Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison and also received hugs from Jean’s brother and the case’s judge.
Are Black Americans required to forgive their oppressors? Many asked this question on Wednesday after Botham Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, hugged Amber Guyger, the ex-Dallas cop who was found guilty of first-degree murder of Jean. In September 2018, Guyger broke into his apartment and shot him dead.
Jean’s brother made the gracious gesture at the court sentencing, where Guyger received 10 years in prison. “I forgive you. Go to God… I don’t even want you to go to jail because that’s what Botham would want,” the 18-year-old said. During a follow-up interview with ABCNews’ Good Morning America, Jean doubled-down on his comments, saying, “each and everyone has steps to get towards actually forgiving. I probably went through those faster than other people. …If you are trying to forgive her, understand that she is a human being.”
Jean’s other family members stated that they would forgive Gyuger despite the fact they took their loved one’s life for seemingly no reason. His father Bertrum Jean told CNN, “I wouldn’t want to see her rot in hell. I wouldn’t want to see her rot in prison.” But he also added that he thought the sentencing would be longer. Jean’s mother said she supports her son’s decision but isn’t as quick to state she forgives Guyger.
“I don’t want forgiveness to be mistaken with a total relinquishing of responsibility,” she told NBC News.
Tammy Kemp, a Black judge who presided over the case also hugged Guyger and handed her a Bible, which many saw as a peculiar move given that judges are supposed to display impartialness. If Guyger was Black would she be treated the same way?
The conversation about Jean’s hug and Kemp’s hug became a hot topic on social media, especially with Black Twitter. Black Americans historically have ties to Christianity as many were indoctrinated into the religion during slavery. This form of Christianity preaches a doctrine of forgiveness. But not all Black Christians see forgiveness the same way. The comments displayed on-line about this issue made this clear.
Activist Bree Newsome tweeted, “We actually have every moral right to be furious and burn everything to the ground– but we don’t,” she said. “Yet everybody wants to focus on whether Black people are showing responsibility, grace and forgiveness as white supremacy continues to kill us.”
We actually have every moral right to be furious and burn everything to the ground– but we don’t. Yet everybody wants to focus on whether Black people are showing responsibility, grace and forgiveness as white supremacy continues to kill us. pic.twitter.com/USATx2IApY— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) October 3, 2019
Former police officer Brandon Tatum, and co-founder of Blexit, a campaign launched with Candace Owens for Black people to leave the Democratic party, also chimed in. “I’m at a lost for words as to how people are coming out against Botham Jean’s brother for FORGIVING his brothers killer,” he tweeted.” “It’s his brother. His forgiveness. His relationship with God. The same fake Christian and naysayer should actually take some notes from that brave young man.”
Actress Reagan Gomez-Preston tweeted that she was concerned that this gesture would be taken as the new standard for how Black people should process death at the hands of the police state. “What’s sad? Even if u, a Black person, DOES forgive the murderer of ur loved 1 (espc if they’re white) ur forgiveness will be used to shame/silence other Black ppl who choose not to,” she wrote. “U can’t even be an individual in ur forgiveness. Ur forgiveness is the litmus test 4 all of us.
Writer and professor Jelani Cobb tweeted that he overheard two black cops discussing the judge’s decision to hug Guyger.
“Walked into the Jamaican spot yesterday and stood in line behind to (sic) black cops,” Cobb wrote. “One of them says “She shoulda got 20 years, 10 is too light.” Other says “You ever see a judge hug one of us after being convicted of murder?” I was *shocked* to hear NYPD, even black ones say that,” he continued.
Walked into the Jamaican spot yesterday and stood in line behind to black cops. One of them says “She shoulda got 20 years, 10 is too light.” Other says “You ever see a judge hug one of us after being convicted of murder?”
I was *shocked* to hear NYPD, even black ones say that.— jelani cobb (@jelani9) October 4, 2019
Jean’s case brings to mind another case in Brooklyn last October, in which a white woman, Teresa Klein, lied about a 9-year-old black boy, Jeremiah Harvey, groping her in a corner store. Jeremiah, however, did not feel as much empathy for Klein who did apologize. “I don’t forgive this woman, and she needs help,” he told WABC.
There is some truth to everything said during this heated debate. Everyone indeed has the right to forgive when they want and how they see fit. Black people don’t have to forgive for the atrocities done to them especially since we have not seen many apologizes for those acts. And it is true that white people are afforded forgiveness more than black people and that if Jean was white, it’s hard to imagine his family forgiving the cop who killed him.
The most unsettling part about all of this is that Botham Jean is not here to tell his story. He is not here to say how he sees forgiveness and whether this is something he would want. Forgiveness or not, Jean cannot be brought back to life and the Dallas police and other forces around the country have to continue reforming the way it goes about training and hiring officers so that other tragedies like Jean’s death, do not happen again.