The Influence of Race, Judgment on Amber Guyger’s Sentencing

Courtesy of Unsplash

Courtesy of Unsplash

When the jury convicted Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, for the murder of 26-year-old Botham Jean, our country took a step toward racial justice and American equality. Although many argue Guyger should face a sentence longer than 10 years, it’s an accomplishment in itself for a white police officer to finally garner accountability for wrongfully ending a black man’s life.

But it isn’t enough.

Amber Guyger, a former cop, walked into the wrong apartment and murdered a black man who innocently sat on his couch eating ice cream. 

“Let me see your hands, let me see your hands!” Guyger yelled, in fear of her life as she believed Jean was an intruder who awaited her arrival. 

In seconds, shots fired by Guyger ended in Jean’s unassisted fatality. Once she realized she’d entered the wrong apartment, Guyger failed to administer CPR she’d been trained to perform as a Dallas police officer. She instead texted her partner and called 911 as she repeatedly exclaimed fear of losing her job

People were rightfully outraged by another white police officer killing an innocent African American, but also by the clear disregard Guyger had for Jean’s life in the event of his murder.

Of course, civil rights activists and the Black Lives Matter movement were quick to organize protests demanding justice for Jean. Large groups of activists marched through the streets of Dallas and chanted, “No justice, no peace!” for hours at a time while not entirely acknowledging all facts of the case. Yes, this court case displayed classic signs of a racial hate crime, but it wasn’t entirely treated as one in court. There were seven African Americans and five other minorities who served on the jury, and Judge Tammy Kemp, an African American woman, served the final verdict. This allowed civilians who shared a racial background with Jean to form educated opinions on Guyger and the punishment they felt she deserved while acknowledging that the average sentence for police officers convicted of murder is only about 12 years. The court sentenced Guyger to 10 years with the possibility of parole after five which was not fair, but fell in line with convictions reached from similar cases. 

In addition to details of the night Jean’s murder, media outlets provided shreds of evidence suggesting the police officer Guyger messaged a married man she’d been in an affair with, and that other text messages between Guyger and her friends revealed clear signs of racism. These allegations led to ferocious judgment by the public which arguably could have influenced the outcome of her trial. During court, the defense attorney interrogated Guyger into admitting she shot with intent to kill, while the jury sequestered biased, irrelevant evidence of her true character. I don’t believe the evidence of Guyger’s character outside of the crime she committed should have mattered in court. Racism didn’t cause Guyger to kill Jean — what caused her to shoot was emotional distress, exhaust and plain fear for her life. If she’d resorted to her police training and handled things differently after realizing what she had done, she probably wouldn’t be behind bars today. 

Overall, this case led me to see the Dallas Police Department desperately needs to be reformed, from the training of their employees to their basic principles and guidelines. With an array of gray areas surrounding the entire incident, there’s a ton of questions we’ll never get answers to. Did gender, race, the fact that she was an officer, or the character the media forced Guyger to play impact the outcome of her case? We’ll never know. I hope it didn’t, but if so, it’s a clear indication that our nation’s justice system is broken in more ways than one. In the future, I hope these cases aren’t so twisted by spectators, and sentencing is based on the actualities of the crime. Because at the end of the day, another white police officer killed another innocent person of color, and justice has not been served. Juries should be colorblind — race and ethnicity should not be a deciding factor, and neither should the defendant’s public judgment of character. We also need our justice system to see women and men as equals, and above all, treat officers and civilians the same.