Come. Let me show you something.
Let me show you what it is to be black. To be forever erased from the realm of the living with a bang and a puff of smoke. To disappear silently into an empty void or, even worse, to have your death dissected in a desperate futile search for the meaninglessness of your existence.
Such is the case of Botham Shem Jean.
As soon as Amber Guyger’s police-issued firearm reportedly fell Botham Jean inside his own home, everyone began making excuses and asking why:
Maybe she was in the wrong apartment? Where did she park? How did she get in the apartment? Have you checked her key? How many hours did Guyger work that night? Oh, the door was open? Someone said they heard yelling. Was Jean armed? What if she genuinely feared for her life?
Many have wondered why police have charged Guyger with manslaughter and not murder. In Texas, murder is when a person “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual,” as opposed to manslaughter, when someone “recklessly causes the death of another individual,” according to the Texas penal code.
John Creuzot, a former prosecutor, defense attorney and judge described the manslaughter charge for Guyger as a “deviation from the norm,” telling the Dallas Morning News he was “not aware of a case in which a person shoots another person in the torso, with death as the result, and is charged with manslaughter.”
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In spite of the fact that Guyger pointed a gun at Botham Jean and pulled the trigger, apparently prosecutors and authorities have automatically assumed that she couldn’t have intended to kill Jean. Even the most imaginative Americans quickly dispel the notion that God-fearing, privilege-toting protectors and servers like Amber Guyger could be capable of such a thing. There must be a reason.
But no one has told Jean’s story. Ask his family if they care about Guyger’s intent. Jean probably had no time to contemplate whether the bullet spinning toward his chest was fired recklessly or intentionally. There is only one reason Bothem Jean is dead. Amber Guyger reportedly killed him.
The press, the police, other white people, even some black people are obsessed with trying to find the intent and the reasons for the bad actions of white people and cops. In the hidden truth of white America’s collective subconscious, even the idea of white incompetence, iniquity or guilt is inconceivable.
And that’s why everyone is telling this story wrong. In telling the story of Botham Jean, we are willing to rationalize the actions of incompetent police officers and white people in general. In the retelling of this real-life murder mystery, we have managed to humanize Amber Guyger. But no one is even willing to give Botham Jean a speaking part because a black victim is never seen as human...
Just a dead black thing.
We don’t care why black victims like Eric Garner gave up the ghost. We dismiss their humanity and fear by saying they “shouldn’t have resisted.” Stephon Clark is dead because he ran. We still don’t care to know what happened to Sandra Bland because, according to her critics, she could have saved her own life by simply complying. They never have voices. Just hashtags.
But the white stories are always told. Darren Wilson’s reasoning was heard in court when he said Michael Brown Jr. was a “hulk.” Dylann Roof’s tale of being radicalized by online white supremacists explained why he went on a killing spree at Emanuel A.M.E.’s bible study, so police gave him a post-arrest Whopper. Betty Shelby is back to working as a police officer and using the reasons why she killed unarmed Terence Crutcher to train other officers, because she obviously feared for her life.
White lawbreakers are motivated by video games, political influences, mental illness, divorce, heartbreak, bad finances or even creme-filled desserts. Before castigating a Caucasian killer or convicting a cop you must first step inside their shoes and consider if their fear was reasonable.
But no one cares about the intent of black victims and suspects, even when they are dead. What did Laquan McDonald intend to do with the 4-inch knife he was wielding when Jason Van Dyke pumped 16 bullets into the 17-year old? Why has no one ever explained why Trayvon Martin would jump on an armed man who outweighed him? Why was Stephon Clark not allowed the same fear as Betty Shelby? Even better, Google the last armed burglary in your city. Did the police even give a reason? Why doesn’t anyone care about the burglars’ intent?
Because that, dear reader, is what privilege is made of.
Although most people think of privilege as some sort of existential extra benefit, privilege is actually the white people magic that allows the media, lawmen and the public to manufacture the default presumption of innocence out of thin air when an offender is white. Yet, when a suspect is black, the constitutional right of innocence until proven guilty magically disappears into thin air.
It is the same spectacular abracadabra that recently snatched an entire parking lot from beneath Markeis McGlockton’s feet in Clearwater, Fla., handed it to Michael Drejka and convinced the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Department that when Drejka killed McGlockton over a parking space, Drejka’s only intent was to “stand his ground.”
If Botham Jean were telling his story, he would not say he was shot and killed by a white woman. To Botham Jean, she was a silhouette. She was a burglar, not a cop. When Amber Guyger shot Jean, she was not acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officer. She wasn’t on the clock or responding to a crime. She was an armed intruder who transformed an alive black man into an inanimate template for a chalk outline.
How many hours did Botham Jean work on Thursday before he was awakened by an armed intruder? Where did he park his car? How many verbal commands did he issue to Guyger to get the fuck out of his home?
Why should anyone give a nanosecond to contemplating Amber Guyger’s work schedule, what she was thinking, or what kind of mistakes she made when she allegedly killed a man? Why does her intent even matter?
This is why this case has nothing to do with racism or police brutality while simultaneously having everything to do with police brutality and whiteness. The media, law enforcement authorities and even juries are willing to comb through an infinite number of haystacks in search of a single needle with which they can affix mercy and understanding on cops and white people.
This dangerous game of white absolution is the exact reason the Trayvon Martin story makes black people so furious. If George Zimmerman had not stopped or followed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, he would still be alive. Trayvon is dead because of George Zimmerman’s actions. Yet the American justice system found a way for 12 jurors to find him not guilty.
Even though we know crime is largely a socioeconomic problem, no one even asks about intent, reasons or even why are there so many more poor black people. This is why judges sentence black criminals to sentences that are 20 percent longer than whites who commit the same crimes and why black suspects are offered plea deals less often than whites. It’s also the reason why police officers are rarely convicted for on-duty killings.
Apparently, black people aren’t even capable of reason and it is never a white man’s intent to kill.
And this is what it is to be black. To have your story told by the men whose bullets are still embedded inside your corpse. To be demonized by the men whose arms were wrapped around your throat as you begged them to allow you to breathe. This is us, moving targets, made for beatings, bulletholes and chokeholds.
We are not afforded the same humanity as whites. Even in death, we are inanimate, soulless bodies who must have done something wrong that forced them to stop our aggressively violent hearts from beating so loud.
Here is a true story that has never been told:
On Thursday, September 6, 2018, an armed burglar broke into the Dallas home of a Botham Shem Jean and shot him dead.
She was not a burglar, though. She was an excusable eraser. She was an innocent white woman who stumbled upon a tragedy and defended her life, which was obviously more valuable. But she is not a killer. She is a creator.
... of dead, black things.