted outside, disappointed in the 10-year sentence that could have been up to 99 years, the victim’s 18-year-old brother made a request from the judge. In a final heart-wrenching twist to a tragic story, Brandt Jean asked to give Guyger a hug after she was sentenced. As he embraced the woman that killed his brother, he said that if she was truly sorry, he forgave her.
Not everyone agrees that Guyger should be forgiven, but nobody has the right to judge Brandt’s feelings and reactions. If the image of that hug does nothing else, we can only hope it challenges misplaced fears of young black men. Allison Jean was right to push the issue beyond sentencing – there is no justice for her son or any person unlawfully killed without a deeper look at why these tragedies happen and what can be done to stop them. Justice will be served once we’re not adding names to the list.
Rest in power, Botham Jean.