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The Blatantly Racist Character Assassination of Botham Jean, the Man Killed in His Home by an Off-Duty Cop

Last Thursday, a black man named Botham Jean was murdered inside his own apartment by his neighbor, a white, off-duty police officer. The officer, 30-year-old Amber Guyger, had just ended a 15-hour shift and was still in uniform when she entered Jean’s apartment, which was on the floor below hers, and shot him twice, killing him. Her argument was that she thought she was entering her own apartment and mistook Guyger for a burglar.

Immediately, her attorneys and the Dallas police department appeared to be looking for ways to blame 26-year-old Jean for his own murder. The first defense was that Jean reportedly “ignored” Guyger’s “verbal commands,” which isn’t unreasonable since she was in his apartment.

A lot of people have raised questions about how accidental this shooting could possibly be, and have pointed out everything Guyger would have had to ignore to truly believe she was in her own apartment, including Jean’s bright red doormat, the fact that Guyger reportedly has a dog (and a dog’s presence–or absence, if you’re expecting one to greet you–is hard to miss), as well as a video uploaded by a resident of the complex where the shooting took place, appearing to disprove Guyger’s claim that Jean’s door was ajar.

But the attempts to smear Jean–as his family’s attorney’s claim the Dallas police department is doing–have only increased and grown even more blatantly racist. Jean was a businessman, working as a Risk Assurance Experienced Associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He’s a college graduate who worked with his alma mater to send students to his home country of St. Lucia for volunteer work. He doesn’t fit the racist, manufactured narrative that often gets thrown at black victims of police brutality, but the Dallas police are trying anyway.

In the hours after he was murdered, a police search warrant was issued for Jean’s home. The warrant was for the search of incriminating evidence like weapons or drugs, as if that would give some justification as to why a police officer essentially broke into his home and shot him.

In fact, officers did find a relatively small amount of drugs—about 10 grams of marijuana and a grinder. Yesterday, the same day as Jean’s funeral, a local Fox affiliate ran with the (now changed) headline “Marijuana found in Botham Jean’s apartment after deadly shooting,” as if that has any bearing on the murder at all.

And, of course, let’s not ignore the racial bias that exists around marijuana in general.

The station interviewed an attorney not connected to the case, who said, “I’m not saying Mr. Jean is a bad guy because he had some marijuana in his apartment, but it could help add some explanation to this crazy case. It just adds another layer of complexity.”

Except it doesn’t. If Jean’s possession of marijuana had anything at all to do with Guyger entering his apartment, then she is lying about what happened. That would be the only complexity added. But if we’re looking for explanations and complexity, why have the Dallas police not released information regarding warrants to search Guyger’s apartment, or even revealed whether they sought one?

Guyger reportedly consented to a toxicology screening, but no information has been released regarding the results or whether it even happened.

The narrative imposed on instances of police profiling and violence are already blatantly racist and based around victim-blaming and character assassination. The lengths the Dallas police going to in order to make sure that narrative fits Botham Jean are so over the top that it would be laughable if we weren’t talking about an unspeakable tragedy. Even The National Review, an ultra-conservative news outlet, called this “the worst police shooting yet.”

As of now, Guyger has been charged with manslaughter and released on bail, although she could reportedly face more serious charges. As we’ve seen time and time again, it is incredibly rare for a police officer to be convicted of killing anyone, especially a black man. Many are hoping that the incredible circumstances in this case will lead to a different end.

(image: Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.