A tragic Dallas controversy

NICK EICHER, HOST: It is Tuesday, the 2nd of October, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

AUDIO: [Singing]

REICHARD: That’s the sound of Botham Jean leading worship at his church in Dallas. He would have turned 27 years old this past weekend, but he didn’t make it to his birthday. On September 6th, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Jean in his own apartment. She says she thought he was an intruder.

EICHER: The tragedy has generated national headlines and ignited ongoing controversy in Dallas. Authorities have filed manslaughter charges against Guyger, but protesters are calling for more: a murder prosecution. The shooting has stoked racial tensions, as Jean was black and Guyger is white.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Katie Gaultney is based in Dallas and has been following this story. She joins us now. Katie, can you fill in some of the background to this story?

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: It’s really heartbreaking. Jean immigrated to the U.S. from St. Lucia and graduated from Harding University—a Christian school in Arkansas. He worked at a major accounting firm in downtown Dallas. Friends and family describe him as a pillar of his community, active in his church. He was watching a football game on TV in his own home when, as Guyger describes it, she opened the door to what she thought was her apartment. She said the door was slightly ajar. The lights were off, and she thought Jean was a burglar. Neighbors report hearing an exchange of words, then gunfire. Guyger flipped on the lights, realized she was not in her apartment, and called for help. She had shot Jean twice in the torso, fatally wounding him.

REICHARD: Wow. It’s no wonder this has sparked so much controversy.

GAULTNEY: Yeah, there’s no shortage of it here. I’ll just start with the police angle. Guyger was a four-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. She was returning home from work and still wearing her uniform when she shot and killed Jean. She wasn’t arrested until three days later—which, you can imagine, became a point of criticism.

Also, Nick mentioned the uproar over the manslaughter charge instead of the higher charge of murder. As I understand it—and of course, you’re the legal expert between us—but “manslaughter” suggests Jean’s death was accidental. And despite that Guyger says she had no idea she was in the wrong apartment, she fully intended to discharge her weapon.

REICHARD: Now, we should make clear the difference between manslaughter and murder of the first degree and of the second degree.

I looked this up and here’s what I found out: it varies by state, but in Texas manslaughter is when someone recklessly causes the death of someone. No intent to kill or premeditation must be proved.

Contrast this with first and second degree murder: Someone is killed, but the difference is the state of mind of the killer.

First degree means intentional murder, premeditated with malice aforethought. Second degree means someone intends to kill, but did not premeditate it. So I hope that’s a helpful distinction.

GAULTNEY: Right. So certainly some are saying she’s receiving preferential treatment because she’s behind the thin blue line. Another point of controversy is the search police conducted of Jean’s apartment. They reported finding a small amount of marijuana. Well, many people were outraged at that disclosure, saying the police were trying to tarnish Jean’s name, and the marijuana that police found has no bearing on his murder.

And, of course, race is a big issue here. Critics say Guyger saw a black man and assumed the worst. We can’t know for sure what was going through Guyger’s mind when she pulled the trigger. But Dallas’ chief of police, Renee Hall, and its district attorney, Faith Johnson—key figures in investigating and prosecuting this case—are both black women. Hall immediately called upon the Texas Rangers, a separate law enforcement agency, to investigate. And Johnson has said emphatically that the Texas Rangers are behind the manslaughter charge, and that the DA’s office will convene a grand jury to see if a murder charge is warranted.

REICHARD: Now Katie, you’ve covered race relations for us in Dallas before. Of course, the racial temperature is hot in many areas across the country, but why does it seem like things keep happening in Dallas?

GAULTNEY: Well, there’s a sense in which Dallas skipped the civil rights movement. It didn’t deal with a lot when other Southern states were desegregating in the 50s and 60s. And I think many finally recognized the unresolved problems in July 2016. That’s when several police officers were targeted and killed by one deranged man during what had been a peaceful march against police brutality. Since then we’ve seen a lot more interracial dialogue, especially among Christians. Pulpit swaps between pastors of mostly black churches and mostly white churches. Joint public worship services, bringing together diverse communities. Churches implementing curriculum on racial reconciliation to try to encourage people to better understand and support each other.

And that’s actually continued as we’ve seen the Christian community respond to this tragedy. A diverse group of 19 Christian leaders—many of them pastors—released a public letter calling for justice for Botham Jean. Now these were black, white, and Hispanic leaders who represent very different parts of Dallas, including several megachurches. A couple of them, like Matt Chandler, we’ve actually had on the program. And do you mind if I read just the last portion of the letter they wrote?

REICHARD: No, please go ahead.

GAULTNEY: Thanks. It says, “Past injustices are not remedied by further injustices, but they do explain the strong reaction amongst some of our fellow citizens. For this reason, we stand together in our call for the acknowledgement of any undeserved privileges already unjustly granted to Officer Guyger by virtue of her uniform. We demand full transparency, consistency, and integrity in the days ahead as the judicial process progresses. May God bless our city’s leaders, justice system and citizens as we seek justice together.”   

REICHARD: What should we be watching for as this situation unfolds?

GAULTNEY: Well, so far, Dallas County officials haven’t announced any court dates. The DA’s office is still considering whether to pursue a higher charge of murder. Meanwhile, attorneys for Jean’s family have said they’ll be filing a lawsuit in federal court. They say the City of Dallas and Amber Guyger showed “excessive use of force” in shooting and killing Jean. No word on what kind of damages they’ll be seeking.

REICHARD: Katie Gaultney is a WORLD correspondent based in Dallas. Katie, thank you for bringing us this report.

GAULTNEY: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Shaban Athuman /The Dallas Morning News via AP) Flowers are placed at the front door of Botham Jean’s apartment on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 in Dallas. Jean was shot Thursday by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who says she mistook his apartment for hers. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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