Commentary: Justice is a familiar term, but do we know the meaning?

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Commentary: Justice is a familiar term, but do we know the meaning?
October 16
23:55 2019

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Justice can sometimes be a confusing term. When you think you have it figured out, it takes an unpredictable turn. We spend a lot of time debating this topic. Some would suggest it’s not meant to be clear and concise. Well, maybe they are right.

Take for example the police-involved shooting that occurred in Houston. This story gained national attention because of how it happened. You remember, don’t you? A female police officer thinking that it was her apartment goes into the wrong apartment and kills the occupant. He is in his apartment and loses his life because of it.

Now that is a strange set of circumstances in my opinion. Many of us have lived in apartment complexes without incidents, much less killing someone. All of this happened at night, so this could be used as the reason for the tragedy.

Amber Guyger, a Houston police officer, shot and killed Botham Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia last year. Guyger is white and Jean was black. Did race play a role in what happened? People will have their opinions about whether it did.

Certainly, Guyger didn’t know it was a black man that she shot. It wasn’t until he was identified that his race became common knowledge. To attach any racial bearing on this case prior to the actual trial is unfair, in my opinion. Now the trial may be another story and have another set of conclusions.

In the courtroom in plain view is a white female police officer who shot a black man in his apartment. The more compelling point is that Jean was in his home minding his own business. Usually, when you are minding your own business in your own house, you don’t get shot to death. This case was different and life changing for both families.

Amber Guyger was found guilty of the crime and received a ten-year prison sentence. After the trial ended, Amber Guyger received hugs from both the victim’s brother and the judge in the case. Brandt Jean, brother of Botham, said, “If you are trying to forgive her, understand that she is a human being. She still deserves love. I waited one year to hear ‘I’m sorry’ and I’m grateful for that. And it’s why I forgive her.”

The judge in the case, Tammy Kemp, gave her a hug and a Bible. Now some would say this was an unusual display of compassion and humanity. You don’t see this type of behavior at murder trials.

There are many people in the community who are questioning the length of the sentence. Was ten years enough for this crime? Will the former police officer serve the full ten years?

Race is also a lingering question that has risen in this court case. Race and justice in America don’t always seem to be compatible. Many of us know black men and women in jail who shouldn’t be there. The justice system in this country has wronged them. More times than we care to mention, people of color have spent years in prison locked up but innocent. Finally, some have been freed because of innocence projects across America.

Now, let’s say the tables were turned in this case. The innocent party was a white woman who was killed by a black police officer with the same scenario. What would have been the outcome? The history of police shootings and people of color has not been good. While we can’t say when it will happen, it will be interesting to see if this case is ever used in administering justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “One of the most agonizing problems within our human experience is that few, if any, of us live to see our fondest hopes fulfilled. The hopes of our childhood and the promises of our mature years are unfinished business.” Is justice one of them?

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator and can be reached at

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