A Manipulation Of Black Innocence: Botham Jean & How Black People Are Wrong Even When They're Not
The criminalization of Botham Jean has begun.
The opening paragraphs of a recent report from Dallas’ Fox 4 make no reference to the fact that police officer Amber Guyger shot Botham Jean in his own apartment after mistaking it for hers. Instead, it focuses on one of several items allegedly found in Jean’s apartment — “a small amount of marijuana.”
Less than an ounce of marijuana — 10.4 grams — was found. None of this should matter considering it’s irrelevant to the reason why Guyger shot Jean in his own home. Now, through Fox’s narrative manipulation, it is relevant, transforming an innocent 26-year-old man into a criminal that deserved death for possessing marijuana.
Conflicting accounts have distorted what did and didn’t occur during the shooting. A search warrant obtained by Dallas police just hours after the incident stated that “an unknown male inside the apartment confronted the officer at the door,” while an affidavit obtained by the Texas Rangers to arrest Guyger three days after the shooting said Jean was “across the room” when the officer walked through the door.
Since then, Guyger has said that she found Jean’s apartment door ajar and, upon entering, saw “a large silhouette.” Believing to be burglarized she drew her gun, “gave verbal commands that were ignored” by the man she took to be a burglar and fired twice. But Jean wasn’t the one invading someone’s private space — Guyger was. She parked her car on the fourth floor of South Side Flats — she lives on the third — and walked to the wrong apartment.
Guyger has been charged with manslaughter, but in light of these conflicting accounts and reports trying to criminalize Jean, it’s hard to hope for justice.
“They went in with the intent to look for some sort of criminal justification for the victim,” Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Jean’s family, said to Dallas ABC-affiliated TV station WFAA. “It’s a pattern that we’ve seen before…we have a cop who clearly did something wrong. And instead of investigating the homicide — instead of going into her apartment and seeing what they can find, instead of collecting evidence relevant for the homicide investigation — they went out specifically looking for ways to tarnish the image of this young man.”
Prior to Jean’s death, Dallas was associated with another controversial cop shooting. In 2017, teen Jordan Edwards was leaving a party with two of his brothers and two friends in Balch Springs — a Dallas suburb — when then police officer Roy Oliver shot into their vehicle with three rifle rounds, one of them striking Edwards in the back of his head. He was 15.
Similar to Jean’s shooting, Edwards’ shooting had conflicting accounts. Initially, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said that the teens’ car was driving aggressively backward toward officers. The statement ended up being wrong, however, when Haber reviewed body-cam footage from the incident and saw that the teen behind the wheel had backed up but was driving away from police when Oliver fatally shot Jordan.
“I was unintentionally incorrect yesterday when I said that the victim’s vehicle was backing down the road,” Haber had said previously. But it’s hard to believe that Haber was “unintentionally incorrect.” His mistake never would’ve happened had he just reviewed the footage first before offering a statement. Instead, he made his error seem like a minor problem. What this is indicative of is an unawareness of public perception as it pertains to black people and police. In making it seem as if the teens were trying to attack the officers, Haber criminalized them and justified Oliver’s actions. America’s police system was built upon white supremacy and as a result, the accounts of those in uniform often take precedence over average citizens — particularly black people.
That Jordan, his brothers, and their friends had done nothing wrong — they weren’t drinking and they left the party as it became dangerous — only to be wrongfully misreported speaks to a poignant truth about being black in America. That black people can do no wrong whatsoever and still be wrong, their innocence distorted and manipulated.
Fortunately, Oliver faced punishment for his actions: he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Will Jean get his own justice for the wrong done to him? At the moment it seems unlikely. Guyger’s manslaughter charge is just that — a charge. A punishment will only come through a grand jury, which could result in more serious charges beyond manslaughter — possibly murder — if they choose to upgrade it.
But what is known is the complete disregard in characterizing Jean as a criminal deserving of his unfortunate outcome. A black man who can’t even defend himself against the smear tactics directed at him, because he’s dead for doing absolutely nothing wrong.