by Reggie Fullwood
First, let me give my disclaimer. My goal in writing this commentary is to be as objective as possible because I think that both sides of this debate have very valid points. The issue is essentially a matter of perspective.
For those who have been in a cave in Aruba for the past few weeks, I am talking about the case of Amber Guyger, the white former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black neighbor in his own apartment and was found guilty, but only sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The former white police officer said that she thought that she was entering her own apartment when she shot Botham Jean, a 26-year-old St. Lucia native, church singer and accountant who was simply sitting on his sofa eating ice cream. And that’s why so many people are confused about the murder – how do you walk into another person’s home and not realize that the furniture and décor is not yours?
During the sentencing portion of the trial the 18-year-old brother of the victim, Brandt Jean, said to Guyger, “I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.” He then shocked many of us and asked if he could hug his brother’s killer. And later on during the same hearing, the African American female judge also hugged Guyger and prayed with her. Wow!
For many African Americans, this trial really spotlighted issues of racial injustice and police accountability. Most would agree that if a Black man had shot and killed an unarmed white man in his own apartment the courts would have thrown the book at the brother.
It’s important to note that Guyger, who is 31, could have faced up to 99 years in prison, but only received 10 years. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence no less than 28 years — the age Jean would be if he were still alive. If you take the “Black lives matter” angle – giving a person 10 years for the cold blooded murder of an unarmed Black man in his own apartment seems like the undervaluing of an African American life.
To make matters worse, it was revealed in the trial that Guyger mocked her black colleagues and joked about the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Guyger said her actions toward Botham Jean had nothing to do with race, and she testified to her remorse and said the shooting was “about being scared” rather than “about hate.”
After the sentence was handed out by the jury, Jean family lawyer, Lee Merritt said the sentence was indicative of a broken system, one in which institutional racism is the rule and people of color are treated unjustly.
Minorities around the country are up in arms about the light sentence, and also the fact that the judge and family members showed so much compassion and forgiveness for the offender. Some have said that this is a great example of “Restorative Justice,” which in the process that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
The Jean family’s forgiveness is deeply rooted in their religious convictions. Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) praised Brandt Jean for a demonstration of “Christian love.” Even the Dallas Police Department tweeted about the Jean family saying, “A spirit of forgiveness, faith and trust.”
Let’s keep it real. Blacks have historically been a forgiving race of people. African Americans have leaned on faith and forgiven time after time after countless major atrocities like the Charleston church mass murder and decades of inequality and institutional racism.
If you take the “What would Jesus Do” approach then it makes perfect sense that the Jean family would pardon the offender and show no ill feelings. The Christian thing to do would be to absolve Guyger for her transgressions and pray that God heals and forgives her.
It’s a hard notion to fathom when you consider the trials and tribulations that Blacks have experienced in America, but another way to look at it is if African Americans didn’t forgive then the bitterness and hatred would be more devastating to progress and healing.
Whether you agree with the compassion displayed for Guyger or not, it’s clear that race relations continue to be substantial problem in America, and real conversations and honest dialogue is needed to heal the wounds of racism, hate and inequality.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” said Dr. Martin Luther King.