The conviction and imprisonment of former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger could represent a new trend where law enforcement officers are forced to face the music for crimes against unarmed individuals of color.
Earlier this year, Jason Van Dyke, a white former Chicago police officer, was convicted of second-degree murder in the October 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, an unarmed Black teenager. Van Dyke, who shot Laquan 16 times, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.
Robert Bates, a white Tulsa County, Oklahoma volunteer sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced in 2016 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the 2015 death of Eric Harris, 44, who was unarmed and restrained.
Peter Liang, a rookie police officer in New York City, was convicted of manslaughter in 2016 in the 2014 death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley. Gurley, who is Black, was walking down the steps of his apartment building when a startled Liang panicked and open fire. A judge reduced the conviction to negligent homicide and sentenced Liang to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service.
Former Balch Springs, Texas, Police Officer Roy Oliver was convicted of murder in August in the 2017 death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Oliver, who is white, fired his weapon into a car packed with Black teenagers, killing Edwards.
North Charleston, S.C., Officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges after killing Walter Scott, a Black man, in 2015.
Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December 2017.
This week, jurors in Georgia are deliberating the case against former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen.
Olsen, who is white, is accused of killing Anthony Hill, a 26-year-old Black man and military veteran who was unarmed and naked at the time of the shooting.
Guyger entered the apartment of 26-year-old accountant Bothan Jean, which she claimed to have mistaken for her own, and shot him to death.
Prosecutors had sought a 28-year sentence for Guyger, but the judge agreed with the jurors’ recommendation of 10 years.
Guyger could be paroled after 5 years.
“If you truly are sorry… I forgive you,” Brandt Jean, Botham’s younger brother, told Guyger after the jury read her sentence.
“I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you,” Brandt Jean said, before asking and receiving permission from the trial court judge to give Guyger a hug.
Despite Brandt Jean’s actions, others weren’t so quick to forgive.
During the live broadcast of the hearing, protesters could be heard yelling, “No justice, no peace.”
Activist Dominique Alexander said the sentence was much too light and called for protests.
Jean family lawyers said they’d need to consult with their clients to determine where to go from here, including whether to push for federal charges against Guyger because of the light sentence.
During the sentencing hearing, a series of text messages sent and received by Guyger were displayed in court for the jury and the world to see.
“When does this end, lol,” read a text sent to Guyger purportedly from another officer on duty during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.
“When MLK is dead… oh, wait…” Guyger replied.
Later that year, Guyger received another text about the prospect of adopting a German Shepherd.
“Although she may be racist,” the individual texted to Guyger.
“It’s okay,” Guyger responded. “I’m the same. I hate everything and everyone but y’all.”
Prosecutors also showed jurors a text message exchange between Guyger and Officer Martin Rivera, her partner and ex-lover. The conversation took place six months before she shot Jean to death.
“Damn, I was at this area with five different black officers. Not racist but damn,” Rivera texted.
As is her wont, Guyger couldn’t resist in her reply: “Not racist but just have a different way of working, and it shows.”
Later, she made other mind-blowing posts.
She captioned one post of her with a military-style sniper weapon this way: “Stay low, go fast; kill first, die last; one shot, one kill; no luck, all skill.”
Another post reads: “I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me because I’m already dressed for your funeral.”
She also wrote: “People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”
“For Black people in America, this verdict is a huge victory,” said Lee Merritt, one of the attorneys representing the Jean family. “Few police officers ever face trial for shooting deaths, and even fewer are convicted.”
He added that the verdict shows that justice is finally coming for the family of victims.
“Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture all over the world,” Merritt told reporters.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represents Jean’s family, said it was important to remember that there’s a list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed by police officers.
He said the verdict against Guyger was a welcome shift in the nation.
“For so many unarmed Black and brown human beings all across America, this verdict is for them,” Crump said.