White ex-officer's guilty verdict stuns some black advocates

Monica Blake watched closely as a Texas jury weighed the case against a white police officer charged in the fatal shooting of a black neighbor, wondering whether the panel would render a different decision than so many others in recent years.

When Amber Guyger was convicted of murder Tuesday, Blake, a retired Nashville, Tennessee, officer, wept in disbelief.

"I'm so happy," said Blake, who is black. "But of course, nobody wins."

C.J. Lawrence, a Jackson, Mississippi-based civil rights attorney and founder of the advocacy website Black With No Chaser, said the verdict offered one clear message: "Black people won't become criminals in their own homes."

While activists and observers welcomed the rare conviction, most cautioned that the outcome was not the result of changing attitudes, but of a rare set of circumstances: an unarmed black man killed in his apartment by an off-duty white officer who said she mistakenly believed she was in her own home.

"There was just a perfect storm of behavior and situations that made the classic playbook insufficient," said Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson. "But I don't think any of us can take solace that the rules, whether they be written or unwritten, have changed."

On the night of Sept. 6, 2018, Guyger walked up to Botham Jean's fourth-floor apartment — directly above hers — and found the door unlocked. Still dressed in her uniform after a long shift, she entered and found Jean eating a bowl of ice cream in his living room. She shot the 26-year-old accountant with her service weapon.

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Former Dallas officer Amber Guyger convicted of killing her neighbor, Botham Jean
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Former Dallas officer Amber Guyger convicted of killing her neighbor, Botham Jean
FILE - This file photo provided by the Kaufman County Sheriff's Office shows Amber Guyger. A grand jury began hearing evidence Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the case of Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who fatally shot her unarmed black neighbor in his own apartment after she said she mistook it for hers on Sept. 6, 2018. (Kaufman County (Texas) Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
This March 24, 2014, photo provided by Harding University in Searcy, Ark., shows Botham Jean, speaking at the university. Authorities said Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, that a Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed Jean, a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (Jeff Montgmery/Harding University via AP)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
This photo from video released Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, by the Kaufman County Sheriff's Office in Kaufman, Texas, shows Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger getting booked after turning herself in Sunday, Sept. 9 following the fatal shooting of Botham Jean in his own apartment. Guyger was arrested manslaughter and has since been released on bond. (Kaufman County Sheriff's Office Jail via AP)
South Side Flats apartments are shown in this Monday, Sept. 10 2018 photo in Dallas. Authorities say a Dallas police officer said she shot a neighbor whose home she mistakenly entered last week after he ignored her "verbal commands." David Armstrong of the Texas Rangers wrote in an arrest affidavit released Monday that Officer Amber Guyger said she didn't realize she was in the wrong apartment until after she shot 26-year-old Botham Jean and went into the hallway to check the address. Guyger was booked Sunday on a manslaughter charge in Thursday night's killing of Jean and was released on bond.(AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
Brandt Jean, center left, brother of shooting victim Botham Jean, hugs his sister Allisa Charles-Findley, during a news conference outside the Frank Crowley Courts Building on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Dallas, about the shooting of Botham Jean by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger on Thursday. He was joined by his mother, Allison Jean, left, and attorney Benjamin Crump, right. (AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
A resident holds up an electronic key used to open an apartment door at the South Side Flats in this Monday, Sept. 10 2018 photo in Dallas. Authorities say a Dallas police officer said she shot a neighbor whose home she mistakenly entered last week after he ignored her "verbal commands." David Armstrong of the Texas Rangers wrote in an arrest affidavit released Monday that Officer Amber Guyger said she didn't realize she was in the wrong apartment until after she shot 26-year-old Botham Jean and went into the hallway to check the address. Guyger was booked Sunday on a manslaughter charge in Thursday night's killing of Jean and was released on bond.(AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
People stand near Botham Jean's apartment in this Monday, Sept. 10 2018 photo in Dallas. Authorities say a Dallas police officer said she shot a neighbor whose home she mistakenly entered last week after he ignored her "verbal commands." David Armstrong of the Texas Rangers wrote in an arrest affidavit released Monday that Officer Amber Guyger said she didn't realize she was in the wrong apartment until after she shot 26-year-old Jean and went into the hallway to check the address. Guyger was booked Sunday on a manslaughter charge in Thursday night's killing of Jean and was released on bond.(AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
This photo from video released Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, by the Kaufman County Sheriff's Office in Kaufman, Texas, shows Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger getting booked after turning herself in Sunday, Sept. 9 following the fatal shooting of Botham Jean in his own apartment. Guyger was arrested manslaughter and has since been released on bond. (Kaufman County Sheriff's Office Jail via AP)
A Dallas Police vehicle is parked near the South Side Flats apartments on Monday, Sept. 10 2018 photo in Dallas. Authorities say a Dallas police officer said she shot a neighbor whose home she mistakenly entered last week after he ignored her "verbal commands." David Armstrong of the Texas Rangers wrote in an arrest affidavit released Monday that Officer Amber Guyger said she didn't realize she was in the wrong apartment until after she shot 26-year-old Botham Jean and went into the hallway to check the address. Guyger was booked Sunday on a manslaughter charge in Thursday night's killing of Jean and was released on bond.(AP Photo/Ryan Tarinelli)
South Side Flats is shown in this Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 photo. A Dallas police officer returning home from work shot and killed a neighbor after she said she mistook his apartment for her own, authorities said Friday. The officer called dispatch to report that she had shot the man Thursday night, police said. She told responding officers that she believed the victim's apartment was her own when she entered it. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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Jean's death drew widespread attention both nationally and in his native St. Lucia and joined the growing list of cases fueling the Black Lives Matter Movement, which emerged in 2014 after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Convictions have been few in the past five years as activists and protesters have attempted to highlight such killings and push for policing reforms and more prosecutions.

Moments after the verdict, African Americans took to social media and YouTube to express their surprise around a case some regarded as the epitome of how whites see black bodies as a threat. Most said they were prepared to be disappointed — again.

During the trial, they were frustrated as Guyger's defense team attempted to portray the killer as the victim and Jean as a threat.

Guyger told authorities she mistakenly thought Jean was an intruder. During the trial, she tearfully took the stand and apologized for killing him. Robinson said those optics were meant to draw sympathy from jurors.

"We have a long history in this country of white women's tears and fear being an excuse for harming and killing black people," he said. "For many people watching the trial, there was a deep fear that this would be another one of those situations. All they needed was one juror."

Monica Jones, a 34-year-old transgender woman in Phoenix, called Guyger "a perfect victim" who would play off whites' sympathies compared to a black man who could be vilified, even though he was sitting innocently in his apartment.

Under Texas law, Guyger's sentence could range from five years to life in prison. Robinson said the sentencing decision "will send a message to the community about justice."

Campaign Zero co-founder and Ferguson activist Brittany Packnett said that there are still too many people willing to excuse the officer's actions.

Tensions intensified Monday after jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the "castle doctrine" — even though she was not in her own home.

The law is similar to "stand your ground" measures that declare a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder. Prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that the law would have empowered Jean to shoot someone barging into his apartment, but it doesn't apply "the other way around."

The idea that the castle doctrine could be invoked, "reflects the fact that we've still got progress to make," Packnett said.

Packnett pointed out that while police kill more than 1,000 people a year, only 35 officers have been convicted in the last 14 years. The percentage of those convicted of killing black people is even smaller.

"One case does not mean the problem is solved," Packnett said.

She credited the diversity of the jury pool as a possible factor in the outcome. "The question still remains for me: Would a whiter jury have convicted her? Sadly, I fear the answer is still no."

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Funeral held for Botham Shem Jean, man shot and killed by a Dallas police officer
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Funeral held for Botham Shem Jean, man shot and killed by a Dallas police officer
Mourners console each other during the public viewing before the funeral of Botham Shem Jean at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ on Thursday, September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. He was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in his apartment last week in Dallas. (Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
Mourners line up during the public viewing before the funeral of Botham Shem Jean at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ on Thursday, September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. He was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in his apartment last week in Dallas. (Shaban Athuman//The Dallas Morning News via AP) (Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 file photo, Brandt Jean, center left, brother of shooting victim Botham Jean, hugs his sister Allisa Charles-Findley, during a news conference outside the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, about the shooting of Botham Jean by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger on Thursday. He was joined by his mother, Allison Jean, second from left, and attorney Benjamin Crump, second from right, as attorney Lee Merritt, right, speaks to the media. A funeral is scheduled Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, for Botham Jean killed in his home by a Dallas police officer who says she mistook his residence for her own. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)
FILE - This March 24, 2014, file photo provided by Harding University in Searcy, Ark., shows Botham Jean, speaking at the university. Jean was fatally shot Sept. 6, 2018, by off-duty officer Amber Guyger who says she mistook his residence for her own. The service for 26-year-old Botham Jean will start at noon Thursday, Sept. 13, at a church in suburban Dallas following a public viewing. (Jeff Montgomery/Harding University via AP, File)
Allison Jean, mother of Botham Shem Jean,, front, leaves after viewing her son's body before the funeral service for Botham Shem at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ on Thursday, September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. He was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in his apartment last week in Dallas. (Shaban Athuman/ The Dallas Morning News)/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
RICHARDSON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13: A person carrying a wreath of flowers walks through the parking lot at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ for the funeral service for Botham Shem Jean on September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas.Jean was killed when a Dallas Police officer who accidentally went into Jean's apartment, thinking it was her own and shot him. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
RICHARDSON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13: A person carrying a wreath of flowers walks through the parking lot at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ for the funeral service for Botham Shem Jean on September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. Jean was killed when a Dallas Police officer who accidentally went into Jean's apartment, thinking it was her own and shot him. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
RICHARDSON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13: The casket arrives for the funeral service to commemorate Botham Shem Jean, 26, at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ on September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. Jean was killed when a Dallas Police officer who accidentally went into Jean's apartment, thinking it was her own and shot him. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
RICHARDSON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13 The casket carrying Botham Shem Jean arrives at Greenville Avenue Church of Christ on September 13, 2018 in Richardson, Texas. Jean was killed when a Dallas Police officer who accidentally went into Jean's apartment, thinking it was her own and shot him. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
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The anticipation of the verdict heightened tensions in a city with a troubled history involving police and communities of color. Dallas leaders point to reforms and the hiring of officers of color as evidence that the police force has evolved.

Robinson pointed to the election of a new district attorney in Dallas as a sign of progress, with the Guyger case factoring into the race.

"As a result, you also had folks trying this case who knew the public was watching and expecting something new," Robinson said. "Part of how we change the narrative is changing what's acceptable and changing what's possible."

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Associated Press Writer Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Errin Haines is The Associated Press' national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous . Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press' race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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