When news broke in 2018 of a man shot in his home by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, many across the country thought they knew what to expect: The officer would receive a slap on the wrist and a few weeks of unpaid leave.
Those people were proven wrong this week when Guyger was found guilty of murder for shooting her neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own home after mistaking his apartment for her own. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday and will be eligible for parole in five.
But whether a guilty verdict for murder was justified, the most concerning aspect was many people instinctively doubted the former officer would be held accountable for the neighbor’s death.
Too often, stories come to light of police officers who have mishandled a situation with fatal consequences, only to never face any serious punishment for taking a life.
It’s a song and dance that has become far too common.
In the case of Eric Garner who was strangled to death in 2014 when being arrested for selling cigarettes in New York, the officer who was responsible for the strangulation was assigned desk duty. The medical examiner determined Garner’s death was a homicide and police department leadership called the officer’s conduct a clear violation of department policy.
That officer, Daniel Pantaleo, eventually lost his job for his actions, but it took five years and came only after a judge recommended his termination. His police union was irate, calling the dismissal unjust.
We understand the split-second decisions police officers are asked to make to protect us. But we also must understand a small handful of officers who make life-and-death decisions in the same circumstances as regular civilians often are being held to a different level of judgment. The result is too many people left feeling they did not receive justice because an officer is allowed to plead to a lesser charge or be allowed to walk free from a courtroom.
In the Guyger case, it’s not clear the punishment was appropriate, but what is clear is something is wrong when people expect police officers will be held to a lesser standard for taking an innocent person’s life, and not the higher standard we should expect.