Why was Amber Guyger crying? The answer might be obvious, but then again, maybe not.
Several months ago, I saw a YouTube of a compassionate white male judge giving a young black woman a break in traffic court. No hugs or bibles were exchanged, but then again, there was a lot less at stake than in the case of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer. The black defendant was brought to tears by both the events that led her to be unable to pay her tickets and the judge’s merciful consideration of her attempts to turn her life around. I am not a mind-reader, but based on the circumstances, I would say her tears came from relief. In Guyger’s case, the tears came from remorse. But for what?
First, the obvious. Reverse the races and genders, or perhaps leave the genders alone. Would the defendant’s tears hold so much power? Of course, I can’t be certain; perhaps Brandt Jean would have demanded to embrace whoever had killed his brother. As a Christian, I have to applaud him. As a black person, I can’t help wondering if he’s been brainwashed into having so much pity for the person who shot his brother for no reason. The delicate white woman is an ancient trope, and Brandt Jean is a teenager, but Texas is in the South, where way too many people have yet to get over the Civil War. Old messages die hard.
I live a short drive from the schoolhouse where Amish girls were murdered by a gunman on October 2, 2006. I can’t deny being inspired by the forgiveness they extended towards the murderer of their innocent children, whose act was premeditated. In contrast, Botham Jean’s killing was clearly a mistake, and since no trial resulted in the Nickel Mines case, there was no parallel opportunity for courtroom embraces. Judge Tammy Kemp defended her decision to grant Amber Guyger’s request for a hug by mentioning her faith. I would give anything to see if she hugs every subsequent defendant who wants one. Most of us find it hard to watch someone dissolve into a puddle of misery; for people like me, offering comfort is natural. And yet, my stomach clenched the first time I watched Guyger receiving unexpected succor before her incarceration. Part of this was because I doubt a black defendant would have received the same treatment, but I knew that wasn’t the only reason. Then it struck me: Why was Amber Guyger crying? Because Botham Jean was dead, of course, but I think there are nuances to consider.
In the crime scene video, Guyger — who rendered very little first aid to her victim — repeats over and over that she thought she was in her own apartment. She had just shot to kill (by her own admission) a man who was sitting in front of his television eating ice cream, because she “feared for her life” (a cliché in high-profile killings by law enforcement officers of unarmed black people). Very few words were exchanged, and then she shot him in the chest. Would she have shot a white man so quickly? Of course, I can’t say for sure. I have my suspicions, though, especially given some of her past social media posts. Regardless, it’s striking how committed she was to establishing her intention, above all else.
An aside: Her defense included that she was tired after a long day, fresh from a difficult conversation with her married lover. Explicit text messages to confirm this story were introduced in court. Does anyone think a black defendant’s credibility would have been enhanced by this strategy? When a young black man, such as Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, has reportedly smoked weed prior to his death, the information is meant to justify the killing. Never mind that people like Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen, to name just two, speak openly about their love of marijuana. “Low moral character” = criminality, when you’re black or brown. But in Guyger’s case, there was no correlation inferred, at least by the defense, between wanton disregard for someone’s wife and wanton disregard for other humans in general. Nor should there be; it’s a big leap. But then again, there’s a big leap between smoking weed — which is notorious for making people less aggressive — and being dangerous.
Let’s cut to the chase. Distracted, distraught, and exhausted, Amber Guyger parked on the wrong floor, thought she was shooting an intruder, and couldn’t stop crying about it. I submit that she was sorry that she killed Botham Jean, but mainly because of the effect his death was going to have on her. Which is why she said, at the exclusion of almost anything else, that she thought she was in her own apartment when she opened fire. She didn’t mention the impact on Botham Jean’s loved ones. She didn’t do her best to keep him alive, or at least slow his demise. High-stress situation, certainly, but her first thought, even when he was clearly not a threat, was for herself.
Yes, I’m mind-reading here. And yet, everything that happened after her conviction, all the unprecedented video that made the news, was about providing comfort to someone whose main concern seems to have been the impact her mistakes — which weren’t completely random, given her social media history — would have on her.
I am writing this on the day after that one of the key witnesses against Guyger was murdered, execution-style. I wonder how many tears she is weeping for him right now, or whether the judge and Botham John’s little brother are as deeply affected by his passing as by Amber Guyger’s ten year sentence.
Update: I assumed nobody would be arrested for the murder just mentioned, which sounded like a hit, but lo and behold, a day later, three of the “usual suspects” (black men) were named as Joshua Brown’s killers. According to the poorly concocted story, Brown, a key witness in an upcoming civil case against the Dallas police, was shot by three black suspects who drove four hours to buy weed from someone who was never identified as a dealer by Guyger’s defense team (a detail that would have undoubtedly influenced the jury), then left not only what they came for but an additional stash of drugs behind.