Amber Guyger: What Actual Justice Would Look Like

Amber Guyger: What Actual Justice Would Look Like October 8, 2019

Last week, Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting Botham Jean. Justice has been served. Or has it? After reading about the sentencing last week, I couldn’t help but feel that the focus was too narrow. That’s how trials work, I suppose. Still, the whole thing felt limited and truncated. What would actual justice look like?

Consider. Why did Amber Guyger shoot Botham Jean? Because she thought she was in her apartment, she said. She thought he was an intruder. And yet, I find I have questions. Why was she carrying a loaded gun? Why was her first instinct upon finding what she thought was an intruder to fatally shoot him? Does breaking and entering now come with the death sentence? Are we so trigger happy and ready to murder people that we can’t take a moment to make sure we’ve got it straight first?

He could have killed her if she hesitated, gun-rights activists will say. Ah, but he did not have a gun. What a fatal world we have created, what a dangerous world, where you can die because someone merely suspects you have a gun. Or claims you did. That is not a world I want to live in, and I am not a black man. I do not have to worry that someone will see the color of my skin and immediately suspect that I must surely be up to no good. In my own home. Eating ice cream, on my couch.

There is too much hate in this world, too much prejudice, too much confounding greed, for us to safely own guns. Surely that must be obvious by now. Actual justice would mean asking why Botham Jean died, and refusing to accept “because Amber Guyger walked into the wrong apartment and thought he was an intruder” as the answer. Because it’s not.

A better answer would be because we have taught our police forces to shoot first and ask questions later. Or, because white Americans carry with them a level of racial prejudice that clouds their ability to accurately detect who is and is not dangerous. Or, because we as a society have decided that our belongings are more important than human lives.

So here I am, today, reading more about the case, my anger growing with each article I finish. Joshua Brown, a key witness in the case, was gunned down several weeks ago, shot in the mouth. That odd “coincidence” has more people talking about corruption in the Dallas PD—and about irregularities in the investigation of Botham Jean’s death.

I’m seeing things about police cameras that were turned off, about evidence that was tampered with, and about the head of the local police union showing up within an hour to protect Amber Guyger and guide the investigation.

From Lee Merritt’s facebook page:

[The Amber Guyger trial] 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….

What does actual justice look like? It looks like restructuring our police force so that coverup is not their first instinct. It looks like rooting out the code of silence. It looks like training officers to deescalate, to shoot only as very last resort. It looks like rigorous anti-bias training that identifies and roots out prejudiced candidates before they make the force. It looks like creating a police force that serves the community, not one that shoots first and asks questions later—or covers up the whole thing.

This country is so individualistic. Our justice system is set up to punish the individual, not to identify the forces that brought them there and create underlying change. We see this in other areas, too. We punish criminals for committing crimes even as we simultaneously defund our schools and other resources that, in an ideal world, would set people on a positive path before they turn to crime to begin with. We would rather deal with individuals than with corrupt or deprived systems.

Amber Guyger is behind bars. That much is good. But will this stop crimes like this from happening again? No. No it will not. We need to do more than just put the individual perpetrator away. We need to go after the systems that created Amber Guyger.

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