I WON’T CRITICIZE Brandt Jean for hugging the woman who murdered his brother.
Like Botham Jean, a black man shot to death last year by white former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, his younger brother is a man of deep faith. If forgiveness is where Brandt’s beliefs lead him, if it brings him some sliver of solace, I’ve got no beef with him. Long after those now mocking him have forgotten his brother’s name, this wounded young man and his family will still be grieving how Botham was violently ripped from their lives.
Where I take issue is how his unexpected gesture of grace is being used to overshadow the absurdly light sentence Guyger received — 10 years. She’ll be eligible for parole in five years.
Whatever you call this, don’t call it justice.
Instead, that viral courtroom video will be paraded as proof of Guyger’s weepy testimony that killing Botham Jean was “not about hate,” bolstering the “it’s not about race” crowd to scold and silence black resistance.
As a convicted murderer in Texas, Guyger faced up to 99 years. Prosecutors asked for 28 years — the age Botham would be if had Guyger hadn’t shot him dead for being a black man watching television and eating ice cream in his own apartment, which she illegally entered. Brandt’s example of forgiveness will be perverted into public absolution for Guyger — “Hey black people, if he can forgive her for murdering his brother, why can’t you get over it?”
I can’t because Botham was sentenced to death as soon as Guyger walked into his apartment. I won’t because Guyger could be 36 years old when she leaves prison and will be able to get on with the rest of her life — one that may still include sending racist memes and texts and joking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
But oh, America, you almost duped me.
I was so sure a white cop who killed a black man would walk, I tweeted my doubt, echoed by others: “Y’all know how this will end up, right?” I never expect America to be fair. So when the verdict was delivered, I was shocked. Here was the promise of some accountability. No, I wasn’t ready to call it justice — a verdict is not a sentence. But for the first time in a long time, justice felt close. It felt possible.
Guyger became the first Dallas police officer convicted of murder in more than 40 years. Benjamin Crump, one of the Jean family’s attorneys, called the jury’s decision “huge” and “historic.”
“This verdict is for Trayvon Martin. It’s for Michael Brown. It’s for Sandra Bland. It’s for Tamir Rice. It’s for Eric Garner. It’s for Antwon Rose. It’s for Jemel Roberson, for E.J. Bradford, for Stephon Clark, for Jeffrey Dennis, Genevieve Dawes, for Pamela Turner, for so many unarmed black and brown human beings all across America,” Crump said. “This verdict today is for them.”
Then, like a cold blast chilling me to my marrow, came Guyger’s meager sentence. That was for the rest of us.
Equally disturbing were the actions of Judge Tammy Kemp at the end of the sentencing phase. She left the bench to retrieve a Bible. When she returned, she hugged the Jean family, then walked over to Guyger at the defense table. Kemp spoke to her, then handed the Bible to Guyger and gave her a hug. Anyone who’d missed the trial might have mistaken Guyger for a victim instead of a convicted murderer.
Once again, justice is a mirage for black people. Yet that fact will be deliberately lost as a grieving young man hugging Guyger will become the defining image of this tragedy. We’ve seen this before. In a nation that would rather hide its foundational sins than address them, black forgiveness is again being fetishized into a national spectacle so that the horror of white violence can be assuaged.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.