Why fear that the slain Botham Jean case witness was targeted makes sense

OPINION: The moment news hit that Joshua Brown, whose testimony helped get Amber Guyger convicted, was killed many were afraid it was in retaliation. But there are reasons for those fears

Victim Botham Jean’s neighbor Joshua Brown, left, answers questions from Assistant District Attorney LaQuita Long, right, while pointing to a map of the South Side Flats where he lives, while testifying during the murder trial of former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger, in Dallas. Authorities say that Brown was killed in a shooting Friday, Oct. 4. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Friday evening Joshua Brown, a key witness in ex-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger‘s murder conviction was slain outside his apartment complex, about five miles away from where Botham Jean was shot to death a year ago. Now several activists and community leaders are calling it foul play and demanding an investigation.

“I just spoke with Joshua Browns mother. She is devastated. We all are,” civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt tweeted on Saturday night, confirming that Brown, who used to live in the same apartment complex as Guyger and Jean, had been shot several times by an unknown assailant.

While investigators are being cautious and have yet to announce whether they suspect Brown’s death was connected to his participation in Guyger’s murder trial, many thought leaders and elected officials don’t believe it’s merely a coincidence that he was murdered only two days after a jury handed Guyger her sentence.

Perhaps most notable (for several reasons) amongst those voices is controversial civil rights advocate Shaun King, who on Sunday morning informed his followers that poker player and film producer, Bill Perkins, was offering a financial reward to anyone who could shed light on who killed the 28-year-old.

READ MORE: Activist DeRay McKesson questions Shaun King’s integrity

“My friend and brother Bill Perkins is providing $100,000 for the reward to help us find who murdered Joshua Brown. Joshua was executed,” tweeted King. “He was a lead witness in the murder of Botham Jean & was shot & killed right there in the same apartment complex.”

Cori Bush, who is a candidate for Congress in Missouri, retweeted King’s post with the caption, “Joshua should be alive right now.”

“We won’t stop until we find who murdered Joshua and why,” King followed in another tweet. “It was an execution. They didn’t even steal anything from him.”

We’ve seen this before

Objectively speaking we know some people, particularly those not from marginalized groups, will scoff at the knee jerk reaction to call what happened to Brown an execution. Objectively speaking it is perhaps not wise to jump to any conclusions until a thorough investigation of the shooting is done.

But it would be intellectually dishonest not to admit that many of the people suspicious about his death, feel that way due to several other suspicious deaths that have occurred in the recent past following high profile, racially charged cases.

For instance let’s look at Ferguson and the string of activists who have also mysteriously died in the last few years.

DeAndre Joshua was found in his car with two gunshot wounds to the head the night of the Ferguson verdict in 2014. Two years later, Darren Seals was also found dead with two gunshot wounds to the head in his car. In both of those instances, the cars were set on fire, which is often done to destroy evidence.

Then in 2017, Edward Crawford — the activist featured in that iconic Ferguson protest photo showing him catching an active tear gas canister thrown by police and hurling the explosive back at them — was similarly found shot to death in his car.

READ MORE: Disturbing number of Black men connected to Ferguson protests found dead

Maybe I watch too much “Law & Order” but three Ferguson activists who embarrassed local officials on a national stage, being murdered in the exact same way sounds like an M.O.

However, instead of stating the obvious, police instead announced they believe Crawford shot himself in the back seat of his car either in a suicide or perhaps by accident. But murder? Nah.

Suicide was the same outlandish cause of death cited in October 2018, when Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies found her son Danye Jones in her backyard hanging from a tree.

“Every few months an activist from Ferguson losses their life or loved one,” wrote one supporter, echoing the sentiments of many. Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal has also tweeted she too believes a murderer is targeting activists in Ferguson on Twitter.

So now what?

Unfortunately, Ferguson has taught many of us that Black people suspiciously dying after stepping up to do their civic duty, isn’t the sort of thing law enforcement seems to pursue with any sort of urgency. Which is why it’s perhaps understandable why Perkins has decided to take it upon himself to give people a financial incentive to speak up and see that justice is done.

“Every murder is sad,” he explained in his own social media message. “The particulars around this specific set of circumstances make it important that everyone learn why this happened irrespective of the outcome. Either way a killer needs to be caught & I wish in every case these resources could be brought to bear for justice.”

But while it’s great that Perkins has stepped up in this way, the truth is we shouldn’t have to have private citizens cutting six figure checks to get the public to do work that taxpayers are already paying the police to do. What exactly does it say about our justice system that rewards like these are even needed?

And also, is anyone looking out for Bunny?

For those who haven’t heard, Ronnie Babbs, the lone eyewitness who filmed the shocking moments surrounding Jean’s death on her cell phone, goes by the name Bunny. Babbs actually recorded Guyger after hearing the fatal shots followed by Jean reportedly asking Guyger, “Why did you shoot me?”

READ MORE: Diversity of jury seen as key factor in officer’s conviction

As a result of her actions she’s received death threats and even been fired from her job at a pharmaceutical company because people began contacting her job to accuse her of being a radical, anti-police, Black extremist.

“I was brave enough to come forward with information that has helped the DA charge a police officer who murdered an innocent Black man in his own home when nobody else would,” Babbs wrote in her appeal for money on GoFundMe.com. “I was hesitant as I knew the consequences could affect me greatly. I put my own life at risk and decided to help.”

So what will officials say if God forbid something else happens to this woman? I can’t even imagine the terror she’s felt in the last few days since Brown’s murder and how the psychological trauma of being pulled into this case has recked havoc on her life.

In the midst of all that, so many people seem more concerned with giving a convicted killer hugs and gifts of forgiveness than protecting the Black people who put their lives on the line under the guise of justice.

If Dallas police doesn’t step up this investigation, I fear that Amber Guyger won’t be the only person with blood on her hands.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric