It was a rather surprising moment during Wednesday’s sentencing of a Dallas police officer convicted of murder when the dead man’s brother testified that he forgave the officer, and then hugged her as she sobbed in the courtroom.
The officer needed the kindness. One night last year she entered the apartment that she thought was hers to find a stranger there eating ice cream. She shot him twice and killed him, only to discover she had entered his apartment by mistake, not hers.
The officer was white and the victim was black, which automatically made police shootings of minorities a subtopic during the trial. It should be noted that the jury voted for a murder conviction when it conceivably could have chosen something less such as manslaughter.
What’s unique about this case, though, is the reaction to the 18-year-old brother’s request to hug the officer in the courtroom, as well as to the 10-year sentence she received. Also unusual: The judge, who is black, hugged the officer at the end of the sentencing hearing.
Many observers praised the victim’s brother for exemplifying the ideal of Christian forgiveness. He certainly did that. It’s most likely that many people who spoke favorably of his actions in the courtroom would not be able to extend the same sympathies if one of their family members had been killed in this manner.
Others objected, saying the 10-year sentence was too lenient — the officer reportedly will be eligible to seek parole in just five years. They also said the victim’s brother was extending a narrative that black people tend to forgive wrongdoing, while black people who break the law rarely receive such kindness from their victims.
The victim’s father said he would have liked the officer to get a longer prison sentence, and he added that the jury made its decision. In the end, the feelings of the victim’s family should be respected, but this debate should not overshadow the larger concern of cases like this.
That concern is the impulse by too many people to shoot first and ask questions later, as if life were a Clint Eastwood movie.
This is not a criticism of Second Amendment rights. But it is very fair to ask why the officer fired on her victim when all evidence indicated that he made no threatening actions.
He was probably as surprised as she was — sitting in his own apartment only to have a total stranger enter with a gun. She was the accidental trespasser, and in Texas he had the legal right to stand his ground.
Had she spent just a few seconds asking questions, as police officers are trained to do, she would have discovered her error, apologized profusely and retreated. Instead, she opened fire prematurely, killed an innocent man and put herself in prison.
Evidence presented at her trial indicated that the officer made an honest mistake by going into the wrong apartment. But the larger, life-changing and life-ending mistake was pulling out her weapon. That had to be why the jury chose to convict her of murder.