Amber Guyger's Sentencing Stunned Many In The Black Community

Oct 3, 2019
Originally published on October 3, 2019 9:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday for murdering 26-year-old Botham Jean. Guyger killed Jean in his apartment after mistaking it for her own. She faced up to 99 years in prison, and the relatively modest sentence had many supporters of Botham Jean's family feeling betrayed and furious. Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn from Dallas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: When the verdict was first announced, the silence both inside the courtroom and in the hallway just outside was complete. It took a few minutes, but then shocked disbelief turned to anger.

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PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

GOODWYN: But inside the courtroom, the trial continued with Botham Jean's younger brother giving a victim impact statement. The Jean family is deeply religious, Church of Christ, and in a remarkable show of grace, Brandt Jean spoke to Amber Guyger.

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BRANDT JEAN: If you truly are sorry, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did. But I personally want the best for you.

GOODWYN: As he finished, Jean asked the court if he could hug the woman who killed his brother, and Amber Guyger rushed into his arms. Locked in a fierce embrace, the young St. Lucian whispered into Guyger's ear as she sobbed into his shoulder. On the bench, Judge Tammy Kemp wiped away tears. She wasn't alone.

But outside the courtroom, there were much different feelings. What had been for many the murder verdict sweet taste of justice, turned sour in an instant by the jury's sentence.

DOMINIQUE ALEXANDER: Ten years - she murdered somebody in their house. She went into a man's house and murdered him.

GOODWYN: Dominique Alexander is an organizer with the Next Generation Action Network which tries to hold North Texas law enforcement accountable. Standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, Alexander says his cellphone was blowing up with angry messages. Over the last 12 months since Botham Jean was killed, Alexander has been part of a large group of ministers, activists and organizers who've been pressuring the city of Dallas to bring Amber Guyger to justice.

ALEXANDER: We had a process where we was trying to get an indictment, a process trying to get a conviction. Every step of the way is a fight towards that justice. But at the end of the day, we get to moments like this where it reminds us of the history of America, right? You know, this guy, he can't even get justice in his living room - ten years.

GOODWYN: For organizers like Alexander, the larger issue is more than this jury's verdict. It's about a Dallas Police Department that treats people of color one way and people who look like Amber Guyger another. In a press conference yesterday, Dallas police chief Renee Hall, who's black, acknowledged the problem is real.

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RENEE HALL: What you saw and heard was disheartening. And I can only imagine the community's perception of who we are as a Dallas Police Department and if we're truly honest with one another, who law enforcement is across this country. And it doesn't reflect where I want to take this organization.

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PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace. No justice...

GOODWYN: As the 96-degree Dallas heat slowly ebbed into dusk, African American leaders and their followers gathered on the steps of the courthouse to protest. Lee Merritt, attorney for the Jean family, who on Tuesday had called the verdict of murder a huge victory for black America, tweeted out, we think the world of Botham Jean, and we wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the maximum sentence. But we get we are too close to this. The jury has spoken, and now there is much more work to be done.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA AND J'SAN'S "OUT OF TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.