Updated: Jul 4, 2019
If there’s one place in the world that should be a safe place of refuge, comfort and safety for everyone, it’s your home. But that was not the case a little more than a week ago for a young black man in Dallas, TX.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says this:
“The right of the people to be secure (i.e. safe, protected or sheltered) in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated.”
But the most egregious of violations was committed in Dallas by police officer Amber Guyger, ending the life of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man.
Jean was alone in his home when Guyer, who has said she believed she was entering her own apartment, walked through Jean’s open apartment door and shot and killed him, believing him to be a burglar.
This traumatic news leads many blacks, already traumatized at the frightening number of police killings of unarmed black people, to the horrific realization that they aren’t even safe in their own homes from the threat being killed by the police.
Questions Surround Officer’s Account
Almost immediately questions began to swirl about Guyger’s recounting of the circumstances that led to Jean’s killing, which The National Review, a leading conservative magazine and website, has called “the worst police shooting yet.”
To be believable, Guyger must have had an unimaginable level of obliviousness to her surrounds to miss all the clues that she wasn’t entering her own apartment: she was on the wrong floor of the building in front of an apartment with a red door mat, which she did not own.
She also opened a door she said was ajar and entered a room she said was dark. Who leaves a door open and the lights off in their home? Why didn’t she turn on the lights?
She then issued verbal commands that she said Jean ignored, then fired her weapon twice striking Jean once.Then, she turned on the lights, realized she wasn’t in her apartment and called 9-1-1.
At least one resident of the apartment claims she heard knocking on a door and then “Let me in, let me in.” Then she heard two gunshots and a voice saying. “Oh my God. Why did you do that?”
This directly disputes Guyger’s account.
Given the circumstances of the events leading to Jean’s death, Guyger was arrested and charged with manslaughter, a crime defined as “recklessly” causing the death of a person. She wasn’t charged with murder though, which is simply defined in Texas as “knowingly or intentionally causing the death of an individual.”
Texas is a “stand your ground state,” and juries are typically sympathetic to law enforcement officers, giving leeway to those using deadly force in perceived situations of danger when in pursuit or making criminal arrests.
But because Guyger was not making an arrest or in any kind of perceived eminent threat, there is little evidence that she had cause to use deadly force, according to this Washington Post article.
What if the Victim Were White?
Even if you believe Guyer’s account of the events, you must admit her actions belied appropriate police training. Details and clues are important. Yet she seemingly missed so many details that would have prevented this tragic death.
Jean was an innocent man in his own space, minding his own business. He was home. He was safe. He wasn’t suspected of a crime and had no reason to believe that the police would enter his home, even with the door ajar, and kill him.
If the officer in this case was a black man and the victim was a white man in his own home, would the charge be different? Would the public support a murder charge for illegal entry into a private home and killing the occupant?
If you believe in the Constitutional rights of all Americans, then you must acknowledge that Botham Jean’s rights were violated. He had the right to be secure and safe in his home. Amber Guyger callously violated his rights and tragically ended his life.
Tragically, given the history of near zero accountability in incidents of police killing of unarmed black people, there’s little reason to believe justice will be served in this case.The police officer should be charged with murder.
Regardless of the race of the citizen, every American has the right to be safe in their own home. Allowing police to be let off with a slap on the wrist for taking a life of an innocent citizen in their own home without cause should never be tolerated.
And if it is, the U.S. Constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures.