There has been a torrent of speculation about the death of Botham Shem Jean — shot and killed in his apartment by Officer Amber Guyger — most of it based on the limited available evidence and conflicting accounts of what happened that September night in Dallas.
Until more details of the tragic event are made public, likely at trial, and we can flesh out the fuller picture of what actually occurred, it seems irresponsible to add to the noise.
But the shooting has injected some worthy questions into the debate about police misconduct — not necessarily as it applies to black men, as is the prevailing narrative, but as to why police officers in this case and more generally-speaking are afforded a special status when involved in a shooting.
First, allow me to stipulate: Most police officers do what society asks of them — exhibit both bravery and restraint in the face of threat and provocation, in their professional and private lives. Many go well beyond the call of duty. Fort Worth’s recent loss of Officer Garrett Hull, gunned down while working a dangerous undercover operation, is a potent reminder of that. These men and women deserve our support and thanks.
But many people, conservatives in particular, seem to confer to officers of the law a “super-citizen” status; a presumption that whether on or off-duty, by virtue of their chosen profession, police deserve a special dispensation when they make mistakes or errors in judgment — even when those errors have deadly results.
Sen. Ted Cruz, otherwise careful with his words on the matter, seemed to align himself with this thinking when he criticized his election opponent and others for being “so quick to always blame the police officer.”
Indeed, we should not always blame the officer, but we should presume their innocence like we do with any ordinary citizen charged with a crime — no more, no less.
However, we’ve seen a defense of Guyger made all the more troubling because this was not a typical police shooting. Guyger was not on duty and therefore not acting in her official capacity as a police officer when she shot and killed Jean, yet she was treated differently than an ordinary citizen would be — not immediately arrested but allowed to surrender to authorities three days later.
It’s hard to imagine any other circumstance — or any other profession — that would convey such privilege.
Early defenders of Guyger have also argued that by issuing a warning to Jean before shooting him, Guyger was applying her training and following protocols. But her profession and requisite training is not a reasonable defense of her actions; If anything, they are an indictment of her behavior — she should have acted with heightened awareness and greater restraint than she exhibited. In fact, since Guyger had entered another person’s home, under Texas statute, if anyone had a justifiable reason to use deadly force it was not her but Jean, the victim.
Without casting aspersions on Guyger’s character or drawing premature conclusions about motive or her mental state at the time of the shooting, it’s more than fair to say that Guyger’s actions, while quite possibly the result of a horrible misunderstanding, were grossly negligent — regardless of her job status.
If both Jean and Guyger are to receive justice in this case, her conduct must be judged before her profession. A person, who happened to be a police officer, shot Jean. She should be held accountable.