The Guyger Trial: First Day Thoughts

The murder trial of Amber Guyger is underway here in Dallas. For those of you outside the city, or not paying attention, sufficed to say our city is tense and anxious about the trial and upcoming verdict.

Last Monday, I was at a meeting of about 40 clergy with Faith Forward Dallas. There was extended conversation about the upcoming trial. It would be fair to say that there was deep concern in the room about the ramifications of the verdict, whatever the verdict may be. That concern arose from a tacit understanding that we are deeply divided along lines of race and class in our city, and geographically divided along “North” and “South.”

We noted that whatever the jury decides, there will be high emotions from our community. There will be strongly held opinions. There will be screaming headlines in the media that feel to many that they twist the story, sometimes beyond recognition. There will be “spin.” Already, as I go on social media last night and this morning, there is macabre rehashing of details of the case. (I myself am not immune from this…) We are all…North and South…Black and White…rich and poor…leering in on these proceedings like Roman spectators watching gladiators.

That is not to say I do not have opinions myself…which I shall share momentarily…

But it is to say that the “Hunger Games” atmosphere…the fact that every spectator becomes a commentator and “legal expert.”

I must say, there is something about this aspect of it all that makes me a little ill.

Whatever you believe about the facts of the case (again, my opinions coming shortly…) let us pause to remember that there are real lives behind the headlines. Botham Jean’s family is here in the city. No doubt, Amber Guyger’s is too. They must now walk the gauntlet of this social and paid media frenzy, each and every day. I pray for them. I hope you will too, whatever you hope happens in the case.

One of the most powerful moments in that meeting of clergy last week was when one colleague said that our “calling” post-verdict, must be to allow people the space for whatever reaction they have. To not judge, criticize, or explain away the feelings of anybody.

I think that’s a very powerful observation.

Simply know…there are clergy of all faiths, across this city, who are ready to hold space for the emotion and feeling that will come from the verdict.

————————

As I’ve tried to listen carefully to the “two sides” of this case, I hear two things being said by folks…

“No one should be shot dead in their own apartment, by police or anyone else. It’s murder.”

“This was all a tragic ‘mistake’ and not murder at all.”

There are nuances to those arguments. But those are the basic “sides.”

I will say this. I am *strongly* in the former camp, and not the latter.

NO ONE deserves to be sitting in their apartment, eating ice cream and watching TV, and simply be shot dead by the police, or anyone else.

NO ONE.

There must be accountability for these actions.

I understand that policing is very difficult. I understand that she’d worked a long shift.

But…NO ONE should fear being shot dead in their own apartment.

Much has been made, in defending Amber Guyger, of the allegation that the door was unlocked…or that she worked a long shift….etc…

The suggestion has been made that *because* she feared for her life, therefore she was justified in shooting him.

But that would only be true is she was IN her own apartment. If you are in your own apartment, and you shoot someone you believe to be an intruder, but it turns out to be your daughter, it’s unlikely this would be murder, because you have the right to defend your property. (By the way, as an aside, what I see in this is another great reason to not have guns at home…)

But she was not in *her* apartment. She was in *his*. It doesn’t matter how mistaken she was. She was in HIS apartment. And she shot him dead. And NO ONE deserves to be shot dead in their own apartment, while watching TV and eating a bowl of ice cream.

Amber Guyger says two things, over and over, in the crucial moments just after the shooting. In my opinion, what you believe about this case depends upon what you HEAR in what she says.

First, she says, repeatedly, that she thought she was in her apartment. She says that over and over. If you are a defender of hers, I believe THIS is what you are hearing too. You are hearing “This is all a tragic mistake.”

But that’s not what I hear. I hear that as her rationalization.
(And I apologize in advance for the cursing in what follows…)

What I hear as more important is how she says, over and over, “I am fucked.”

She says that to the 911 dispatcher.
She apparently texts it to her partner/lover too.

“I am fucked.”

NOT… “I fucked up.”

Which would be “I made a mistake.”

But, “I am fucked.”

She’s saying: “I did wrong, and I know it…I understand, in a flash of insight and horror, what I have just done…”

Friends, this is what I read in this her immediate understanding, just following the shooting, that what she had done was wrong, and that she would be held to account for it.

Let’s review, to be clear…

She did not allow any time to de-escalate the situation.
She did not ask him who he was.
She did not wait for him to explain himself. (It’s HIS apartment, though….SHE’S the one who must explain herself…)
She did not notice that the decor, the paint, the carpets, were different from her own.
She did not wait in the hall and call for back up.

She literally shot him dead as he rose from the couch, while he ate a bowl of ice cream and watched TV in his own apartment.

She looks back at all of that, and she says “I am fucked.”

That’s rightly charged as murder.

Recently, I binged-listened to Malcomb Gladwell’s new book, “Talking to Strangers” twice now. I find it a deeply compelling book. His central thesis is that we are all bad at “reading” strangers. We all make the mistake of believing that “reading” strangers is easy. But it’s not. Our social, verbal, emotional cues….our personal histories….make each of us more complicated than we often allow for in what passes for conversation today.

One of the things he covers in detail is the idea of “default to truth.”

In order for society to function, Gladwell says, we “default to truth” around strangers. That means that we often get taken advantage of, of course. Because there are real criminals, con artists, and psychopaths in the world.

One of the powerful points Gladwell makes late in the book is that we have trained an entire generation of police to NOT default to truth in their interactions with “strangers.” We have made the foundations of policing such that they are LOOKING for violations, instead of assuming that most of us are not lying about who we are and what we are doing.

This is the attitude that leads to “stop and frisk” for example.

Gladwell suggests that this faulty training is what led to the death of Sandra Bland. That the officer in question in *that* case had been trained to assume Bland could be a criminal, rather than what she was…a woman from out of state who had just taken a job in a new town.

Friends, it seems to me this applies to Amber Guyger too. Guyger did NOT “default to truth” about Botham Jean. She assumed he was a danger, and she NEVER checked that assumption. She did not give him a chance to explain, or try to understand what was happening.

She simply shot him dead.

Two things can be, and are, true at the same time:
— Police have a hard and dangerous job.
— No one deserves to be shot dead in their home.

We need vastly new and different training for our police. That is true. We must continue to have compassion for the difficult job law enforcement has. That is also true.

And Amber Guyger must be held to account for this murder.

That is the final truth of how I see it.

Like everyone else, I pray for our city, and for the reaction to this verdict.

(see my thoughts at the end of week one of this trial)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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