Activists in Dallas are demanding more oversight of police after a man was shot dead last week by an officer who claims she entered the wrong apartment.
Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral service on Thursday for Botham Jean, a 26-year-old risk assurance associate with PwC. Speakers gave tributes describing him as a highly personable, committed and warm-hearted Christian who helped underprivileged people and pursued excellence in everything he did. Another service is planned in his native St Lucia.
Jean’s death sparked protests that spread to Dallas City Hall, where mayor Mike Rawlings briefly adjourned a council meeting on Wednesday after several dozen protestors sitting in the chambers chanted “no justice, no peace”.
Later, in a public comment session, furious residents lined up to lambast the council, angry at the latest killing of a black civilian by police in north Texas, demanding structural reform and warning that elected officials will be voted out unless they act.
“How many times as a little girl I was told that a police officer was supposed to be my friend? Today I’m in fear of them,” said Dee Crane, whose 23-year-old son was killed by police in Arlington, near Dallas, last year.
“Ignoring the problems in this city is like ignoring cancer, if you keep on ignoring it eventually it will take you out,” said Reggie Ruffin, a community advocate. “You can’t control your police officers.”
Dominique Alexander, a Dallas activist, also told the council: “We’re tired of having to march in the streets. I know it’s hard for us to get justice in the street but can we get justice in our own living room?”
Dallas police handed the investigation to the Texas Rangers but an arrest warrant was not issued for three days. Amber Guyger, a white 30-year-old officer, was charged with manslaughter, arrested on Sunday and released on a $300,000 bond.
She is accused of going into Jean’s home and killing him just before 10pm on 6 September. According to an affidavit she lives directly below Jean in the complex, which is a short walk from Dallas police headquarters.
After finishing her shift and still in uniform, the affidavit states, she parked on the wrong floor and entered Jean’s apartment by mistake, believing it was hers. Guyger thought Jean was a burglar and fatally shot him. Last year she shot and injured a suspect while on duty but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Jean’s family, did not return a request for comment. But in a press conference on Monday he said that elements of the narrative in the affidavit are dubious and contradicted by witness statements.
Family representatives have also said that the affidavit reads as if it is trying to offer excuses for Guyger’s actions rather than support an accusation. It stresses the similarities in layout and appearance between floors, refers to the door being “slightly ajar”, the unit as “nearly completely dark” and Guyger seeing “a large silhouette”. In language that appears jarring in this context but is commonly used by police to justify shootings, it says she “gave verbal commands that were ignored”.
Yafeuh Balogun, a Dallas activist, said that Guyger is receiving special treatment. “If that had been me in that particular situation there would be no question that I would be charged with murder but being that it’s a police officer, obviously you see how unfair that situation can be,” he told the Guardian.
The Dallas county district attorney’s office will present the case to a grand jury that will decide the severity of the charges, if any, to bring to trial.
In a very rare example of a conviction for killing a civilian while on duty, a Dallas county jury last month sentenced Roy Oliver to 15 years in prison for the murder of Jordan Edwards. Responding to reports of underaged drinking at a party, the former officer opened fire on a passing car, killing Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old African American boy who was a passenger.
Balogun is not convinced that Oliver’s conviction is a turning point for police-community relations. “I think that was an effort to put a Band-Aid over a bleeding wound for the simple fact that Roy Oliver will come up for parole in seven-and-a-half years, that’s a slap in the face I think for the family and the community at large,” he said.
Last week an officer in Arlington fatally shot a black man in an SUV who was trying to leave a traffic stop.
Protestors have long argued that the Dallas police department lacks accountability and transparency and in the wake of Jean’s death are calling for the city to create a new civilian police review board with subpoena power. “We don’t have a lot of faith in the process,” Balogun said.
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