Smiles, Hugs and Tragedies

Note: Since the time of this writing, a Fort Worth Police officer (Aaron Dean, who resigned and was, subsequently, arrested and charged with murdered) killed another person, 27-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, in her home.

I didn’t pay attention to most of the case like many people did, because I knew what would happen, and I had enough going on in my life to have one more thing to add to a pile of disappointment and stress. So I was shocked to hear the news and had a bit of disbelief until I read it for myself. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit the moment I read the jury verdict came in and declared former police officer Amber Guyger guilty of murder, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself smiling.

Yes, the whole situation with a cop stumbling into an innocent man’s apartment and shooting him dead in a panic is a bona fide tragedy. The victim, Botham Jean, died of his wounds and left many family members grieving. I’m assuming Guyger didn’t plan her evening to include randomly shooting a neighbor in his own home. It was terrible all around.

Still, when a jury of Guyger’s peers actually stepped up to the plate and rightfully found a cop guilty of murder, it represented for me a long-overdue exception to the special privilege law enforcement overwhelmingly enjoys in this nation. … So I smiled.

Judging by the decisions of past juries in cities all across America, it’s clear members of law enforcement all carry an unofficial license to kill, even when it comes to children. None of us forgot when a grand jury decided not to charge Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann for shooting and killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice. We remember how the jury found the shooting was justified, despite the child posing no threat to police, and how they never voted on any specific criminal charges.

We reported just this past July how Mississippi Deputy Walter Grant got away with shooting an unarmed, fleeing suspect in 2013, even planting evidence at the scene to cover his butt. Grant was indicted in 2015 on state manslaughter charges and was tried twice in 2015, but both trials ended in mistrials when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. State court records show the judge remanded the case to files in 2016, which is another way of saying “we give up trying to prosecute this guy because jurors won’t let us.”

Juries just looove cops, even when they kill us. Police killed 1,147 people in 2017, and Black people accounted for 25 percent of those killed, despite representing only 13 percent of the U.S. population. They killed another 1,164 people in 2018. Twenty-one percent of those victims—like Guyger’s and Grant’s victims—were unarmed, according to reports. In fact, if Guyger proves anything, it’s that you don’t even need to be outside of your own house to get slaughtered. Is it a coincidence that her victim was a Black man? Probably not, considering how Black people are three times as likely as whites to go down with a police-issue bullet. Maybe a white man would’ve derailed Guyger’s killing instinct.

So yeah, I smiled a little bit when the jury found Guyger guilty, despite her weaponized white woman tears, in the hours leading up to her verdict. Our nation has a long, ugly history of exonerating the people who murder and lynch us. For centuries, our juries have been more likely to execute Black enslaved people who dared to defend themselves against rape, even after it was verified that their owners spent years forcing themselves upon them. Know Missouri v. Celia? It’s an 1855 murder trial of Celia, an enslaved woman, charged with first-degree murder of her Robert Newsom, her owner. Newsom had been sexually assaulting Celia, and she was retaliating. She was eventually convicted by an all-white jury who sentenced her to death. Celia is also part of our real legacy in America, not just Guyger. That’s why it was downright shocking to see justice done just this one time a few weeks ago.

Will justice like this happen again? That’s not what history suggests, but I’d like to think that our society is evolving into something better as young women join hands, throw our fists in the air and use our voices to demand change.

And just so it’s out there: If somebody ever brutally kills me in my own house while I’m eating ice cream, please don’t walk up and hug the killer after the trial. Please? Thank you.

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