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Silence, Pepper Balls and Tension: Botham Jean Protesters Take to the Streets

Protesters at South Side Flats, where Jean and Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger lived.EXPAND
Protesters at South Side Flats, where Jean and Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger lived.
Jacob Vaughn

Two protests Monday night outside police headquarters captured the range of emotions aroused by the death of Botham Jean, who was killed last week in his apartment by Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger. One was a silent sit-in. The second, louder protest was met by police firing balls of pepper spray.

The silent sit-in for Jean organized by local activist Tiffney Billions began around 4 p.m. Rain drizzled from the sky. The sound of birds chirping and cars driving down Lamar Street filtered through the air. Silence was the point, Billions said.

“There are those of us who want to express ourselves by remaining silent, and just being here letting them know that we’re hurting. We feel their pain, but we’re here to do whatever needs to be done,” she said.

The silence contrasted with the fury unleashed on social media after Jean's death last Thursday, which investigators say was the result of Guyger mistakenly walking into the wrong apartment. She lives below Jean on the third floor of a building in the South Side Flats complex on Lamar and claims she thought she was confronting a burglar in her owned darkened apartment when she fired two shots, killing Jean, investigators said.

Within hours of Jean's death, commenters on Twitter and Facebook called for Guyger's immediate arrest and demanded she be charged with murder in what others say was a tragic accident.

Guyger was charged with manslaughter over the weekend and quickly released on $300,000 bond, which drew accusations that law enforcement was giving special treatment to one of their own.

Billions says her goal was to show solidarity while demonstrating a different side of the movement to fight police brutality.

Chez Garza, who came to Billions' demonstration, said he made a point to show up to the silent sit-in opposed to the outspoken protest that came afterward. Garza wanted to be part of the message, he said, but would rather do it silently than get his name out and become part of a movement.

While Billions' group was quiet, people there did raise questions about alleged inconsistencies in Guyger’s story. Affidavits differ in some details of how Guyger entered Jean's apartment. Billions said she sees a cover-up involving DPD, the Texas Rangers and the media. She mentioned initial reports of Jean’s door being locked, contradicted by the arrest warrant that said the door was ajar. Some media ran with stories suggesting Guyger knew Jean. As the story of the shooting continued to develop, she said, “the media” had the old reports taken down.

Tiffney Billions speaks to a group of silent protesters outside of Dallas police headquarters.EXPAND
Tiffney Billions speaks to a group of silent protesters outside of Dallas police headquarters.
Jacob Vaughn

Attorney Lee Merritt, representing Jean’s family, told reporters he has nothing to substantiate the claim that the two knew each other, according to WFAA. An affidavit made public Monday states Guyger inserted her key into the keyhole of Jean’s door. The door was slightly ajar and swung open, then she saw Jean inside.

At 7 p.m., a rowdier group of demonstrators organized by Next Generation Action Network, activists looking to eradicate social injustice, stepped in to the silent protesters' place.

As NGAN’s protest took over the scene, the rain dwindled and the crowd grew. Dallas police could be seen atop the South Side on Lamar apartment building across the street. President and founder of the group, Dominique Alexander, had one goal for the night that superseded all others: get people to Dallas City Hall at noon Wednesday.

“We are pushing for a police oversight board with investigative powers and a budget,” Alexander said.

Under Alexander’s direction, the crowd made its way down Lamar toward South Side Flats, shouting “No justice, no peace” as they blocked both sides of the road.

Cars halted outside South Side Flats as protesters knelt and prayed for Jean. They stood back up and headed down Lamar. As they pushed forward, police cars and mounted police prepared.

Some members of the protest tried to persuade others to stay back. Only a handful listened.

As the group tried to make a turn onto Cadiz Street, which was being blocked by police, an officer fired pepper balls at their feet. Anyone upwind of the shots was sent into fits of coughing and teary eyes. Tensions rose.

Protesters demand justice for Jean.EXPAND
Protesters demand justice for Jean.
Jacob Vaughn

The next minute and a half was full of indiscriminate yelling until the officers moved out of the way.

The protesters pushed forward, turning onto South Griffin, and an argument broke out among the demonstrators when one asked why the march was being directed by police. From that moment forward, there was a sense of division among the crowd.

“The entity behind us is the entity that fights us,” Alexander tried to remind them.

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The Rev. Jeff Hood, who helped organize the protest, attributed the internal arguments to inexperience. He said the first time people go out to rallies, they get too caught up in anger. He loves the passion. He just wishes it was put toward something productive, like voting.

News helicopter blades chopped through the air, people peeked out their windows and sharpshooters peered through their scopes as the protesters found themselves back at DPD headquarters.

As the night came to a close, Alexander reminded everyone to be at Dallas City Hall on Wednesday. He then asked former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale to say a few words. She says people need to promote systemic and institutional change. Hood left the protesters with a prayer before they all dispersed.

“Our God’s name is justice. As you go from this place, let us go to worship,” he says

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