Dallas City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to rename a portion of Lamar Street after Botham Jean, the 26-year-old accountant shot and killed by former Dallas Police officer Amber Guyger. The portion of the street between Interstate 30 and South Central Expressway will be called Botham Jean Boulevard.
“I am elated that we got the street name change,” Alissa Charles-Findley, Jean’s sister, said.
The vote comes as monuments dedicated to Confederate figures tumble down across the country. The street was originally named for Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, who fought to nullify federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding slavery and Native American removal and opposed the annexation of the state into the U.S. because he supported slavery.
After some back and forth and debate about the cost of the name change as well as a proposal to postpone it until the Jean family is no longer involved in litigation with the city, Mayor Eric Johnson recommended that his fellow council members approve the change, something he said he rarely does when it comes to votes.
“[This item] requires 12 votes to pass,” Johnson said. “I will be part of that 12, and I would encourage everyone on this council to give serious thought to being part of that 12.”
At the start of the public hearing for the name change, Johnson asked that Jean’s mother, Allison, be the first speaker allowed to address the council and that she be given more time.
“My family trusts in the Lord’s power and are trying to move from the hurt and pain to new horizons,” she said. “One wish is that Botham’s name will be remembered and never ever be forgotten. The renaming of Lamar Street is one way in which our wish can be honored ”
Charles-Findley said Jean loved Dallas and often urged her to move to the city with him. The last time she saw him, he had just taken her around the city in another effort to get her to move. “That was the last time I got to hug my brother,” she said. “Botham was a loving, generous, God-fearing resident of Dallas.” She said the city lost an angel when he died on Sept. 6, 2018.
“Everyone in this room should be outraged by his murder at the hands of a Dallas police officer and should be more than willing to honor him by renaming Lamar Street to Botham Jean Boulevard,” she said.
Every council member offered their condolences to the Jean family, but some weren’t so eager to cast a vote for approval.
Council member David Blewett asked about the process of bringing the name change to council, wondering if there was anything abnormal about it. City staff told him that the street name went through normal procedures. Out of the last 23 street name changes in Dallas since 2010, 11 have gone through the same process, according to city staff.
Blewett also moved to have the item deferred until litigation with the Jean family didn’t involve Dallas, but was voted down 4-11.
Council member Jennifer Gates repeatedly asked about the cost of the change for the city and business owners, as some were opposed because of potential costs.
City staff had a dollar amount for the signage, about $20,000, but not for potential future costs or costs to business owners on Lamar who will have to change their addresses.
The city sent out 122 notices to owners of property along the street and received 16 responses, most of them in favor of the change.
Some members of the audience spoke against the new name, questioning the character of Davante Peters, one of the activists involved in the initial efforts to rename the street. Peters is running for City Council in District 8, and his critics accused him of being more intent on hurting the police department than honoring Jean. They also cited the potential costs and said if street names are going to be changed, they should be changed to honor police officers who died while serving the city.
Jean was shot dead in his own apartment on Lamar Street by Guyger, at the time a Dallas police officer. She claimed she mistakenly entered Jean's apartment believing it was hers one floor below and killed Jean because she believed he was an intruder. A jury convicted Guyger of murder in October 2019.
Yafeuh Balogun, Pamela Grayson and Peters, local community activists, were the main faces behind Botham Jean Boulevard in the beginning.
Before them, though, a Dallas man named Chris Norman started a petition to change the name of the street to honor Jean. He didn't expect much from it, he said, but it has since amassed tens of thousands of signatures. Last May, the Botham Jean Memorial Committee was formed by Balogun, Grayson and Peters. With Norman's approval, the committee used his petition in alignment with their efforts.
The name change was later picked up by council member Adam Medrano. He filed a memo for the change, but it only included a portion of Lamar. At the final city plan commission meeting before the change was sent to council, Medrano said his decision to go for only a portion of the street was political.
"It is political. It always is," Medrano said during the meeting. "We wanted to make sure that this got through smoothly. We wanted to remember Botham. We don't want any type of drama."
Some commissioners indicated they'd favor changing the name of the entire street, rather than just the portion below I-30, which runs through a predominantly Black area. The part of Lamar that won't change runs through the heart of downtown. Charles-Findley said she still thinks they can go for the rest of Lamar and would speak with her mother about how to move forward.
"It was a long road, we fought tooth and nail and with the everyday people of Dallas’ help we accomplished something that people thought was impossible," Peters said. "I’m confident that this victory will lead the way for a change in Dallas culture."
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