Last August, a Dallas police officer named Amber Guyger “accidentally” broke into her neighbor’s apartment and shot him dead.
We all know how this usually ends. Botham Jean, the victim, was a 26 year old black man. Amber Guyger is a 30-year-old white female. Normally the prosecution would deliberately tank the case, and the jury would acquit the murderer based on the idea that she “feared for her life.” There would be a campaign in the media against the victim. They’d dig up some minor crime, like marijuana possession, and run the story 24/7. Eventually everybody would forget the story altogether, and move on.
This time, however, the prosecution made a real case and the jury convicted Amber Guyger of murder. The judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison, which, admittedly, doesn’t seem like a very long sentence for a cold blooded murder, but I suppose you could argue that it was more like criminally negligent homicide or voluntary man-slaughter. So at least it was something. There is justice in America.
But not so fast.
Yesterday, the key witness in the trial, a black man in his 20s named Joshua Brown, was found dead outside of his apartment complex, apparently shot in the mouth.
Joshua Brown lived on the same floor of a Dallas, Texas, apartment building as victim Botham Jean, shot by Guyger after she apparently mistook his flat for her own and him for an intruder.
Mr Brown had wept as he delivered his testimony about the killing in court.
He died on Friday night in an apparent drive-by shooting in the city.
As police officers investigated, there was no suggestion that his death was linked to the Guyger trial.
Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Botham Jean’s family, called for the US justice system to find and hold to account the killer of Mr Brown who, like Jean, had been a black man.
“Brown deserves the same justice he sought to ensure the Jean family,” Mr Merritt said in a statement.
I do appreciate the fact that the BBC makes sure to tell us that the police, who would normally be the prime suspects, have declared that Brown’s death has no connection to the high profile murder trial where he just had been the key witness, and I suppose the death of Joshua Brown could be coincidental. But honestly this looks like either the police or supporters of the police decided to “send a message” that anybody who testifies against a police officer just might get killed. “Stitches for Snitches Bitches.” It’s also part of a disturbing pattern. Six people who were instrumental in organizing the now iconic anti-police-brutality movement in Ferguson, Missouri have over the past few years have also turned up dead under suspicious circumstances.
Since the 2014 shooting, about six people connected to the protests following Brown’s death have died — some in violent, mysterious ways, the Associated Press reports. While police say there is no evidence that foul play was involved in the men’s deaths, those within the community report feeling as if they are “on pins and needles,” Rev. Darryl Grey said. The prominent African American leader added that he has received anonymous threats, and that he recently found an unmarked box containing a 6-foot python in his car.
I was originally going to title this post “American Death Squads” but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The United States is a country. America is a continent and the United States and the CIA have been supporting “death squads” in America for decades. A big reason for the “border crisis” that propelled Donald Trump into the White House was the legacy of CIA supported death squads in El Salvador and Honduras. The Vatican has at long last started the process of making Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by a US trained death squad, a saint. Much less well known is the case of Bishop Juan José Gerardi, who was murdered shortly after compiling an extensive report on the US supported genocide of native Americans in Guatemala. It was, once again, sending a message. “Testify against the government and you’re probably going to get shot.”
On April 26, 1998, two days after the release of the report, Bishop Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in his home in Guatemala City. This brutal murder of such a prominent Guatemalan figure was not handled professionally by either This brutal murder of such a prominent Guatemalan figure was not handled professionally by either the police or the authorities, who failed to immediately link the murder to his political activities. Despite Guatemala’s unfortunate tendency for impunity in cases of violence against human rights defenders, three former military officers were eventually convicted of murdering Gerardi on June 8, 2001. The three officers were Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, his son, Capt. Byron Lima Oliva and José Obdulio Villanueva. The historic trial was the first time high-ranking military officials had been tried since the 1996 ruling that removed exclusive military tribunal jurisdiction for officers accused of civilian crimes.
If Joshua Brown had been murdered in Russia or Venezuela, it would probably mean American economic sanctions. If he had been a Saudi journalist hacked to death in the Saudi Embassy in Instanbul with a bone saw, the media would make a fuss about it for a few weeks before inevitably letting it fall off the radar. In Joshua Brown’s case we’re all going to forget it, probably by tomorrow, but it does raise a disturbing question.
Do we have police death squads in the United States?