By Britney Brunache, Contributing Writer
In my English class, a group of students were assigned to create a timeline of events revolving around gun control. When presenting their assignment, they mentioned events such as the Columbine shooting, the Vegas shooting, the creation of the NRA, and the Second Amendment.
I raised my hand and asked, “Doesn’t it create an argument that this group did not mention any shootings relating to police brutality?”
After saying this, my classmates were silent. None of them acknowledged my statement. My professor agreed with me, and later thanked me for mentioning that in class. But it wasn’t until this moment that I realized that I was the only black person in the room, and if I did not mention anything relating to my personal knowledge, no one would have said it.
I do not particularly like representing black people in a majority white room because I never had to do so prior to Gettysburg, but when faced with ignorance like this, I can’t help it.
And then the Amber Guyger case reached my attention.
Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man and graduate of Harding University, was working as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). On Sept. 6, 2018, he was eating ice cream and watching TV when Amber Guyger, an off-duty Dallas Police officer, entered his home and fatally shot him. After Jean was shot, he was taken to a nearby hospital where he died from his gunshot wound. Although Guyger was trained to give CPR to civilians who have become unconscious, she testified to giving him “little CPR” while calling 9-1-1. Three days after that incident, Guyger was arrested and charged with manslaughter, was fired from the department on Sept. 24, 2018, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison a year later.
Prior to the incident, as told in Guyger’s testimony, she had a routine on how she exited and entered her home. Before leaving for work, she would make sure her door was locked. When returning home for the day, she would carry her equipment—backpack, lunch bag, and heavy vest—in her left hand leaving her right hand empty. The reasoning behind this was in the case of any dangerous activity, the hand that she shot with must always be available to shoot. Not only was she trained to do so, but Guyger was constantly looking at the crime logs in her neighborhood and noticed that the area in which she lived was not always safe.
In her testimony, Guyger claimed that when she reached what she thought was her apartment, the door was cracked open as she was putting her key in. She heard loud shuffling as if someone was moving around the apartment. She claimed that Jean was moving around and when she saw him, she was frightened. She told the prosecutor that she exclaimed “Let me see your hands!” multiple times and when Jean did not listen she opened fire.
The Defense tried to use the Castle Doctrine as a tactic to convince the jury that Guyger was valid in shooting Jean. According to her testimony, she truly believed that she was in her apartment, and that someone had intruded into it, therefore she was acting out of self-defense. The prosecutor negated this statement because she was not in her own apartment; in fact, she was on the floor above her apartment. The Castle Doctrine cannot apply because she cannot “defend” her home and her well-being when she was the one who broke in.
During the trial, many questions were asked by the prosecutor about her childhood, including her parents, education, and extracurricular activities, and then moved into her passion for becoming a police officer, finishing with descriptive details of the day of the incident. Brandt Jean, the brother of the victim said during his testimony, “I don’t even want her to go to jail,” and proceeded to ask the judge if he could give Guyger a hug to comfort her. The judge granted permission, as well as giving Guyger a hug and a bible at the end of the trial. Jean comes from a very religious family with a Christian background so his forgiveness was extremely rooted in the faith of forgiving others when they do wrong.
According to The Washington Post: “At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors recommended at least 28 years in prison, the age Jean would have been at the time of Guyger’s conviction. The jury deliberated for just over an hour before settling unanimously on 10 years — slightly longer than the minimum of five years they could have handed down, yet far short of the 99-year maximum. To reach that decision, the jury was influenced by what they believed Jean would have wanted, the remorse Guyger exhibited on the witness stand and that she did not set out to kill Jean, but made fatal decisions after accidentally entering his home.”
The article goes on to say: “The 12 jury members, plus four alternates, included seven black members, five nonblack people of color and four white members; 12 members of the entire pool were women, and the other four were men.” Despite the jury, judge, and even the writers being diverse, when faced with a five to ninety-nine year sentence, she was sentenced to ten years.
I have several problems with the case. First being, the actual lack of common sense of the officer. Why is it that several officers use their guns as a first resort? Are they not trained to be more aware and careful with their use of a weapon? How does someone drive to the fourth floor parking lot, walk all the way into the hallway, make a left, and open a door that is clearly on the wrong floor? If she at least was on the right floor that is one thing, but to be on the floor above and still think that is your home is another thing.
Also, as a police officer, if you have an elaborate routine when you enter and exit your home, taking a step in, would you not realize that you are in an unfamiliar environment? In the 9-1-1 call right after the shooting, Guyger was worried that she would lose her job. So basically, she shot a man dead and the first thing you think about is that you’re going to lose your job? And not the fact that you just killed a man?
Another problem I have with this case is the brother of the victim. Although having a strong sense of faith is a good thing, no matter what religion or belief you choose, he set a bad example for other victims of police brutality. Not everyone is going to be as forgiving as him and his family. When the next victim dies, and the defense is harsher towards the murderer, the killer’s defense could easily be, “Brandt Jean forgave Amber Guyger, why can’t you forgive me?” which is an escalation of a self-defense excuse.
If Brandt Jean were to be so forgiving, he should not have been so forgiving for the public eye to see. There are hundreds of black people in jail for crimes that are less than murder, but have gotten worse sentences. There are so many police officers who have killed innocent black people but have gotten away with it or received a punishment lesser than needed. For Guyger to only receive 10 years, which could become shorter if she has good behavior, is a shocking and hurtful sentence coming from such a diverse group of jurors.
What makes this important to me as a Gettysburg College student is that I am constantly in fear that something similar might happen to me.
Just hearing rumors of discussions about DPS being armed scares me because just thinking about the people who are hired to protect me now owning guns means that they could just so easily resort to shooting someone rather than using another means of offense. If they were ever to be armed, and the campus population continued to grow in diversity, it would increase the chances that a racially-biased—and potentially fatal—attack could occur. It would be even worse if outside officers were hired to protect that campus because they wouldn’t know the students as efficiently as DPS does, so they would care even less about a student and more about this word “safety.”
I am well aware that the Second Amendment exists and that various people can own a gun, but as a black woman in the United States, especially attending Gettysburg College, these are things that I think about on a daily basis that many others on campus don’t, but should.