First there was the dyed blond hair. Then there were the tears. Then there was the pleading of sorrow and regret. Then there was the dramatic plea that she wished it was her who had been killed and not the man that she is charged with slaying. The she is Amber Guyger, a young white female former Dallas police officer. The he is Botham Shen Jean. The tears, the expressions of deep regret, and the even more stunning expression of victim role reversal, were all in dramatic evidence when Guyger took the witness stand in her trial in Dallas for the killing of Jean in September 2018 in his apartment.
But it didn't take Guyger's tearful witness stand performance for many Blacks to shrug their shoulders and say the fix is in and she'll be acquitted. The talk of Guyger skipping free in the Jean slaying started the instant she shot him. It made little difference that the slaying was by any standard beyond the pale of reason and justification. Jean was in his own Dallas apartment, had committed no crime, had no adverse marks on his life record. None of that mattered though when Guyger wrongly crashed into his apartment. What seemingly did matter to many was the victim was a a young black male, and the shooter was a young white female cop. That was more than enough to instantly raise clouds of suspicion. There was much more.
There was no actual video that traces every step of the encounter. The witnesses that cast doubt on her version of what happened were not actually in the apartment. So, the media and public got her word as to why she gunned Jean down. The trial reran that. Guyger protesting that she took Jean for an intruder in her apartment, that she felt threatened, and that she gave proper warning commands to him before firing. It was a near textbook of one person who is very much alive, against another person who was dead.
Guyger was not immediately arrested. It took mass protests and disruptions before Dallas prosecutors brought charges. Then she was slapped with a questionable charge of manslaughter. A modest bail set was set. It was immediately posted it, and there was much supportive and very public second guessing by other law enforcement officials that the killing was justified.
The far bigger problem was the history of cops the rare times they are tried for the murder of unarmed Blacks under the most dubious circumstances. It has been an ugly history. They are always defended by top gun attorneys supplied by the police union.
Thee attorneys almost always have lots of experience defending police officers accused of misconduct. The unions spare no expense to present a first-class defense for the accused officers. The attorneys will play for time. In Guyger's case it took a year to bring her to trial. During that time, defense attorneys file motion after motion to get the charges dropped. That usually doesn't happen, but it chews up the clock in a case. With the passage of time, public passions cool, memories fade, and the media moves on. This makes it that much easier to get a jury that can look at the case without emotionally colored lenses often tainted by race.
This makes it even easier to get jurors who will believe the police version of what happened in a deadly encounter. The presumption is that they are much more likely to believe the testimony of police and police defense witnesses than black witnesses, defendants, or even the victims. It's a presumption that has been borne out in police misconduct trials time and again. It makes little difference whether the jurors are all or mostly white. Though most of the jurors are Black in Guygers' trial, this is no guarantee of total racial blinders. Black and non-white jurors often have the same pro police biases and hold the same negative racial stereotypes of young Blacks as crime prone.
Prosecutors must fight hard to overcome these biases and stereotypes. Jean was not subject to the usual media dirt digging, character assassination, and unsavory insinuations about gang and drug involvement, family dysfunctionality, and crime and violence about young Black males. Still, research studies have found that even when the victims of crimes are Black, and their assailants are white, many still identify the perpetrator as Black.
Guyger gets yet another benefit. There is no ironclad standard of what is or isn't an acceptable use of force in police misconduct cases. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer. The judgement starts with the words uttered by nearly every officer in every slaying of an unarmed civilian, "I feared for my life or the life of others." Guyger quickly resorted to that tried and true tact on the witness stand, claiming she gave commands and that Jean didn't comply before she fired on him. And as she dramatically put it, "I was scared he was going to kill me.". There were no actual witnesses who saw the deadly sequence unfold between her and Jean. Juries and judges in prior police misconduct trials have bought this claim and have acquitted.
Guyger, of course, may be convicted. After all, she did kill a man not on the street, or in a dark alley, but in his own apartment. However, given the set pattern of police walking free in far too many other dubious shootings, many still say the fix is in.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.