THE recent warning by a Dallas, Texas newspaper that the District Attorney (DA) and prosecutors should be careful in deciding whether to charge the woman police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his apartment with manslaughter or murder must not be taken lightly there or here.
The Dallas Morning News editorial offered all the reasons for proceeding with caution, pointing out that in the search for justice, prosecutors and lawyers for the wronged need to always opt for the best legal arguments in the circumstances and not pander to calls for vengeance.
The warning must also be seen in the context of the politics of the American justice system, in which, unlike here, DAs are elected by ballot.
The incoming Dallas DA – a Democrat who defeated an incumbent Republican — made some statements about the case that critics find premature; and the newspaper warned him to be careful not to politicize the case and risk justice not being done.
Citing historical precedents and noting some of the peculiarities of securing guilty verdicts in the USA against police officers in cases involving shootings like that of Jean, the editorial said: “We’ve seen far too many of these police-involved shootings of black citizens end without police officers being held accountable for their actions. Murder indictments are rare, convictions and tough sentences even more so.’
Murder or Manslaughter, the Jean case is at the top of the Black Lives Matter list of those crying out loud for justice. But as the Dallas newspaper points out, the victim’s family and attorneys have to ensure they seek justice and not vengeance, for the simple reason that the latter can derail achievement of the former.
Saint Lucia is never without its own experiences in not dissimilar cases of having to distinguish between justice and vengeance.
Unfortunately, the wheels of justice here grind much slower than voluminous vows of vengeance. As such, the ringing demands for justice usually sound more like loud calls for vengeance.
Take the recent case involving the death of a police officer’s wife from a single bullet to her head while in bed at home.
Time and evidence are taking their toll on investigative efforts and while results are awaited, relatives of the bereaved have tagged along with Botham Jean’s in separate but common pursuits of justice.
In the meantime, the local grapevine continues to feed the always-well-greased rumour mill, which in turn continues to produce everything from conspiracy theories and fruits of fertile imagination to various categories of Fake News.
Here too, it is important that those seeking justice in the Kimberly deLeon case also understand the need to be sober in their approach and not fall victim to the ‘Vengeance is Mine’ syndrome.
In both cases, the factors that matter are to be weighed and determined by courts of law involving judges and juries guided by laws that may differ, but which guide all in each case.
The Jean case is in a more advanced stage and there is no doubt that his family deserves and will be compensated, they having already started indicating what they intend to do with proceeds. The deLeon case, on the other hand, is still one where a ‘person of interest’ has been identified, but the status of investigations is still very much unknown.
Both cases involve women – one a killer, the other a victim. Both also involve police officers. But here again, only time and evidence will tell whether thirst for vengeance will be allowed to derail pursuit of justice.