The fatal shooting of unarmed 26-year-old Botham Jean by police officer Amber Guyger in his own apartment in Dallas last week has spurred pain, protests and more powerful pushes for justice as Black people continue to be killed by cops.
NewsOne spoke to Dr. Frederick Haynes, pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas and vice president of the African-American Pastors Coalition, about the shooting, local unrest and criminal justice reform during a phone conversation on Thursday. The tragedy has struck deeply for Haynes and the larger Dallas community.
“It’s devastating, it’s heartbreaking, and at the same time, it’s for our community, speaking on the Black community, a tragic movie that we’ve seen too often,” Haynes said. “We’ve become not only sick of it, but we’re quite angry and determined as a consequence that at least for Botham Jean that there is some justice that is served in this case. My heart breaks for his family. I’m a father so I can’t even imagine that kind of heartbreak and devastation. My prayer now is and our push now is that the least that can be done for [Jean’s family] is that justice is served.”
Haynes was in South Africa attending a conference when he learned about the tragedy, he said. He received several phone calls and read about Jean’s shooting in a local newspaper in Cape Town.
“There was a blurb about this young man being killed in his own apartment by a police officer claiming that she had gone to the wrong apartment,” Haynes said. “And so that’s when I decided to answer the phones. People from the mayor to state senator to police chief to community activist were calling me to inform me about what had happened. And again, it was really sad as my emotions were mixed: I was shocked but not surprised.”
A protest happened on Sept. 10 in which Haynes participated, he confirmed to NewsOne. About 200 or 300 attendees were there with the Next Generation Action Network, which led the march after a press conference earlier that day, he said.
“We gathered in front of police headquarters. We wanted to give the community a chance to voice their protest at anything that smells of injustice but also to voice our support for the family of Botham Jean. I spoke at that rally and even quoted Marvin Gaye,” Haynes said, referring to Gaye’s “What’s Going On” song referencing “mothers crying” and “brothers dying.”
He continued: “We marched and during the course of the march, the police decided over and against the direction of our Black female police chief [U. Reneé Hall] that they were going to get in our way. They formed this blockade. When we were determined to go forward, then that’s when they deployed some pepper spray. Because of where I was in the march, some of the spray got in my eyes and that was a part of what went down Monday night.”
There was a poignant moment that came at the end of the march.
“We also took a knee in front of the apartment complex where he [Jean] was slain,” Haynes said. [“This is] what Colin Kaepernick, contrary to the NFL and Trump, was basically taking a knee for, so we took a knee on his [Kaepernick’s] behalf and on behalf of the deceased. Then, we continued the march until we came to the end and that’s when we had another rally. At that rally, we determined that those who were in town and present would go to City Hall on Wednesday for the City Council meeting and basically disrupt the meeting and demand justice.”
For years, Haynes has been working with other activists and advocates to bring about a “transformation of the system,” he said. The group has pushed for a citizen review board and other measures. The advocates were also working with Hall, the new Dallas police chief, to reform the department, he said. The group has also organized protests for previous shootings in the area to push for prosecuting cases: A group had met with the district attorney’s office to urge justice for 15-year-old Jordan Edwards who was killed by now-former Balch Springs, Texas, police officer Roy Oliver last April. A Texas jury sentenced Oliver to 15 years for the killing last month.
To further call attention to this recent killing of Jean, Haynes said he and his church will host several upcoming prayer vigils and town hall meetings. He shared some sentiments about the community unrest in Dallas.
“One of the things that I keep telling the police chief and the mayor [is that] I felt on Monday night [in] doing that protest [that there’s] an anger in our community that is more pronounced than it’s ever been,” Haynes said. “And if this is not handled appropriately [and] if justice is not served, I fear what may happen in the streets of Dallas, Texas.”
The town hall meetings will give a chance for community members to “give voice to their frustrations,” the pastor and activist said. The gatherings will also allow people to “harness” frustrations to come up with “policies, proposals and an agenda that will continue to transform both the policing system and the criminal justice system that is so oppressive when it comes to Black and brown bodies,” he also said.
Haynes also said he plans to continue to push and help Hall to “do the right thing.” He recognized that the chief, who is a Black woman, has been communicating with activists and faces misogyny, “sexism and racism” in her position. Hall did call him with an apology Tuesday after police pepper-sprayed protesters and expressed her anger over the situation, he also said.
His heart goes out to Jean’s family, he said. He will continue to challenge systematic racism and fight for police officers to be held accountable for killing people of color.