Amy Guyger, the White former Texas officer who killed unarmed Botham Jean, a Black man in his home, was found guilty of murder last month. Race normally wouldn’t or shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to a tragedy, but with the inequalities in the U.S. criminal justice system it will most likely be a part of the conversation.
As an incarcerated Black man, what surprised me were a few events that took place that shocked most people and sparked many debates from those incarcerated and those on the outside. First, a police officer was held accountable for murdering a Black person, though numerous other officers were either not prosecuted or were acquitted. Second, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But what really drove some people crazy was when the brother of the victim hugged and forgave Guyger. Then another shocker, Judge Tammy Kemp, a Black woman, also gave Guyger a hug and a Bible, which sparked its own debate about the separation of church and state.
If that wasn’t enough, the prosecution’s star witness was murdered not too long after the trial was over.
Man, we got a lesson into the multifaceted nature of our criminal justice system: restorative justice, disproportionate sentencing and possible witness intimidation. But what amazed me the most was the debate, especially among those incarcerated, about the victim’s brother hugging and forgiving the offender (Guyger), which is an example of Restorative Justice.
I’m around people every day, be they men in blue or volunteers, who believe in Restorative Justice. Many people believe in and fight for prison reform. Should my views change because she was a police officer who “tripped the hell out,” as we say in the neighborhood, for breaking into someone else’s house and killing them?
I know many people who have done senseless things, including myself. Do I want forgiveness from the people I have harmed? Do you want forgiveness for your past or present indiscretions? I have had the chance to witness the healing power of victim/offender dialogue first- hand: check out prior issues of SQ News. We also have a Re:Store/Survivor column. But Guyger was a police officer, some argue. She should have known better. True.
If she were Black—not to mention if the roles were re- versed and it were a Black man who shot a White woman—do I think there would be the same treatment? History says most likely not. There are people serving life sentences for stealing a slice of pizza or drug possession. So Black people and people of color are disproportionally sentenced throughout the nation.
There is so much pain in the community when justice is not balanced. But when it comes to forgiveness, this doesn’t mean one forgets. Forgiveness is not just for the one who has offended, it can start the healing process for the victim/survivor or their families.
Constantly reliving that trauma can affect one’s quality of life. There are still people being denied 20 to 30 years later at the parole board because family members are still attending the hearings and seeking some form of justice.
So I have to commend the brother and the judge for breaking the status quo when it comes to the criminal justice system. Everyone has his or her own time to heal. It is not for me to judge someone else’s pain. But I am of the same opinion as Danielle Sered, author of Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration and a Road to Repair.
“We need these stories of extraordinary forgiveness and the complication they introduce. They are critical testaments to the human capacity for compassion. They, like the pained stories of hungry revenge, deserve their place in our public consciousness,” Sered wrote.
“But like those other stories, they are not fully representative of most survivors. Most of us lie in the vast space between complete hatred and full forgiveness,” Sered continued.
Racism and violence are, sadly, a part of the fabric of our society. I’m inside looking out and seeing that our nation is in desperate need of empathy and emotional intelligence— the main qualities that are required for someone to be found suitable at the parole board to go home.
Violence is violence and police violence is violence. As I finish up this editorial, another Texas officer shot and killed a Black woman who was inside her own home. I sit sad and confused. So what will be the new debate?