Oct 8th, 2019, 08:19 PM

Amber Guyger: Another Case of Racially Targeted Brutality

By Lauren Williams
LM Otero/AP/Shutterstock
Former Dallas Police Officer Unexpectedly Found Guilty of Murder Last Week

We have seen time and time again how American courts have handled the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police officers. Even in cases where there is clear evidence that law enforcement used unnecessary force and brutality, more often than not, police walk away without so much as a charge. So, a little over a week ago, when Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was convicted of shooting and killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, the public could barely believe it. 

The death of Jean immediately caught national attention. Jean, a 27-year-old black man who was not accused nor suspected of a crime, was murdered in his apartment in Dallas, Texas last September. Guyger claimed that when she came home from work, she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and proceeded to murder him, assuming that he was an intruder. As soon as the news broke, the ex-officer's account of events was shrouded in ambiguity. As her apartment was not on the same floor nor had the same colored doormat as Botham's, questions and speculations about Guyger’s intentions began to spread. 

Seemingly following an unfortunate pattern of leniency in police officer-involved shootings, Guyger was not arrested until three days after the slaying, and it took the Dallas Police Department weeks to decide whether or not she should be terminated from her job. However, despite the questionable start to the trial, Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder. Because only three other police officers since 2005 have been convicted of murder, it makes sense that the sentencing was first met with a myriad of beliefs, from shock to joy. But as the dust settled, the public’s view of the case shifted.

Video Credit: The Dallas Morning News

Most university-aged students are old enough to vividly remember the season of Black Lives Matter marches and the string of police brutality that rocked our political and social environments. Taylor Douglas, a 25-year-old from Chicago said that she started following the case as soon as she heard about Jean's murder. "I think this case speaks to the racial gender lens and bias our country has come accustomed to," she explains.

In the days following the trial, there has been opposition to both the length of Guyger’s sentencing, as she received 10 years although her possible maximum sentence was 99 years. The prosecution asked for 28 (the age Jean would be if he was still alive). Even more debated were the judge's actions following the trial. After the court was dismissed, Tammy Kemp, the black judge who presided over the trial came down from the bench, hugged Guyger, and gave her a Bible. Many saw this action as an overstep of legislative power and it further spurred conversations in Dallas and elsewhere about the role of race and gender in American courts. "The hug at the end of the trial was sympathizing with a killer. That would have never happened if Guyger would have been a black man or even a white man," Douglas says.  

Jada Steuart, a recent graduate of AUP and native of Trinidad and Tobago says that she is a bit wary of Guygers sentencing because of the race relations in the United States, "There are policing problems in Trinidad," she says, "but very, very rarely do you hear people discuss racially targeted police brutality." Although Steuart viewed the case through an international lens, she felt that the judge overstepped a professional boundary by hugging Guyger. "Her job is essentially to be unbiased and make a fair judgment. Showing sympathy for the defendant is very unprofessional," she explains. 

Looking at the case from a more zoomed out perspective is important, and for Amari Bing Way, an American student at AUP, the attention brought to the case served a purpose because it once again highlighted the relationship between black Americans and the interpretation of the law in the United States. "I noticed how it seems like it's always black people who are called to forgive and show empathy knowing that those feelings and actions may not be given back in return," Bing-Way states. "Although this case was extremely personal to the family, these cases are always, for better or worse, more about the treatment of Black people in the U.S.," Bing-Way adds.  

For an era where officer-involved shootings have been at the forefront of American culture, a conviction is a step in the right direction. Guyger is going to prison, but that only seems fair seeing as she walked into someone else's home while the resident was watching T.V. and eating ice cream and then proceeded to shoot that person to death. It is hard to say if the arc of history is actually bending towards justice in this case. Perhaps the ultimate form of justice would be to see Botham Jean still living and for America to be a country in which a killer being held accountable for their actions is not surprising.