Dallas police officer Amber Guyger deserves the benefit of the doubt in the September 6 shooting death of 26-year-old Botham Jean; that is, if the reports being churned out by mainstream media outlets are to be believed.
We are supposed to believe that she was neither reckless nor negligent when she, in essence, broke into Jean’s South Side Flats’ apartment Thursday night and killed him—and that her violent, criminal actions certainly weren’t intentional.
We’re supposed to believe that Guyger, that poor, over-worked woman, was exhausted after a 15-hour shift of protecting and serving the Dallas community. It’s supposed to make sense to us that she parked on the wrong level of her apartment complex, and entered what she thought was her own home—despite the brightly lit apartment number on the wall and the unfamiliar bright red rug clearly indicating otherwise. And when Guyger saw the “large silhouette” of a man who ignored her “verbal commands,” it’s supposed to make sense that she opened fire to protect herself from a potentially violent intruder.
This highly questionable, ridiculous story is what we’re supposed to believe.
Guyger also claims that she had no way of knowing that she was entering the wrong apartment, because when she allegedly inserted her electronic key into the “slightly ajar” door, it opened. However, witnesses claim that they heard a woman’s voice saying “let me in” before fatal gunshots rang throughout the building.
Of course, officials and politicians have ignored that version of events.
“For some strange reason, the door was open and she was able to gain entry into the apartment. We need to find out whether there was a personal relationship,” said Texas state Senator Royce West to the Star- Telegram. “There are so many facts that need to be looked at before determining what kind of homicide this is.”
For “some strange reason,” West is presenting that scenario as fact. Residents, however, claim that there is no way the door could have remained ajar, because the doors close automatically.
“We know that what she’s claiming happened didn’t happen,” S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Jean’s family, told ESSENCE Wednesday morning. “What we get from that arrest affidavit is that she’s hiding something because she’s making statements that are demonstrably false.”
It is unclear if Guyger knew Jean prior to the deadly home invasion, but we do know that a man is dead. A man who was minding his own business, in his own home, is dead because police officers in this country have been granted license to kill Black people—armed and unarmed—whenever the spirit moves them. Guyger is being given the benefit of the doubt because she is a white woman who feared the large Black man in front of her; and in a white supremacist society, fear of Black bodies is just cause for murder, no matter how unfounded and racist the fear is that grips their throats and guides their trigger fingers.
More specifically, white women’s fear of Black male bodies carries more weight than the lives of the Black men they kill. After all, what’s one, dead Black man when a white woman’s future is at stake?
We saw this play out when Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, and a jury of her peers allowed her to walk over his dead body to freedom. She was considered a victim, even though Crutcher was the one walking away with his hands up in plain sight. She was considered a victim, even with a reported history of excessive force.
Let’s make it plain: If a Black police officer entered a white woman’s apartment and killed her, the conversations around this case would be vastly different. The blue of his or her uniform would be washed away until only the negro remained. There would be no delicate wording, no calls for nuance, no questions as to the criminal, unjustified, violent nature of their actions, because to be Black is to not only live under constant threat, but be perceived as a constant threat. An avalanche of unverified excuses have been presented to protect Guyger, because the alleged fear of white killers wielding service weapons always takes precedence. Unhinged state power, exacerbated by the pedestaling and privileging of white women, is as American as redlining, lynchings, and white supremacist bigots in the White House.
“Botham Jean was exactly the sort of citizen we want to have in the city of Dallas,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “A professional … a believer in his church, a neighbor to his friends. A man that always had a smile on his face. And for that reason, this is a terrible, terrible thing that has happened. Not only has he lost his life, but we’ve lost a potential leader for this city.”
No, it is a terrible, terrible thing because Botham Jean was a human being, not a “special” kind of Black man more deserving of life than those who carry the stench of caricatured and criminalized Blackness upon their skin. The racialized contortions to render him a perfect Black victim—unlike the “bad niggers” James Baldwin told us about in his 1966 Report from Occupied Territory—is a familiar, particular form of violence.
Jean’s life would have mattered even if he were not an upstanding member of the community who sang in the church choir and taught Bible study.
And Guyger, despite being a white woman with a badge, should be treated as nothing more than the cowardly killer she is. Because what we know—and this nation refuses to admit—is that they are often one and the same.