This opinion article, written by Nancy Bishop, aunt of Amber Guyger, appeared originally in The Dallas Morning News
For 10 months people have demonized and vilified my niece Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who was indicted in the murder of Botham Jean. Recently, Njoki McElroy, director of the Oral Fixation storytelling series, went a step further by claiming Jean’s death was “a form of lynching,” according to a Dallas Morning News article.
This inflammatory comparison makes me shudder. I wonder how McElroy can be so certain that the tragic death of Jean was racially motivated.
What happened the night of Sept. 6, 2018, was different from other incidents that drew national attention when white police officers killed Michael Brown, Walter Lamar Scott, Stephon Clark and other black men.
In other cases, men were killed by police officers who were on duty. Guyger had finished a long shift and returned home when, according to the arrest warrant affidavit, she said she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own. She said she opened the ajar door of the unit and saw “a large silhouette” in the nearly dark apartment and believed it was a burglar.
Transcripts from a 911 dispatcher call reveal Guyger’s initial shock when she summoned help after the shooting. She repeated more than a dozen times, “I thought it was my apartment” and also uttered, “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry.”
Would a racist police officer have this type of initial reaction, or was this response from someone who realized this was a horrific accident?
What happened that night was an unimaginable tragedy, and I don’t want to minimize the loss of Jean. I grieve for his family, friends and everyone involved.
My niece and my family are devastated by what happened. I wake up every morning praying for everyone involved in this nightmarish situation.
I regret that protesters and others quickly linked the death of Jean to other sensational shootings of innocent black men under questionable circumstances by white police officers. To draw this conclusion, people assume they know what was going through Guyger’s mind that night. But how can people be so sure she would have acted differently if she had mistakenly entered the apartment of someone who was white, Hispanic or Asian?
It’s unfortunate that comments like the one from McElroy serve to conclusively link the death of Jean to racist intent. The only thing this incident has in common with the heinous act of lynching is that a black man died. Yet ironically, McElroy made this incendiary comment when describing this portion of the presentation at libraries this month titled “Freedman’s Town to Botham Jean: Stories for Racial Healing.”
How is it racially healing to proclaim that Jean’s death was an act of hate simply because the officer was white? When we assume the worst about people who are different, wounds won’t heal.
Having grown up during the civil rights era of Martin Luther King, I wish more progress had been made. Sadly, that’s not the case, and cities such as Dallas have deep racial divisions.
I’m bracing myself for my niece’s trial in September and expect more backlash from people who have already decided Guyger is guilty of murder. I just wish people would wait until the facts are presented in court before rendering their own verdicts.
Nancy Bishop is a counselor in Austin. From 1978 to 1983, she was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. She wrote this column for The News.