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Wrangling with a light sentence, and courtroom ‘compassion’ for a convicted murderer in Dallas

By Jihad Hassan Muhammad, Contributing Writer | Last updated: Oct 8, 2019 - 2:07:35 PM

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A miscarriage of justice?

Botham Jean's mother, Allison Jean, center, escorted by civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, right, is hugged by family members outside the courtroom after fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder, Oct. 1, in Dallas. Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed 26-year-old neighbor in his own apartment last year. She told police she thought his apartment was her own and that he was an intruder.

DALLAS—The people of Dallas and much of the country had anxiously awaited what would befall Amber Guyger, a White ex-cop charged with murdering a Black man in his own home.
Botham Jean

But once jurors found her guilty Oct. 1, the sentencing phase of the trial and unusual courtroom behavior grabbed attention, blew up on social media and ignited a debate about compassion, color and the devaluation of Black life. Then there was the killing of a main witness for the prosecution in the case.

Jurors who found Ms. Guyger guilty sentenced her to 10 years in prison before the brother of shooting victim Botham Shem Jean declared his forgiveness and love for the officer who said she mistook the victim’s apartment for her own and fatally shot the 26-year-old Black accountant thinking he was an intruder.

She was the first Dallas police officer to be found guilty of murder since the early 1970s and, according to Jean family attorney and civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, “the first and only White woman police officer to have ever been convicted of the murder of an unarmed Black person in American history.”

The jury’s Oct. 2 decision, which it later said was justified by descriptions of the victim as a forgiving person, was denounced as too lenient and Judge Tammy Kemp, a Black woman, embracing the convicted murderer, giving her a bible and scripture to study, drew praise and harsh criticism. Images of a Black bailiff appearing to stroke Ms. Guyger’s hair also drew condemnation from those who felt too much sympathy was heaped on a White woman who had wrongly taken a Black man’s life.

Under Texas law, Ms. Guyger could have been sentenced to five to 99 years. With the current sentence, she could spend as little as five years in jail. Some observers added that the courtroom display of sympathy could play in her favor when she seeks parole. Brandt Jean said he did not want Ms. Guyger to “rot” in prison and felt his brother would forgive her. He asked the judge for permission to hug Ms. Guyger and the judge obliged.

Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger sentenced to 10 years.

“It’s so unfair, the jury was probably thinking 30 to 40 years, but cut the time because she is White, and, two, because she was a police officer,” said Atty. Equator Turner, an adjunct professor of law at Texas Southern University. She recalled a case where a White man in Texas could have been sentenced to 50 years, but a jury felt “that was just too much time to give a White man” and gave him 20 years.

Professor Turner believes the jury, although predominantly Latino and Black, felt responsible “to do ‘right’ in front of all the White folks.”

Speaking on R&B radio station 105.7 FM in Dallas, Atty. Merritt expressed disappointment he and the Jean family felt with the 10-year sentence. “The truth is it’s really difficult to look for justice in these cases. Justice would be getting Botham Jean back, and that option is just not possible in our court system. We feel like his life was valuable enough and the crime was heinous enough to deserve a more serious punishment,” said the attorney.

While mainstream news outlets played up forgiveness dispensed by the 18-year-old brother, many Blacks and much of Black social media took the opposite view. What was displayed was not Christian love but White privilege, sick and misplaced Black love and a failure to hold a White person accountable, said social media posts.

Jamis Douglas, distinguished professor of law at Texas Southern University, said while Dallas is more progressive than many cities in Texas and in America, there was a miscarriage of justice in the sentencing and Judge Kemp’s behavior.

Botham Jean's brother Brandt Jean forgave and hugged former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger.

“Ten years is not a legitimate sentence for someone convicted of murder. We have people locked up for 20 to 30 years for two or three joints of marijuana, and not taking someone’s life,” said Prof. Douglas.

During the sentencing, Judge Kemp permitted the jury to invoke Castle Law to consider what Ms. Guyger could have been thinking. The law essentially allows for someone to have the right to defend themselves in their own home.

“She was not in her apartment so the Castle Law should not have had anything to do with this case at all,” said Prof. Douglas. The perpetrator should not have been able to use it in this case, he added. If anything, Castle Law would have applied to the man shot in his own apartment, argued Prof. Douglas.

State District Judge Tammy Kemp shared a few words with and hugged Amber Guyger after the end of the trial.
There is no precedent for a judge to come from her bench and hug a convicted killer, he continued. “It reminds me when a judge once told a White man he was sorry that he had to rule in our favor after we won a case. I wondered how can you be sorry for following the law?” Prof. Douglas said. “It shows me (Judge Kemp) was prejudiced from the beginning and if it had been left up to the judge, she would not have probably convicted her. The judge is supposed to remain impartial.”

Protests in downtown Dallas started the evening of Oct. 2 with a crowd of mainly youth declaring justice had not been served. Frustrated protestors chanted, “F--k tha police!” “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace!”

Davonte “Brotha Shawt” Peters was one of the protest organizers. He is also one of the “Dallas 9” whose case is pending in Tarrant County for a protest at the 2018 season opening of the Dallas Cowboys game after Botham Jean and another Black man, Oshea Terry, were killed by police.

Any excitement over the guilty verdict quickly dissipated as news of the 10-year sentence spread. “I was upset, the victory of getting a police officer convicted of murder was symbolic, but it all faded when they did not do what they needed to do. Dallas took an L,” said Brotha Shawt.

During the protest St. Lucia native Safiya Paul was allegedly assaulted by police and arrested. Brotha Shawt said protestors will work to get her released. “The police hit her and slammed her on the ground, hit her with the baton and she wasn’t doing anything,” he added.

Community organizer Talissa, who preferred to only give her first name, was out-raged. After a guilty verdict was reached, punishment did not fit the crime, she said. “If it would have been anybody else, they would have gave them the max. But her? A slap on the wrist. She is able to get out within five years,” said the activist. The sentence shows the devaluation of Black life in racist America, she added.

In another strange and tragic twist, Joshua Brown, a key prosecution witness in the Guyger murder trial was shot and killed the night of Oct. 5. Mr. Brown testified about what he heard and saw the night Botham Jean was killed, while others did not come forward.

Mr. Brown would often hear Mr. Jean singing gospel and songs by Drake. He met Botham Jean for the first time the day he was killed in his Southside Flats apartment.

Joshua Brown, a key witness who was killed after testifying in the Amber Guyger trial.
“We are under constant attack as a community but we seem to have only mastered fighting each other. I don’t know who killed Joshua Brown. He was a truly genuine soul that was loved deeply by his family and friends and I will work to get to the bottom of his murder,” Atty. Merritt posted Oct. 6 on Facebook.

“In the meantime I’ve watched a pattern emerge. It goes like this: ‘they’ attack our community; we respond by attacking each other. Take the Amber Guyger trial for example. It revealed corruption at every level in the city of Dallas. Amber Guyger’s partner Martin Rivera openly admitted destroying evidence, violating departmental policy, committing perjury. He has faced little to no blow back. He is still a Dallas Police Officer till this day. The Dallas Police Association president Mike Matta showed up to Botham’s apartment the night he was murdered and interjected himself into that investigation, actively conspiring to protect Amber Guyger. He instructed she be taken out of custody, that body cam and dash cam videos be halted and began crafting a narrative to get her off ... on camera! The DOJ needs to be auditing the entire department. We should be hounding the mayor and police chief non stop to clean house. We are not though. The vast majority of our band-width has been directed at telling an 18 year old how to properly grieve. The black female judge that prevented the Texas Rangers from tanking this case with their biased conclusions is currently being destroyed socially and under formal review professionally because she had a human moment after the case was completely over. Why are we so anxious to attack black women while ignoring glaring injustices?

“I’ve read articles condemning my office’s financial interest in this case. Our community has joined in, reaffirming the greedy black lawyer caricature that white supremacist use to denounce justice efforts. Now Joshua Brown is dead and instead of coming together—trolls have gone so far as to say his blood is on my hands personally. We have real enemies. We have real work to do. We have to stop this self destructive tendency to implode and fight each other. Let’s bring the fight to them. It will require something rare: UNITY #itsonus.”

Very little is known about Mr. Brown’s killing. But Mr. Merritt told The Daily Mail, a UK-based news outlet, he was not ruling out the possibility that police may have been involved in the killing. He said he didn’t have any evidence except the “timing” and circumstances of the shooting. “But I am not ruling anything out,” he said in the Oct. 6 article. “But what I do know is that Joshua was targeted. This was an assassination. He pulled into his parking lot and he was shot. The perpetrators fled. They didn’t steal anything from him,” Atty. Merritt added. Mr. Brown had moved to a new apartment complex in a neighborhood not known for crime and shootings. Last year he was shot in the foot in an incident at a night club and another man died in the shooting.

Dr. Ava Muhammad, an attorney and national spokesperson for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, said the Jean case was like so many throughout the over four and a half centuries Black people have been in America. It lays another case for the separation of Blacks and indigenous people from Whites, she said.

“The Most Hon. Elijah Muhammad says you can’t fathom the depths of Satan,” said Dr. Muhammad.

“We know that falsehood cannot exist unless its mixed with truth, this system requires that always accompanying White superiority must be a widespread sense of Black inferiority,” she observed. So Black inferiority and the false doctrine of White supremacy gives way to Ms. Guyger’s actions, her defense and the sentencing that rendered injustice to the Jean family and Black America, Dr. Muhammad explained.

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)