Botham Jean, 26, was killed in his Dallas apartment on the evening of Thursday, September, 6. The shooter Amber Guyger was an off-duty police officer returning home after a 15-hour shift.
Guyger, 30, lived in the same apartment building as Jean and has claimed that she thought she was entering her own apartment and believed Jean to be a burglar. According to Guyger, the apartment was dark and she saw a large silhouette. She shouted before proceeding to fire two shots from her pistol into Jean’s body. Following the shooting, she called 911.
This event has reignited the debate on racist police brutality, and the deeper relationship between police and people of color in the United States. By all accounts, Jean was an upstanding member of society. Raised on the island of St. Lucia, he was a naturalized citizen who attended a Christian university in Arkansas, worked for the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and was known by friends and family to have a passion for singing and leadership roles in his church.
Another Case of Police Brutality
Jean’s killing has sparked protests in Dallas, anger over the killing of a black man in his own home by a white off-duty officer. The tragic act of violence has drawn religious leaders, elected officials, and activists into a public discussion that continues to churn because the shooting of unarmed black men by the police is unacceptably frequent.
In addition, the protesters have drawn attention to the authorities’ sluggish response after they failed to arrest Guyger at the scene but waited until three days later when she was officially charged. There has also been criticism of the decision to charge Guyger with manslaughter as opposed with the higher charge of murder.
Guyger is currently out of jail after posting a $300,000 bond. The investigation has been handed over to the Texas Rangers. While many agencies are tight-lipped regarding the ongoing investigation, some more facts have come out. For instance, multiple search warrants were carried out at Jean’s apartment after the shooting.
The Smear Campaign Begins
When one of the warrants became public, it was announced that among other evidence, police had found a personal stash of marijuana (less than half an ounce) and a metal grinder. The family was outraged that the announcement of the marijuana in Jean’s apartment was made the same day as the funeral. Although the warrants’ official purpose was to collect evidence, the search terms included narcotics and other contraband.
According to an attorney, Lee Merritt, who works on behalf of Jean’s family, the police affidavit demonstrates that investigators promptly began searching for evidence to discredit or devalue the victim after the shooting took place.
“I think it’s unfortunate that law enforcement begin to immediately criminalize the victim — in this case, someone who was clearly was the victim that has absolutely no bearing on the fact that he was shot in his home,” Merritt told KDFW. “They immediately began looking to smear him.”
“26 years without blemish and it took being murdered in his own home by a white Dallas police officer to make #BothemShemJean a criminal,” he wrote on Twitter.
Critics have argued against the purpose and nature of the search, questioning the importance of including drugs and contraband in the search warrant. Others have argued against the relevance of the results, asking why would it matter what the victim had in his apartment and why that information would be publicly released.
Yet somehow, the officer’s apartment hasn’t been searched
According to the Jean family attorney Lee Merritt, the officer’s home has not been searched. Merritt organized a news conference to “denounce the lack of genuine transparency in the investigation”. Regarding the apparent leniency towards Guyger the attorney commented, “It’s clear to me and the family that investigators are not interested in doing an objective job.”
Public anger then shifted from the investigators to the media when a local Fox News affiliate in Dallas released a tweet about the discovery of marijuana in Jeans apartment. The headline of the article was “Search warrant: Marijuana found in Botham Jean’s apartment after deadly shooting.”
The headline promotes the discovery of marijuana as though it were relevant to the criminal investigation, while failing to contextualize that Botham Jean was the victim of the shooting. Social media voices quickly condemned the tweet as an attack on the character of Mr. Jean, viewing it as an attempt to diminish the alleged crime, or possibly even justify it.
Why it shouldn’t matter that Botham Jean had weed:
When conspicuous police killings of black people happen, far too often a false narrative pops up that attempts to portray the victims as aggressive or violent criminals who are in some way responsible for their own deaths.
According to Slate, “discussion of Eric Garner’s history of arrests and even his weight persisted after his strangling in 2014. And after Michael Brown’s shooting, police and their defenders fixated on his alleged attempted robbery beforehand.”
The fact that marijuana was present in the apartment is irrelevant for a variety of reasons, but most prominent is that is it has no effect on the case. Officer Guyger was off the clock and was not acting on behalf of law enforcement. Jean was a private citizen in his personal residence, and his home would not have been searched if he had not been killed.
All across the world people partake in marijuana on a daily basis with a peaceful and happy disposition. The plant is less detrimental for heart and liver health than alcohol; there is no causal correlation to marijuana use and violence. It would take an impossibly large amount of marijuana to be lethal.
In truth, rather than this post-mortem judgement about whether this young man enjoyed to use marijuana either as a medicinal or recreational activity, Jean’s shooting maybe should make us reconsider our relationship to guns.
Let’s ask ourselves: If Amanda Guyger had been in possession of marijuana instead of a weapon, would Botham Jean still be alive?
Similar to anti-marijuana and other misinformation campaigns, people are wising up to the modern propaganda tactics attempting to portray dead black people as violent or aggressive. Hopefully, this will follow the same direction as D.A.R.E. and people will awake to these false narratives. We need to demand fair and equal justice systems where black people do not have to face unacceptable persecution from state-sponsored violence — along with unbigoted media representations for all.