Botham Shem Jean Killed By Hero Cop Protecting His Own Home From Himself
I felt that familiar combination of shock and a complete lack of surprise when I heard that an off-duty police officer shot and killed a black man last Thursday in his own Dallas apartment that he paid rent for and everything. I suppose this kind of law enforcement Grubhub is convenient. I know there are times when it's cold and wet out, and I don't really feel like leaving the house or putting on pants to experience police brutality.
Here's what we know: Officer Amber Guyger, 30, returned to her apartment at the South Side Flats at the end of her shift. Like the total non-ditz you want patrolling the streets, she allegedly parked on the wrong floor of the garage, didn't notice she was on the wrong floor of her building, and entered what she wrongly thought was her own apartment. She then surprised Botham Shem Jean, 26, with her presence and by suddenly ending his life.
Guyger was finally charged with manslaughter on Sunday, which you'll notice is not Thursday. If someone like me -- a black man who knows when he's in his own house or not -- fatally shoots someone in their apartment on Thursday, we are usually arrested on that Thursday unless it was like 11:58 p.m. or something, but we've definitely been booked by the end of James Corden. It's hard to know which facts are in dispute. The apartment was not hers and neither was the dead black man. I didn't know there was a "flake exemption" to criminal trespass.
The delay was apparently a result of the Texas Rangers also getting involved. When you're not a blue life that matters, having two sets of cops looking into the case usually means your ass. Fortunately for Guyger, it just meant she had time to get her story straight, and man, what a story it is! Let's gather round the campfire like the intro to "Amazing Stories" and enjoy it together.
The door was slightly ajar as she tried to use her key, which has an electronic chip, to enter. When she was able to open the door, she saw the interior was nearly completely dark, according to the affidavit.
This attempts to rationalize why Guyger entered Jean's apartment, but it raises some questions. If she's in zombie mode after a 15-hour shift, wouldn't the rush of adrenaline ("someone's in the house!") snap her out of it at least long enough to look around and realize she was in the wrong place? There was apparently a red mat outside the door that wasn't outside her own apartment.
She described seeing a large silhouette and, believing there was a burglar in her apartment, drew her firearm. Her verbal commands to Jean were ignored, the affidavit said, and Guyger fired two shots at Jean, striking him once in the torso.
Ah yes, black men are so dangerous even our silhouettes are large and scary. I love how she suddenly shifts into "police speak" as though she's not the one pulling a late-night home invasion. Usually if a stranger enters my house, points a gun at me, and starts shouting commands, I figure I'm the one who's put out -- but I'm uppity that way. I'm also a little concerned that even if this had been Guyger's apartment, she summarily executed someone. Honestly, how were the police able to bring in Dylann Roof and Nikolas Cruz alive? Are white killers just really good at following directions? And why is she firing at targets in the dark anyway? Is that really proper protocol?
Guyger didn't actually know the negro silhouette was a burglar at all. It's hard to tell conclusively that someone is stealing your "All Lives Matter" collectible plates when you're in the dark. I'm just saying there's a lot of clarity to gain from switching on the lights. But who knows with her? She might've been like, "Why are you in my apartment? And why did you change all the furniture? Are you one of those interior design bandits no one on the force told me about because they don't exist?"
I freely admit a bias against civilian gun ownership because I fear it too often results in preventable tragedies like this one. But Guyger is an actual police officer and I expect more from whatever passed for her training. I'm all for community policing but that doesn't mean everyone in the community should be policing.
This whole situation is very convenient — not for Jean, of course, who is quite dead. However, Guyger is young, white, and still alive. A jury is not going to want to convict her of anything if there's some reasonable exit ramp. Her account of events provides several: The door was already open. Jean didn't "comply." (She also couldn't "see" him so she can claim race didn't factor into her actions.) This shifts the fatal choices away from Guyger, whose story is the only one we'll ever hear. Lennie Briscoe from “Law & Order" put it best: "Home Alone is a movie not an alibi." Guyger wasn't even in her own home and she was only alone after she killed the legal resident. It doesn't make sense or seem fair, but I still can't imagine a grand jury returning an indictment.
By all accounts, Jean was a good guy with a great future ahead of him. That all ended last Thursday through no fault of his own. Despite all the accomplishments in his short life, he still died because a police officer thought he was a criminal. I think as a black man in America, on some level, he probably always feared that was a possibility.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."