It was a rather surprising moment during Wednesday’s sentencing of a former Dallas police officer convicted of murder. The dead man’s brother, while giving his impact statement, testified that he forgave the fired officer, and then hugged her as she sobbed in the courtroom.
The former officer, Amber Guyger, needed the kindness. One night last year, while she was still a member of the police force, she entered an apartment that she claimed she thought was hers to find a stranger there eating ice cream. She shot him twice and killed him, only to discover she had entered his apartment by mistake.
Guyger is white and the victim, Botham Jean, was black, which automatically made police shootings of minorities a subtopic during the trial. It should be noted that the jury voted for a murder conviction when it conceivably could have chosen something less such as manslaughter.
What’s unique about this case, though, is the reaction to the 18-year-old brother’s request to hug Guyger in the courtroom, as well as to the 10-year sentence she received. Also unusual: The judge, who is black, hugged the defendant at the end of the sentencing hearing.
Many observers praised the victim’s brother for exemplifying the ideal of Christian forgiveness. He certainly did that. It’s most likely that many people who spoke favorably of his actions in the courtroom would not be able to extend the same sympathies if one of their family members had been killed in this manner.
Others objected, saying the 10-year sentence was too lenient — Guyger reportedly will be eligible to seek parole in just five years. They also said the victim’s brother was extending a narrative that black people tend to forgive wrongdoing, while black people who break the law rarely receive such kindness from their victims. The victim’s father said, for his part, he would have liked Guyger to have received a longer prison sentence.
The feelings of the victim’s family should be respected, but this debate should not overshadow the larger concern of cases like this.
That concern is the impulse by too many people to shoot first and ask questions later, as if life were a Clint Eastwood movie.
This is not a criticism of Second Amendment rights. But it is fair to ask why the officer fired on her victim when all evidence indicated that he made no threatening actions.
He was probably as surprised as she was — sitting in his own apartment only to have a total stranger enter with a gun. She was the accidental trespasser, and in Texas he had the legal right to stand his ground.
Had she spent just a few seconds asking questions, as police officers are trained to do, she would have discovered her error, apologized profusely and retreated. Instead, she opened fire prematurely, killed an innocent man, put herself in prison and subjected herself to what may be a life of soul-crushing guilt.
Evidence presented at Guyger’s trial indicated that the officer made an honest mistake by going into the wrong apartment. But the larger, life-changing and life-ending mistake was pulling out her weapon. That had to be why the jury chose to convict her of murder.