Over this last week Amber Guyger, a white police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering Botham Jean, a black accountant, in his own home. She was the first officer in Dallas to be convicted of murder in over forty years.
For many of us in the black community, this was shaping up to be a potentially groundbreaking trial. The jury was somewhat racially diverse, and the judge a black woman. There were witnesses abound who could testify against the vast inconsistencies trotted out by Guyger and her defense. Certainly I breathed a little easier when the conviction was finally brought forward (ten years is four fewer than the killing of some police dogs has garnered, but ten years is better than zero).
Now, my breath has been hitched. It’s been caught on the hugs Jean’s brother gave to his murderer. It’s been caught on the kind words from the judge. It’s been altogether halted after Joshua Brown – a key witness in Guyger’s case as well as a potential first witness in a civil court case filed against the City of Dallas – was found riddled with bullet holes in the parking lot of his apartment.
How much time can we spend on the consideration of coincidences? This is an argument being had in publications near and far – a question unanswerable by all, save for the culprits involved and Brown himself. If I am to speak accurately on this, I want to be clear that young Joshua Brown was shot at just last year and was traumatized ever since. In a separate incident, another person attacked Brown, and since then he had feared that they would return to hurt him.
Why does a lack of resolution still kick around in my chest? It comes down to a matter of autonomy and of possession.
Police in the United States act, in many ways, like magicians in regards to people of color and working class white people. During a traffic stop, on your way home from class, or in your own home, one wrong move can make your agency, your personhood and potentially your life disappear. This is a disappearing act that a large part of society is heavily involved in and in agreement on.
Our humanity is meant to disappear in the presence of an unquestionable and often willfully unaccountable badge (law enforcement officers face a 12% incarceration rate and a 33% conviction rate for misconduct, according to FiveThirtyEight). Black and brown people are caught in a constant grapple for their personhood against this magic act, and for centuries it has been a bitter and losing fight.
Black children like twelve year old Tamir Rice are not afforded the benefit of the doubt, the good faith assessment that he is a child and a person with a soul and a life ahead of him that shouldn’t be wasted in a hair-triggered choice to gun him down.
Black women like Sandra Bland are not afforded the human civility and care to not have their head slammed into the ground, to have such little care provided in the jailing process that the truth of what happened to her will forever remain largely unknown.
Black men like Botham Jean or Joshua Brown are not granted humane extension in warnings, accidents, emotions, or time. Our children are treated as adults, our adults are treated as demons and monsters and ultimately threats to be quickly extinguished.
This magic act takes place daily. When I am crying in my car in a parking lot in Galesburg, the officers that have decided to barricade my car and prevent me from driving away do not offer me kind words or a hug. All that is granted is the back up support of a police dog and cold questioning.
When I am pulled over with a tail-light out, I am not met with calm concern. I am met with fury and rage for not knowing better than that and swift escalation.
The empty space where the reassurance afforded to my white counterparts would be, the empty space where my safety and trust and dignity were, is flooded instead with terror. I cannot ask you to believe me.
I can only ask you to consider: How often can fellow citizens be afraid of your police force before it isn’t just a few radicals? How many children can be killed, and of what color and class, before it isn’t just a few bad apples? How many lives can be tormented, corrupted,and altogether demolished in these many myriad “coincidences” and “accidents” before we know what a coincidence really is?