Pastor shouts a prayer over rowdy protesters in event marking Botham Jean’s birthday
Protesters demanding justice for Botham Jean on what would have been his 27th birthday made a town hall event held to discuss his shooting death, and police shootings in general, a heated affair at times.
What began as a somewhat somber event at St. Paul United Methodist Church on 1816 Routh Street in Dallas, marked with calls for justice for Jean, quickly became heated as protestors demanded that the manslaughter charge against Officer Amber Guyger, who said she mistakenly shot Jean on Sept. 7 and who was fired earlier this week, be swiftly upgraded to murder.
Shouts of “no justice, no peace!” occasionally filled the small, 145-year-old church packed with about 200 people, many of them wearing T-shirts in support of Jean with slogans such as “Off the Police” and carrying signs and banners. Among their ranks were nine women recently arrested in a Jean protest in Arlington.
Pastor Ritchie Butler said it was the first time he’d ever prayed over a group of shouting protesters. And he’s not sure they came away with a better understanding of the legal processes at work in Jean’s case, but he said something else was accomplished.
“I think people who are frustrated need to have an outlet,” he said after the event ended shortly after 2 p.m.. “It’s our job to sometimes just listen.
“I’d rather people scream than there be violence,” he said.
Dallas County district attorney Faith Johnson went progressively hoarse as she tried to explain the role her office plays in Jean’s due process.
Protestors seemed unsatisfied by her explanation that her office’s Public Integrity Unit was trying to amend the charge of manslaughter brought against Guyger after an investigation by the Texas Rangers.
“Some DA’s offices won’t even take cases like this to a grand jury,” Johnson said. “It’s about equal justice, people, that’s what it’s all about.”
She said that the $300,000 bond her office set for Guyger was the maximum amount, to which a female protester shouted, “She shouldn’t have gotten a bond, she’s a murderer!”
Later, visibly frustrated, Johnson told protesters, “I can’t just change the charge to murder today. That’s why I’m going to a grand jury.”
Protesters also shouted angrily when Johnson told them she couldn’t reveal when her investigators would approach the grand jury, as it meets, by law, at undisclosed times.
Jean family attorney Ben Crump expressed confidence in Johnson, pointing to her performance in the Roy Oliver case recently.
And journalist Roland Martin, who took over hosting duties, said that it’s important to get the charges right when there’s a question of whether an officer has killed a civilian without justification.
“I’ve covered numerous occasions like this. When DAs don’t pursue the right charge, it creates the space for the officer to get off,” said Martin, a former Star-Telegram reporter and now host of the internet news show Roland Martin Unfiltered.
Johnson was part of a panel that also included Democratic State Sen. Royce West of District 23, civil rights attorney Justin Moore, Dominque Alexander of Next Generation Action Network and La’Shadion Shemwell, an activist and McKinney city council member.
Also on hand were attorneys Lee Merritt and Daryl Washington, other members of the Jean family legal team.
After leading a chant of “Justice for Botham Jean,” Shemwell said, “I understand (Dallas police chief) Renee Hall’s mother is ill, and I would want her to be by her mother’s side,” but he said police should have sent a representative to the event.
The only Dallas police presence inside the church was an officer on hand to provide security.
And the only city council member who showed up hadn’t even been invited, but said he turned up because he read about the event on social media.
Leaders say changes must be made
Councilmember Kevin Felder took on a shouting crowd of protesters to say that he would ask the city council to address the Dallas police department’s 72-hour policy, which allows officers involved in shootings to have three days to prepare for an inquest by police internal affairs.
West, who helped pioneer the use of dash and body cameras by Texas law enforcement agencies, said more work must be done in the Legislature so that officers aren’t allowed to review dash and body cam footage before making statements to investigators.
“The attorney general has said that police officers have the authority to look at body cam footage before making a statement. We have to fix that,” West said.
He also called for black citizens to vote more and to serve on juries more, calls that were criticized by protesters and Shemwell.
“We blame ourselves, we say ‘we’re not voting,’” Shemwell said. “This has nothing to do with your vote, this has everything to do with trigger-happy police.”
Regarding jury service, he said: “Black people can’t afford to miss a day’s work. We’ve got to pay our jury people the right way.”
Alexander said that due process always seems to take longer in cases when police have shot black people.
‘All the world is watching Dallas, Texas’
Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s mother, called in from the island of St. Lucia before the question-and-answer session with the panel.
“Dallas, I thank you immensely for continuing to seek justice for Botham,” she said, broadcast over the church’s public address system.
“I can’t march with you, but I continue to fight in every way I can,” she said.
She joined Butler and her legal team in calling for all protests to remain peaceful.
“We have to continue what Botham would have stood for, and he would have stood for peace,” she said.
“I know nothing that is done for me can bring back the son that I had. But I know that he is with his Lord,” she said.
“I also want to tell you that the St. Lucian diaspora around the world is uniting to show disgust for what has been done to Botham,” she added, mentioning planned protests in Australia, London, Canada, New York City, Atlanta and Florida.
“We have received cards from as far as Mexico,” Allison Jean said. “This is an international affair, and the entire world is watching. The slogan that the United States must be great again can only be realized when police officers in the United States respect its black citizens.”
Crump added, “Even though they killed Botham at Southside Flats, he did not die. All the world is watching Dallas, Texas.”