In another story, Micah Johnson kills Officer Guyger before she can murder Botham Jean
I do know that unless our rage matters, our lives never will either.
“Officer who walked into wrong apartment and killed man faces arrest”. The headline states that the officer who killed Botham Jean mistakenly went into the “wrong apartment” as if it is fact. On the actual page, it adds “: Authorities” so at least you know who is behind what is taken as fact. It’s not the only headline to do this. To much of the media, there could reasonably be no other legitimate account of what happened in Dallas on September 6th than Jean’s murderer’s. Of course she thought his apartment was hers and he was an intruder. Why wouldn’t she? The whole world belongs to those with badges and guns and a propensity for killing Black people. As the writer Kejhonti Neloms argues, in this world, Black people are always in the wrong place at the wrong time—are always intruders in need of putting down.
Officer Amber Guyger is still employed. Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall—who is Black—is still asking the community for patience. Her department issued a warrant to search Jean’s apartment for drugs and publicized that it found a small amount of marijuana, in case we still needed reasons to blame a dead Black man for his death. Black folks in Dallas are probably still reeling from communal trauma around the last police killing in the city, with new research showing that whole communities suffer markedly after these incidents.
None of this should be surprising. This is the story of police violence against Black people in America. This has been the story for a long time. We protest and vote and write and scream and sometimes maybe get at least an indictment, or play along like Chief Hall and hope that we are spared. Those are the best options we can hope for. There could reasonably be no other legitimate account.
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On July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson killed five officers and injured two others in the same city Jean was murdered in response to police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in the days prior. Headlines stated that it was the deadliest incident for law enforcement since September 11th as if it was fact, and it was. But at least 60 police officers died on September 11th, a far cry from any implied similarity of carnage.
If anything, Johnson’s shooting being the second deadliest incident for law enforcement since 9/11 should have reinforced how relatively safe policing is compared to being Black. It did not. That would not fit this story. This story is: no matter what they do to us, they must always have a reason, and we must always have patience or the world will go to shit. Johnson ran out of patience. Invoking September 11th reminded us what the world going to shit feels like, in case we forgot.
It’s hard for Black people to forget the world going to shit because ours always is, and so it makes sense to want to be spared like Chief Hall. It makes sense that some of us learn to demand our own patience better than our enemies. After Johnson killed those officers, the Black Lives Matter national chapter released a statement condemning his impatience in no uncertain terms: “Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman.”
Co-founder Alicia Garza later went on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” to reiterate that the movement is “not anti-police.” In this story, we can fight for our lives but only if there isn’t actually any real fighting on our end. Only if we don’t even acknowledge there is another side. We’re all in this together and let’s dance to “Kumbaya” in our blood. Only if the other side doesn’t actually fear losing anything. This story has always been this way.
Officer Blane Salamoni, who murdered Alton Sterling, faced no charges. Jeronimo Yanez, who murdered Castile, was acquitted. Guyger is out on bond. Johnson was killed by a robot detonating a bomb. This tactic was approved by then Dallas Police Chief David Brown—who is also Black—the first instance of such a use in U.S. law enforcement. The unanswered ethical questions around robotic bombs blowing up “U.S. citizens” should have been beyond alarming, but hardly a bell was sounded. Because that is not this story.
This story is that Jean placed a red carpet in front of his door to distinguish his apartment from others, but that was not enough. That common sense telling you it’s not easy to mix up your apartment and the apartment on the next floor isn’t enough for media to question the “facts” before making them a headline. That the type of protests BLM’s national chapter did approve are not enough to stop the Guygers and Salamonis and Yanezes from murdering us and getting away with it.
I am exhausted by this story. The BLM approved statements on Micah Johnson were the most disappointing moment of my politicization as an activist because, until then, for the first time in my life, I believed there was a community of others who were as exhausted as me to do something about it. For the first time in my life, the Black Lives Matter movement made me feel like even if we didn’t believe in taking up arms against cops, enough of us understood that the kind of slaughter we face can make a person want to do all sorts of things, but its still always the slaughter that is the issue. I believed that these were all folks who believed too, and together we could change this story. Now it felt like I had been proved wrong. But dispirited is exactly what this story wants us to feel.
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I don’t know how to change this story. I don’t think uncoordinated attacks against random law enforcement officers will do it—and may in fact hurt people whom I love dearly—but I know if Guyger had been one of the officers Johnson killed, Jean would probably still be alive today. That rage would have had a much greater chance of saving Jean than refusing to smoke weed or living in a more obviously different apartment than the one below or “patience,” the only options we are supposed to acknowledge. I do know that unless our rage matters, our lives never will either. I do know that a story where the Jeans of the world survive is the only one I can stomach anymore.
Just like we can’t take for granted Guyger’s account of murdering Jean, neither can we take for granted the popular media account of what legitimate Black victimhood should look like. We can’t take for granted that Black people must all take our bullets with our hands up. That being “anti-police” is something to run from just because this whole world belongs to those with badges and guns and a propensity for killing Black people. It’s not the only world there ever was, or ever has to be. Even if they weren’t represented in that statement, we can’t take for granted that there are no others who still believe different world’s, different stories, are possible. And rather than give up, there’s still work to do toward bringing us together.