Reaching toward the heavens in anguished thanks, Allison Jean brought a moment’s grace to a mother’s worst nightmare.
Just moments earlier Tuesday, a jury had declared off-duty police officer Amber Guyger guilty of murder for gunning down Jean’s son, Botham, in his own home.
Although the murder conviction is some measure of justice, it cannot make up for the life of the much-beloved 26-year-old whose favorite spot was in the church choir.
But the verdict does matter: Nothing less than a murder conviction would have been sufficient in Botham Jean’s killing — and for the cause of justice and the future of Dallas.
I didn’t sit in the jury box — my thanks and admiration to those who did — but know this: Guyger had every opportunity to act with sound judgment that Sept. 6 night and instead she chose a deadly option.
Even after missing clue after clue after clue that she was on the wrong floor and at the wrong residence, Guyger reacted — while standing on Jean’s bright red entryway mat — to the sounds of movement inside the apartment by charging through that door.
The defense team tried to argue that the massive chain of mistakes Guyger committed that night was reasonable. Those errors were hideously reckless. What reasonable cop, facing no immediate danger, pushes into the apartment and shoots without taking a few minutes to first assess the situation?
Guyger didn’t retreat, she didn’t call for backup. With gun at the ready, she went in prepared to double-tap at center mass, police jargon for taking down a threat using deadly force with her weapon.
Police training is only as good as the officer who has to put it into practice. Guyger’s split-second response that night is what gives cops a bad name — and deservedly so.
Each time an unarmed civilian is killed by a police officer, the social fabric frays a little further and faith in the rule of law takes a grave hit.
That Jean, a black man, was killed by a white cop only adds to the tragedy. A sacred contract exists between police and the people they protect and serve. We grant them extraordinary powers and need them to do their duty to keep the rest of us safe. We also expect them to use those powers wisely.
Dallas County has proved capable in recent years of bringing justice against police officers who do otherwise. Grand juries have indicted four Dallas-area cops on murder charges. Two of those were both convicted and sent to prison.
Since Jean’s killing, a large number of influential white preachers — along with leaders from other religions — have stood behind pastors of color to demand justice.
That coalition successfully fought for a more effective Citizens Police Review Board in Dallas.
Holding Amber Guyger accountable is another necessary step in Dallas’ long road to righting the generations of racial injustice.
Those overarching themes coming out of this verdict are vital. But I hope we won’t let those crowd out the singular loss of Botham Jean, a young man whose optimism lifted everyone around him and whose faith grounded everything he did.
Each time his mother, Allison, has talked about her inability to even begin to confront Jean’s killing, my heart has cracked a little. Like Allison, I too have launched 20-something sons into the world — with pride, confidence and a belief they would enrich the lives of those around them.
Mothers know there’s uncertainty and danger in the world. But the news that Allison received a year ago — that a cop in uniform walked into her child’s apartment and shot him through the heart — was a nightmare she could never have fathomed.
As Allison told my colleague Jennifer Emily just before the trial began, “It is just very, very, very difficult living without Botham. There are so many things that I want to talk to him about. It’s just been terrible. I don’t even know how to explain it. Sometimes, I don’t even know how I feel.”
How harrowing the last year must have been for Botham Jean’s family and everyone else who loved him — to endure the drip, drip, drip of painful details and to wait so long for their day in court.
Then to have to sit through days of testimony, especially as Guyger, the aggressor in this tragedy, wept as she told the jury, “I never want anybody to have to go through or even imagine going through what I felt that night.”
After the murder verdict was read Tuesday, the prosecution called Jean’s mother as the first witness to testify in the sentencing phase. Despite her searing visible pain, she was rock-solid and dignified as she described her son.
Her voice resonated with a mother’s pride as she talked about Botham’s awards and achievements. But she broke into sobs when she said, “I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me.”
Botham Jean was a good man who made the world a better place. Amber Guyger was a bad cop who made terrible decisions. As best it could, Dallas County has served justice in this case.
Sharon Grigsby is the Metro columnist for The Dallas Morning News.
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