Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Thursday, October 11, 2018

OPINION: Marijuana Found in Murder Victim's Apartment is Irrelevant

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 9.17.34 AMThe tragic murder of Botham Jean in Dallas, Texas attracted media attention from all over the nation. However, according to theroot.com, Texas’s own Fox4 news station focused its coverage of the murder on the marijuana that was found in the victim’s apartment after the fact. The article reports that Fox4 tweeted the "clickbait" above when the station shared its article on Twitter:

Fox4’s coverage reflects a misguided and inappropriate selection of newsworthy material.  It reflects a common technique used by the media to portray black victims of tragic incidents as being flawed, or as somehow deserving the tragedy that occurred. Here, marijuana is used as an attempt to smear the image of the victim.

As an opinion piece in the Observer points out, this is not uncommon: “In the aftermath of many shootings involving black men, reactions have fallen along partisan lines. When Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile were killed, conservative media painted them as criminal and ‘thugs.’” In the light of the tragic events that occurred, it is disappointing that the station found that a small amount of marijuana in a murder victim’s apartment want “breaking news.”

What we know about what  happened on the tragic evening of September 6th can be summarized from a report from Vox:

Botham Shem Jean, a black man, was in his own apartment in Dallas [on September 6] when Amber Guyger, his downstairs neighbor and an off-duty police officer, shot him inside his own apartment.

. . .

Jean was not accused or suspected of any crime. Guyger, a four-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, says the shooting was an accident — the tragic culmination of a series of missed warning signs that revolve around a mistaken belief that she was in her own apartment.

According to Guyger's account, when she arrived home to the South Side Flats apartments on September 6, she didn’t realize she had gotten out on the wrong floor of her building and that the apartment she was in was not, in fact, hers. Seeing a “large silhouette” in the dark apartment, she said she thought she was being burglarized. So she shot, hitting Jean in the chest. When she turned on the lights in the apartment, she realized her mistake.

However, there are varying accounts of the stories, as “Witness accounts, however, contradict that narrative: Neighbors say they heard Guyger knocking on Jean’s door and demanding to be let in before the shooting.” 

Amid the swirl of questions, I find it extremely problematic that Fox4 news chose to focus its attention on the small amount of marijuana in Jean’s apartment. Instead of using its investigatory resources on the flurry of issues in this case, the news station chose to post an article that focused primarily on the discovery of illicit drugs. As if that is relevant at all to the tragedy that occurred in the apartment, as if marijuana makes Jean a “criminal,” and as if his “criminality” lends credence to Guyger’s account of events. It doesn’t.

As The Observer noted, many outraged Tweeters voiced their disappointment, so much so that the station changed its headline “to reflect that Jean’s family attorneys were outraged the marijuana search warrant became public. The offending tweet is still up, however.” 

To be fair, it could be said that the news station was just sharing publicly available information regarding a development in an ongoing murder investigation. That’s the job of a news station, right? While news stations have the duty to share information with the public, Fox4’s clickbait line goes too far. This was not simply sharing information with the public, it was sharing the information in a way that attempted to change the public perception of the victim. Taglines such as the one used by Fox4 distract us from the uncomfortable, but sad truth: an unarmed, black man was murdered in his own apartment by a police officer who perceived him as a threat. Did subsequently finding marijuana make him suddenly more threatening?

--Ashleigh Morgan Williams 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/cannabis_law/2018/10/williams-opinion-marijuana-found-in-murder-victims-apartment-is-irrelevant.html

Law Enforcement, Legal Ethics, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink

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