I was both heartened and saddened when I saw the news that former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murder in the shooting death of Botham Jean. Last year, Guyger walked into Jean’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot him to death on the spot.
She used the scary, big, black man defense claiming that she was in fear for her life even though it was she who invaded someone else’s home and was carrying a deadly weapon. Given the recent history of white police officers shooting unarmed black men and not even being prosecuted let alone convicted, the verdict came as a surprise, welcome though it was.
It’s truly sad that the black community in this country has been so abused that a conviction for such an obvious murder is cause for surprise. Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby was acquitted after standing trial for fatally shooting unarmed, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher in 2016. Crutcher was just trying to deal with his stalled vehicle.
New York City policeman Daniel Pantaleo faced no criminal liability for the 2014 killing of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, using a prohibited chokehold. Pantaleo, a white police officer, used a chokehold as he attempted to arrest Garner on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a sidewalk.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot 32-year-old black man Philando Castile five times during a 2016 traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile notified the officer he was carrying a firearm and after Yanez demanded his identification, Castile reached for his wallet and Yanez shot him. Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in 2017 having testified he was in fear for his life.
Often even a conviction yields minimal time in prison for officers killing unarmed black men. In Oakland, California, in 2009, Police Officer Johannes Mehserle leaned over Oscar Grant who was face down on the ground, pulled his gun and shot Grant in the back from about one foot away. Mehserle served 11 months in county jail.
Guyger is sentenced to 10 years in prison, but don’t feel too confident yet that she’ll be in prison nearly that long. Oklahoma reserve officer Bob Bates killed unarmed Eric Harris in 2015 and got a four year sentence though he only served a year and four months before being released.
The Black Lives Matter movement demands justice, accountability, and most of all equal treatment. Some of my white neighbors have countered with “all lives matter” and dismiss any attempt to get them to recognize that Black Lives Matter isn’t about demanding special treatment just equal treatment. It’s more than frustrating that my white neighbors refuse to accept that our collective failure to demand justice for all as our pledge of allegiance claims ensures that police and even people like George Zimmerman — the out of control neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida — can act with impunity as long as the victim is black.
The conviction of such a clearly guilty person as Amber Guyger shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s going to take Black Lives Matter and other activists to ensure that someday such a conviction is the justice we all expect, but today is not that day.