Another viewpoint: Killing verdict sets low floor for police misconduct


October 6, 2019

At least we now know that an off-duty police officer can’t walk into someone else’s apartment, shoot him dead and then successfully claim self-defense because she mistakenly thought she was killing an intruder in her own home.

Instead, a Dallas jury on Tuesday convicted Amber R. Guyger of murder. The white officer killed her 26-year-old African American neighbor, Botham Shem Jean, last year.

The verdict is in some sense a relief, because had it gone the other way it would be hard to say just how poor an officer’s judgment has to be before they can be held fully accountable for such an outrageous misuse of deadly force. Police officers do make fatal mistakes but we hire, train and deploy them to protect us, not to rule over us, and some mistakes are so egregious as to be criminal. Surely killing an innocent man in his own home is one of them.

Reciting the circumstances of even just a few high-profile police shootings of African American boys and men over the last several years is like descending a staircase of fear and oppression, with each step pockmarked by excuses.

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson was not charged in the 2014 killing of Michael Brown because there was insufficient evidence to refute the officer’s contention that he was in fear for his safety.

The person who called the Cleveland Police Department about the young boy waving a gun in 2014 warned the cops that it was probably fake, but they arrived at the scene and, seconds later, shot 14-year-old Tamir Rice to death. Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were not charged.

Philando Castile notified the officer who pulled him over in 2016 in St. Anthony, Minn., that he had a gun in the car, which is exactly what a driver is supposed to say in those circumstances, for his own safety and the officer’s. But Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Castile to death anyway. He was charged with manslaughter but acquitted.

There has to be a floor for police deadly misconduct, does there not? Even if the misconduct is abysmal judgment. Entering into someone’s home and killing them is quite a low floor.

The Jean killing doesn’t move the line forward. But at least it won’t move it in the other direction.

— Los Angeles Times


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