By Janet Howard
Botham Shem Jean, was a 26-year-old Harding University alumnus and an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Jean, born in Saint Lucia, a was smart, law-abiding, God-fearing young man. He wasn’t a criminal. He wasn’t loitering on the streets, drunk, smoking drugs, causing a public
scene or armed. He was at his home, sitting on his couch, enjoying ice cream when he lost his life. His father, Betrum Jean cried, “How is this possible? I will never see him again. I’m still not ready for it. It hurts me that he is not there. How could that happen to us, our family? How could we have lost Botham, such a sweet boy. He tried his best to live a good, honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone.”
On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger returned home to her apartment complex after finishing work as a Dallas police officer. Guyger claims to have mistakenly parked her car on the wrong floor and walked into Jean’s apartment believing it to be her own. Upon seeing Jean on his couch eating ice cream, Guyger claims to have thought he was an intruder and, in a moment of fear, used her government-issued handgun to shoot and kill Jean. Guyger, from all accounts, had several options than the one she chose of shooting Jean to kill. Botham mother, Allison Jean, said, “He [Botham] didn’t deserve to die. “I know there’s a time to live and a time to die,” she added, referring to Ecclesiastes 3, “but certainly not in the way he did. I feel a wicked act was inflicted upon him right in his own home. That, for me, is the most hurtful part of it.”
Was Justice Really Served?
Initially, Guyger was only charged with manslaughter and kept on the police force but following public outrage she was then charged with murder and fired. Fast-forward to the trial, on October 2, 2019, Guyger, 31, who is white, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of her neighbor Botham Jean, who was black. She will be eligible for parole in 5 years. What a gift! Parole in 5 years! Is this justice, real justice?
There are so many mothers in America still crying and feeling the agonizing pain of losing their sons at the hands of the police in America. Eric Garner’s mother had to wait for five years [August 19, 2019] to get her son’s killer, Daniel Pantaleo to be fired. Just fired; no indictment. Garner was killed on July 17, 2014. So, for many, Guyger’s conviction served as a sliver of justice since it is very rare for police offices to be convicted or punished for unlawful killings in America. However, for many, Guyger’s sentencing was too lenient and rightfully so. In Saint Lucia, Jean’s native homeland, response to the verdict of guilty for Guyger and being sentenced to 10 years out of a possible 99, was not well-received.
This is only the second guilty verdict and sentencing of a cop in Dallas in the last 45 years.
Activist, Dominique Alexander expressed his disgust, stating, “What justice did today was slap us back in the face with levels of injustice.”
OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules expressed mixed emotions surrounding the verdict. “The tragedy of Botham’s death struck the core of our community, not only in Saint Lucia but throughout our region and in the Diaspora. While we acknowledge this sliver of justice that was served today, we continue to mourn with Botham’s family the loss of a promising son of our soil,” Dr. Jules commented.
The low sentencing was one shocker and an injustice. What happened after the sentencing was another shocker. Guyger received a profound – and controversial – amount of compassion from her victim’s family and the judge. Judge Tammy Kemp, who is black, left her judge’s bench and also embraced Guyger. Kemp gave Guyger a Bible and the two of them prayed together before Guyger was led away from the courtroom. Kemp is currently being investigated.
The actions of Brandt Jean and Judge Kemp have reawakened the complex conversation about race and inequality. Some observers celebrated the humanity on display in the courtroom, and others questioned if it is just for African Americans to repeatedly take the moral high ground without an
exception of reciprocity across America's racial divide.
Justin Hansford, the executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard Law, asserts that the culture of forgiveness that emanates from America's black community derives from the U.S. never condoning black anger when directed towards white Americans. “We see the black community take the moral high ground because you don’t get the right to be angry with white people in America. If you’re angry it is seen as unjustified,” says Hansford.
Allison Jean addressed her son Brandt Jean’s controversial public show of forgiveness to Guyger, calling his decision “remarkable” but reminding the crowd of how much work there was ahead to hold Dallas police accountable, specifically calling out problems with the investigation revealed at the trial.
“I don’t want the community to be mistaken by what [happened] in the courtroom,” she said, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth. “Forgiveness for us as Christians is a healing for us, but as my husband said, there are consequences. It does not mean that everything else we have suffered has to go unnoticed. We’re leaving Dallas this week, but you all must live in Dallas and you all must try to make Dallas a better place.”
She added, “There are many Christians who asked me if I would forgive Amber. I will leave my forgiveness for Amber to myself. God knows my heart,” she said. “What I want you to do for us, for the family is to support the legacy of Botham. We have created the foundation not to help us, but to help the underprivileged, the underserved, the vulnerable, the voiceless. So, I ask you to support the Botham Jean Foundation. I would love to help someone who Botham would have wanted to help.”
Guess who is getting their justice?
And now, the pain continues for another family. A message is being sent loud and clear. In Texas, there is a massacre of Black bodies for years have gone without justice and regard.
Joshua Brown, one key witness in the Jean trial that has convicted Guyger of murder and sentenced her to 10 years of prison, was murdered in cold blood, days after giving his heart- wrenching testimony about the day his new friend was shot. A noble and brave soul, Brown lived across the hall from Jean. He was shot outside of his apartment building in Dallas on the night of October 4. There is no suspect information at this time, police said.
Of course, there are no suspects. But do we need suspects? Do we need to pinpoint the cowards who acted so heinously toward the gentle Brown, who wept at the trial for a man who he met only the day he was killed? Particularly, when we don’t really believe in the American justice system… do we?
According to civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, Esq., who is representing the Jean family, Brown’s immediate family said he was shot in his mouth and chest after Merritt was told the young man was shot in his back. “We will have to await the autopsy to be sure,” he wrote on Twitter Saturday night.
“To have a key witness, suddenly be killed is suspicious. Was this related to the trial? There is no clear indication,” Merritt told CBS News” Omar Villafranca. The Jean family has filed a civil case against the city of Dallas for the murder of their son Botham. Merritt says Brown would have been one of their first witnesses.
On Facebook, Merritt wrote that Brown’s execution “underscores the reality of the black experience in America.” He added that, “Brown lived in constant fear that he could be the next victim of gun violence…Brown deserves the same justice he sought to ensure the Jean family.”
With heavy hearts, we wait and see.