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No easy answers in Dallas cop conviction

Melvin B. Miller
No easy answers in Dallas cop conviction
“Please don’t call the police. They’re quick to shoot black people.”

The police shooting of an unarmed black man is a relatively common occurrence. The expected reaction is unmitigated rage from blacks across the country as information about the violent event is broadcast. However, last year’s shooting of Botham Shem Jean by white Dallas policewoman Amber Guyger generated a milder reaction because the surrounding circumstances were so peculiar.

Both Jean and Guyger were tenants in a Dallas apartment building. Jean’s apartment was identical to Guyger’s but was one flight above hers. The story goes that she came home after a long tour of duty and went to the wrong floor. Thinking that she was at her apartment, she opened the door to see a black man watching television. Frightened and horrified, she drew her service revolver and fired.

Guyger was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but the grand jury later increased the charge to murder. It must have seemed peculiar to the grand jurors that someone with normal perception would not realize that she was not on the correct apartment floor. When one then notes that the apartment door is unlocked, the normal reaction is to enter furtively. She apparently came in with gun blazing.

Black reaction in Boston was not the equivalent to response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina some years earlier. There was always a sense that more facts would be revealed in the Dallas case. According to reports, the published story was enough to inspire blacks in Dallas to protest the preferential treatment of the police in criminal charges involving blacks.

At any rate, the Guyger case became the first time a white police officer in Dallas would be convicted for shooting a black man. According to reports, this conclusion was reached by a panel of 12 jurors who were predominantly non-white. There were five black, five Hispanic and only two white jurors. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years, far less than the 28-year sentence proposed by the prosecutor.

Some black militants have protested that 10 years is too short a sentence for a black human life. Perhaps so, but there is little mention in those protests that the jury was predominantly black and Latino and the judge was Tammy Kemp, a black woman. Apparently, all in the criminal justice system believed that the murder was essentially an unfortunate accident.

After the assessment of the sentence, the case took on an unusual twist in the courtroom. Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugged Guyger, despite the fact that she is a former police officer who had shot his unarmed brother to death in his own apartment. Moved by this show of affection, Judge Kemp came off the bench and gave Guyger a Bible to help her get through her days in prison.

It is no wonder that some black Bostonians find it difficult to conclude there is a dire racist element in the Dallas trial. Some reports indicate there were racist memes and emails on Guyger’s computer, but there was no assertion that she was the author. In Boston, many people believe there was a personal relationship between Guyger and Jean that ended badly.

One important lesson to be learned is that blacks ought not damage the effort to reduce criminal sentences to more reasonable levels by imposing racial considerations to the sentencing levels. It is ill-advised to bring race into the issue by asserting that 10 years for a black life is either insufficient or too long. All lives matter.

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