Shock. That’s the feeling that so many black Americans felt last September as details emerged about Botham Jean’s murder at the hands of Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer who was eventually fired. Public outrage was widespread, of course, but the sheer audacity of Guyger’s claim that her crime was justified created a special kind of horror. Essentially, the ex-cop was claiming that her fear rendered her deadly error irrelevant. After all, tiny white woman vs. big black guy is an all-too-familiar racist trope.
For black folks, it was impossible not to watch this story unfold and feel terror and a familiar resentment: They’re killing us in our own homes and blaming us for it. They’re finding a way to say “he’s no angel” about a literal choirboy, an accountant who, at just 26 years old, would still be eligible as a dependent under the Affordable Care Act, if his parents were American.
Acquittal after acquittal of white people (often cops) killing unarmed black people is the norm here in the U.S.; additionally, many grand juries decline to even press charges in such cases. One way or another, by letting these killers off, by justifying their violence, a horrific lesson is taught and reinforced to black Americans: It’s okay to kill us.
But on Tuesday, just a little more than a year after she stole Botham Jean’s light forever, Amber Guyger, now 31, was found guilty of murder—after just five hours of deliberation by a 12-person jury of her peers. And there was that feeling again: shock.
Yet the sheer shock rippling through the black community in the wake of the Guyger case says so much about this white supremacist nation. Verdict after verdict has left so many white killers free to live their lives after taking a black one. For every shout of “Black Lives Matter,” there’s a jury, grand or otherwise, or a law in Florida, that tells us they don’t. Regardless of our income class, our education, our lifestyles, and our accomplishments, American society finds a way to justify our murders.
So on the morning of the guilty verdict, so many black Americans, including this writer, shed stunned tears. Did we think Guyger deserved to get off? Of course not. Yet the conditioning of white supremacy has worked so well, and this country has disappointed us so often, that most of us were certain she would go free for murdering a black man who was eating ice cream in his own home. We were ready for the fear ripples of an acquittal, and the implicit nod it would give to the people in this country who would do us harm. “Yes, you can kill black people with reckless abandon, no matter where they are or what they’re doing,” is what we expected that jury to say.
But they didn’t. That jury didn’t give Guyger the white people pass. They—gasp—held her accountable.
Here’s a small glimpse into the remarkable shockwave that this seemingly simple recognition of black humanity has caused.
Maya Rupert, campaign manager for former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, minced no words.
The number of people (myself included) stunned that Amber Guyger will be held accountable tells us all we need to know about what we mean when we say #BlackLivesMatter. It’s a plea.
— Maya Rupert (@MayaRupert) October 1, 2019
Respondents to Rupert’s tweet confirmed that horrific reality, one by one.
I won't lie, I am shocked she was convicted. I thought she would get away with murder because the victim was a black man.
— AuntieBS (@BsAuntie) October 1, 2019
Racism is taught. And black Americans have learned one hell of a lesson when it comes to white cops killing us.
Everyone was literally preparing themselves for the agony of when she was going to walk. The majority really felt like she was going to be found not guilty for murdering a person in his own home.
This is emotional trauma.
— Natunde (@Natunde) October 1, 2019
One user pointed out that she didn’t even realize that she was expecting an acquittal until the conviction was announced.
I can’t tell you how audible the unexpected “whoosh” was that left my body. Didn’t event realize I had been holding on to that. Locked in and tense.
— Fogologist, Pre Ph.D (@Goper91) October 1, 2019
The fact that is was Texas also was a factor in black Americans’ dread.
I was afraid she would get away with it since it's Texas and she's a white cop.
— DAMIAN™ (@dilop10) October 1, 2019
The agreements were seemingly endless.
— Gayle King's other best friend (@the_mcguire) October 1, 2019
This is black reality.
No American should have so little faith in the justice system, yet here we are.
I had to read it ten times and check multiple sources before I believed it.
— Tre (@TMadison25) October 1, 2019
No. Faith. At. All.
— Jay Scott Smith (@JayScottSmith) October 1, 2019
Botham Jean may have been from St. Lucia, but his family recognized that this was a victory for “black people in America.”
‘This is a victory for Black people in America.’ — Here’s how the attorney representing Botham Jean’s family responded after former cop Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder pic.twitter.com/2YFI474QEw
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 1, 2019
It cannot be said enough: The black community was ready for an acquittal because that’s what the justice system has taught us.
Amber Guyger was just found #Guilty of murdering Botham Jean… But the fact that this verdict could’ve easily gone the other way and people of color were bracing ourselves for another miscarriage of Justice proves that police killing unarmed black men is an all too common trend.
— Cyrus McQueen (@CyrusMMcQueen) October 1, 2019
The justice system protects white America.
It is complex to hold the line of abolitionist & knowing police must be held accountable. But the guilty verdict of Amber Guyger is an aberration of the system, not the rule. This system was never designed to protect us from police. Police were not designed to protect us.
— janaya (@janaya_khan) October 1, 2019
This isn’t black people being dramatic, or embracing a victim mentality. This is statistically proven: Police killing unarmed black people is essentially a legal act in this country.
Amber Guyger's murder conviction is a rarity for police killings of unarmed Black people.
According to Mapping Police Violence:
– Black people 3X more likely to be killed than white people
– Of 1,147 people killed in 2017, 25% were Black
– 99% of cases result in no conviction pic.twitter.com/Gs8XO6LY9r
— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 1, 2019
Again, it cannot be said enough: Black people did NOT expect a conviction.
That many of us didn't believe that Amber Guyger would pay for the heinous, ridiculous and incredible act of killing Botham Jean in HIS home, speaks volumes about America's inJustice system!
— Karen Hunter (@karenhunter) October 1, 2019
The weight of that truth is undeniable.
I'm just crying with relief. None of this will bring Botham Jean back, but I was prepared for the devastation of knowing there would be no justice for him, and we got got something where we so often get nothing.
— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) October 1, 2019
And it wasn’t just black people that felt this way, of course.
While it's great the jury found Amber Guyger guilty, it says a lot about the larger system — & its repeated failures in these moments — that few of us expected it to happen. It also shows why racially diverse juries are critical. Fewer white folks to rationalize cop violence
— Tim Wise (@timjacobwise) October 1, 2019
And it won’t just be black people who benefit from this precedent, as Ben Crump noted in a moving tribute to just some of the black bodies we’ve seen created by white police officers who never saw justice.
Botham Jean family attorney Ben Crump after the conviction of Amber Guyger:
"This verdict is for Trayvon Martin, it's for Michael Brown, it's for Sandra Bland, it's for Tamir Rice, it's for Eric Garner … for so many unarmed black and brown human beings all across America." pic.twitter.com/UWA1da32gj
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 1, 2019
If this collection of responses seemed repetitive, that’s because that’s how this constant cycle of injustice feels. Again and again, the black community faces these situations where, after varying intensities of legal process, we’re told that it’s legal to take our lives. As noted in one tweet above and by one of my Daily Kos colleagues, this is collective emotional trauma.
Yet it’s essential not to mistake this collective sigh of relief for celebration. Justice was served to Amber Guyger today with the verdict she’s no doubt going to appeal, and how harshly she’ll be punished by a jury of her peers will be announced Wednesday morning. But for the Jean family, there is no real justice, as they’ll never hear their cherished choirboy—who would have turned 28 on Sunday—sing a song of celebration ever again.
This is Botham Jean leading worship at his church.
This is who Amber Guyger murdered.
Sitting in his own apartment, eating ice cream.
Rest in power, brother.pic.twitter.com/KY3vsjWwLR
— chris evans (@notcapnamerica) October 1, 2019
Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith scratched deep below the surface when he noted that “this is what is supposed to happen. I keep longing for the day when we are not surprised by justice.”
This was not that day.