Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Amber Guyger

Amber Guyger has been found guilty of the murder of her neighbor Botham Shem Jean.

This case has been heavily watched and debated, as it is very peculiar.  An off duty police officer fatally shooting an unarmed, innocent neighbor in the neighbor's apartment.

Guyger had been working a long shift that day and was tired.  She parked accidentally on the wrong floor.  From there, she went to the location where her apartment would be, had she parked on the right floor.  She didn't notice anything different regarding the doors or apartments on the floor.  She didn't notice the red doormat at Jean's apartment.  The doorplate was defective on Jean's apartment, allowing Guyger to use her own keys to enter the apartment.

According to Guyger, on entering, she noticed someone inside, said she drew her weapon and said "Show me your hands."  She claims Jean was walking toward her and said "Hey."  She then fired her weapon twice into his chest.  All the time, she claims to have believed she was in her apartment and that Jean was an intruder.  She claimed a perfect storm of circumstances leading to a very unfortunate mistake.

The evidence presented a different story.  Neighbors testified that they did not hear a verbal altercation.  The medical examiner testified the bullet trajectory put Jean in a seated or cowering position instead of the head on walking position Guyger claimed.

The jury was given the choice between murder, manslaughter, and acquittal.  The jury found her guilty of murder, indicating a level of pre-meditation at the time.  A conscious decision to take Jean's life.

I think the case has garnered as much attention as it has because it implicates so many questions that we need to answer as a society:

  • Are we overworking our police officers and other first responders?  If Guyger was truly so exhausted that she could not notice that she was on the wrong floor, entering the wrong apartment, despite all the available signs, does that raise a concern?  Doesn't that raise concerns about the effectiveness of our officers as the shift wears on?  Should there be stronger regulations regarding how long an officer can be on duty?
  • Is her impulse to immediately grab her gun part of her police training?  Is that problematic?  This would seem like an incident that could have been resolved without involving a weapon.  By drawing the gun, the situation immediately escalated.  And once the gun is drawn, it's more likely that it seems to be the solution to the problem.  When you are armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If police training teaches this kind of response (the immediate drawing of the weapon and asking for a show of hands, not the shooting) without a further show of necessity, that would seem ripe for reconsideration.  We already have concerns about the militarization of police.  Do we need to have further concerns about the escalation practices?
  • The previous bullet also implicates our country's obsession with guns.  Unless we assume complete premeditation, in that Guyger wanted her neighbor gone, we have this trial because a gun was seen as the solution to this problem without a further assessment of need.  Fear controlled to the point where contextual clues were overruled and the gun's promise of "safety" kicked in.
  • What part did Jean's race play into the shooting?  Did the fact that he was black contribute to and exacerbate Guyger's "fear" for her life?  Don't we still need to deal with the inherent bias in viewing African American males as more violent, dangerous, criminal?
  • Does the Castle Doctrine need to be revisited?  The judge in the case allowed the jury to consider the Castle Doctrine during their deliberations.  The Castle Doctrine in Texas allows for deadly force when a person intrudes on your property.  In other words, you can use deadly force to protect yourself, your family, and your property.  It's a form of a self-defense exception, used when you believe someone is on your property illegally, you reasonably believe deadly force is immediately necessary, you are not the provoking party, and you are not involved in illegal activity at the time of using deadly force.  Does the fact that the castle doctrine was allowed here where Guyger only arguably believed she was on her property mean we need to account for that possibility?
  • Should more incidents of police shootings be taken to the court system?  There is a great tendency in our law enforcement to view it as a closed system.  Police take care of police issues.  Military take care of military issues.  The Church takes care of issues within the Church.  Outside accountability is viewed as an anathema.  It can be understandable, as the impulse to have those that can most closely understand the rigors of the situation and demands of the job to determine what defines reasonableness in that particular role.  However, it is also the same impulse that leads to cover ups like the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse scandals.  With the news around the incidents of police shooting otherwise innocent, unarmed citizens, do we need to seriously look at how those incidents are handled?  Do we need to lower the threshold such that they should be tried within our court system, for accountability to the communities that they are designed to protect?  
All hard questions; all extending far beyond the case at hand.  They reflect the conversations that we should be having in our communities.  What we should be looking for from our elected officials.  From our first responders.  From those in power.

Guyger is facing sentencing today, with two to ninety-nine years as the possible range.  With the jury in deliberation, the sentence could be returned later this afternoon or tomorrow.

Updated, 4:21 pm - Gugyer was sentenced to 10 years for the murder of Botham Jean.

No comments:

Post a Comment