Thoughts on Amber Guyger’s Conviction
Anyone who saw the news last week knows by now that Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who fatally shot Botham Jean in his own apartment in 2018, was recently finally convicted for his murder. A day after her conviction, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her crime. As expected, the short sentence sparked grief, frustration, and outcry from the Black community. Many lamented over the disparity in sentencing between Black and white offenders, a conversation that was sure to come up and understandably so. However, in the eyes of many, even more astonishing than the sentence itself, were the events caught on tape in the courtroom during Guyger’s sentencing proceedings.
First, people took issue with an interaction between Guyger and her victim’s brother. As is common practice with many American murder cases, the family of the victim was permitted to read statements to the courtroom prior to the defendant’s sentencing. In his statement, Brandt Jean expressed that he chose to forgive Guyger for her actions which led to the death of his brother. At the conclusion of his speech, he asked if he could hug her. The judge permitted him to do so, and it was all caught on camera. Social media was instantly ablaze with posts, comments, and think-pieces condemning Brandt for his choice to forgive. He was called everything from docile to stupid, and from crazy to “Uncle Tom.” I personally witnessed people on my friends lists sharing posts with the sentiment that “If anything ever happens to me, my family better not forgive; they better go off.”
Here’s the thing: I understand the public’s confusion about the hug. I have never seen a murder victim’s loved one be permitted to make physical contact with their loved one’s murderer. There is so much room for things to go wrong in a moment like that, and even when the gesture seems pure, I assume that standard protocol would agree that it’s not worth the risk. So yes, I was just as confused as everyone else with that part. My stance on the matter of Brandt Jean’s forgiveness, however, seemed completely different from that expressed by the masses.
I will be perfectly honest. If someone harmed one of my brothers, I would be in pieces. I would weep. I would be in tremendous physical and emotional pain. I can’t imagine having one of them taken from me or being forced to go on living with a void that could never be filled. And although I am a Christian, I don’t know how quickly I would be able to utter the words “I forgive.” I have even less confidence in my ability to be civil if given an opportunity to be in close physical proximity to the person responsible; a hug would truly be the last thing on my mind. It’s not right, but it’s the truth about where I am in my journey; there are many situations in which I am able to take the high road, but hurting my loved ones is not one of them. Even so, I still acknowledge that regardless of what I might have done in the situation, I have no right to dictate how Botham Jean’s family handles their grief of his loss.
Given my stance, I was genuinely confused by the number of people speaking badly about the young man who chose to forgive. I was also baffled by the number of so-called Christians speaking down on him for it. As I said in a recent Instagram story about the Guyger case, those of us who are Believers are charged to act and speak in the image of God. It is not always easy, and most of us mess it up regularly, but we are still required by the Word to keep trying and striving to do better. In the same way that God extends forgiveness to us—even when we don’t deserve it—we are required to extend it to others. These are the guiding principles of Grace and Mercy and the principles that I believe drove Brandt Jean to forgive Amber Guyger.
I respected and commended Brandt’s choice. Regardless of whether we agree or not, none of us has the right to tell others how to heal. Also, please be reminded that forgiveness is often more about the forgiver and less about the forgiven; it is a measure taken to help the pained to move past the unthinkable. Brandt Jean, and anyone else wronged by someone, has a right to do that. I pray that I never reach a level of cynicism in which I call for others to refrain from exercising forgiveness.
My Issue with the Guyger Sentencing:
While others argued about Brandt Jean’s hug and its implications, I spent my time strongly disapproving the actions of the court staff, including presiding Judge Tammy Kemp who hugged Guyger after the proceedings and a bailiff who appeared to fluff the defendant’s hair.
Note: Judge Kemp has since explained that the bailiff was in charge of watching Guyger during the court’s lunch break, and was actually searching her for contraband prior to delivering her back to the Sheriff’s office.
Initially, I saw these things and felt enraged.
Although she was on trial for killing an innocent man who was minding his business in his own residence, it seemed as though somehow, Amber Guyger had become characterized as a victim in this story.
There is no murder trial in history in which I can recall so much compassion being extended to an accused, and later convicted, murderer. There is no case in which I have seen a judge, a sworn impartial interpreter of the law, extend physical affection toward a convicted felon on the stand. Despite Judge Kemp’s recent attempt to clear up supposed misconceptions about her conduct on the Tamron Hall Show, I still feel that she acted inappropriately.
I explained my reasons well in a conversation with a high school classmate who is now employed as a public servant. In an Instagram story, he’d expressed his opinion that people were overreacting to the perceived love-fest in the courtroom, and were just fishing for something to be mad at. His thoughts were accompanied by an image of Brandt Jean speaking on the stand and then hugging Guyger. I started by responding to what I thought he was saying about that image, which sparked the following exchange covering the judge and everything else that went wrong with that sentencing.
Me: *Sees the post and responds* Right?! I’m so not here for the slander against him for choosing to forgive her. That’s his choice and we can’t tell people how to grieve.
Him: Exactly. People get so bent out of shape over stuff sometimes. Like putting her away for life was going to bring the guy back. Why must two lives be ruined? Clearly she made a terrible mistake, but it doesn’t make sense for a woman who has been serving her community for years would just all of a sudden decide she wanted to kill a random black dude. They say she should’ve gotten more time, but I say she got the right sentence. If a black guy did the same crime, yeah he probably would’ve gotten more time and then you can protest about that because that would’ve been the wrong sentence. People are so quick to scream racism or white privilege without actually looking at the situation or thinking rationally. Blacks are viewed as hostile because many of us don’t know how to act civilized.
Me: Respectfully, I disagree with most of what you said.
Racism and white privilege were most definitely at play in how Amber Guyger’s trial and sentence played out.
Regardless of her years on the force:
She walked into a home that was not her’s and murdered an innocent man who was in his own house minding his own business.
She did not attempt to perform CPR or use any of the skills she possessed as a trained officer to try to save his life.
She has been coddled and victimized during her trial and sentencing in ways I have never seen (referencing the hug from the judge, recess during her testimony of the killing so she could gather herself, and the bailiff’s effort to fix her hair during sentencing), and in ways that no Black or brown suspect has or will ever be given such courtesy.
In my original message, I was speaking specifically on the brother to the victim of her crime. While others raise hell, I’m not mad…He has a right to [forgive her] and I hope that it helps him heal. However, if the tables were turned, no Black man (or woman) could have killed a white female cop in her home and been shown the level of civility which has been extended to Amber. He would have been sentenced to the maximum extent of the law, and thrown under the jail without hesitation. And even though her sentence is shorter than it needs to be (and much shorter in comparison to those Black and brown people who have served far longer time for doing far less), 10 years is still much more time that I ever expected them to give a cop with white female privilege on her side.
I respect your opinion, but we can agree to disagree on that part.
Him: So you don’t think that this will help Blacks at the negotiating table when bargaining for their sentences?
Me: No, I don’t. In the over-arching scheme of the justice system, which is known to unequally target and take advantage of poor, Black, and brown communities…I don’t believe that Amber Guyger’s sentence will mean much.
If I commit a crime tomorrow, I will not likely be shown kindness by those prosecuting or judging me. I will not be made a victim in any form of the word, and once they Google me to see that I’m an outspoken woman, on top of being a Black woman, there will be little to no sympathy for me or my previously non-existent criminal history.
I will be held fully responsible for the trouble I’m in. They won’t care and I’ll go to jail for as long as they want to send me. If I mention Amber Guyger’s sentencing, they will disregard or laugh in my face. It doesn’t matter that I serve my community, have a degree, have a career, and a clean record. My outcome will be very different from hers.
Him: Okay so I assume you would’ve given her a life sentence for murder. If that is incorrect then adjust the time for this question. If the tables were turned, and a POC was the shooter of a Caucasian individual, would you say that they deserve the same sentence as the life sentence you gave to Amber?
Me: If not a life sentence, then at least 20 years. And yes, if the roles were reversed I would sentence a Black person to the same thing.
My goal is not to abuse people equally in the system; my goal is to apply the law equally to all.
The road to Amber Guyger’s conviction was a circus from beginning to end that perpetuated tropes of white female fragility. A white woman stepped into a Black man’s apartment, killed him, prioritized texting her married boyfriend that she “f***ed up” over attempting to save her victim’s life, continued sexting him days later as if nothing had happened, then cried on the stand in court, and America sympathized…just like it always does. Another innocent, unarmed Black life was lost for no reason. Another name was added to the long list of souls taken by others’ prejudice, irresponsibility, and negligence. But she cried, so people softened. In the end, a guilty white woman’s tears pulled American heartstrings more than any of those cried by the countless families forever changed by police violence; they reacted to her tears and the compassion in the courtroom way more audibly than they had ever reacted to the crime itself. And that is how Amber Guyger was made the victim of the trial in which she was convicted for murder.
America, do better. Rest in Power, Botham Jean.