“Black people are never afforded the same kind of empathy...”
October 9, 2019 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Amber Guyger was hugged by her victim’s brother and a judge, igniting a debate about forgiveness and race [The Washington Post] “The first hug was stunning enough — a young man embracing his brother’s killer for nearly a minute in the middle of the courtroom, just after telling the woman: “I forgive you.” “I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you,” 18-year-old Brandt Jean assured Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer convicted Tuesday for shooting Botham Jean as he ate ice cream in his own home. Guyger said she aimed to kill out of fear after entering the wrong apartment by mistake; jurors said it was murder. Then came another unlikely embrace — from the judge in the case that sparked renewed protests Wednesday as Guyger received a 10-year-sentence that some called a “slap in the face.” With the emotional trial wrapped up, Judge Tammy Kemp walked over in her black robe to give Guyger a Bible. Then, she wrapped her arms around Guyger and murmured to her. Together, they prayed. The two extraordinary moments would polarize, just like the case that led up to them, raising fresh questions about race in a white officer’s fatal shooting of a black man.”

• Why a Judge Says She Gave Amber Guyger a Bible, a Hug and Hope of Redemption [The New York Times]
“Judge Tammy Kemp is a woman of faith. For more than 25 years, she has attended the same church in Dallas, where she serves as a deaconess. She keeps a Bible in her chambers, positioned on top of her laptop to remind herself to start her day with prayer. And she believes in redemption: In her courtroom, she encourages defendants to use their time in prison to remake their lives. So when one of those defendants — a former police officer convicted of murdering her unarmed neighbor — asked the judge for advice and a hug last week, the judge’s thoughts turned to a sermon she had heard in church the previous Sunday. The Parable of the Lost Sheep tells the story of a shepherd who still has 99 sheep in his flock, but looks for the one sheep that is lost. “Our pastor had said: ‘If we’re going to attract the one, we’ve got to show love and compassion.’ And then I also thought, God says my job is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly,” Judge Kemp said. “So how can you refuse this woman a hug?””
• Botham Jean, Amber Guyger and the Delusion of Forgiveness [The Root]
“The presentation of Jean’s act of forgiveness and the ensuing reaction was immediately reminiscent of when the survivors of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., publicly forgave Dylann Roof. Then, as now, many correctly pointed out the complications with glorifying that act of forgiveness: That it shouldn’t invalidate the value and necessity of black rage. That it shouldn’t be taken as representative of what an entire race of people feels or ought to feel. That their act of forgiveness did not then and does not now absolve the country from dealing with white supremacy or systemic racism. “What white people are really asking for when they demand forgiveness from a traumatized community is absolution. They want absolution from the racism that infects us all even though forgiveness cannot reconcile America’s racist sins. They want absolution from their silence in the face of all manner of racism, great and small,” Roxane Gay wrote in the New York Times. “I, for one, am done forgiving.””
• Amber Guyger deserves to go to jail. Black people shouldn't have to feel sorry for her [The Guardian]
“But what cannot be ignored is the way whiteness often operates in a moment like this, effectively dismissing the victim, and centering the white person’s experience of the incident. These moments are continually usurped as avenues for white redemption, with black victims being asked to “make nice” with the perpetrators of their trauma. It’s like the boy on the playground who you had to apologize to, because all of a sudden he’s upset that he got in trouble for hitting you. And what’s worse? Black people are never afforded the same kind of empathy within the US criminal justice system. Ever. It’s something we have long bemoaned, especially as more and more of these incidents unfold in public view. Writer Jemelle Hill tackled the topic in a 2018 op-ed in the Atlantic titled Sometimes I Wish the Obamas Wouldn’t Go High. Hill, speaking about Michelle Obama’s mantra “When they go low, we go high”, wrote: “I sometimes wonder if the people who often cite that quote have a full understanding of the emotional toll it takes on people of color to have to constantly absolve the racism directed at them.””
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

Not to mention that one prominent black witness to this crime has since been shot, and another one (also black) fired from her job.
posted by emjaybee at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2019 [31 favorites]

The bigger story here is the killing of Joshua Brown, who had testified against Guyger, and the ridiculous cover up the Dallas PD is pulling. When they're trying to claim that Brown was a drug dealer (something that never came up at trial) killed over an interstate weed deal gone bad - that's a line that would get laughed out of a Hollywood writer's room.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:44 PM on October 9, 2019 [55 favorites]

It's worth reiterating, the onus almost always falls on black/brown people to forgive, to forget, to carry that emotional labour. All the microaggressions, all of those heavy sighs.
posted by Fizz at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2019 [56 favorites]

“So how can you refuse this woman a hug?”

Because she's a convicted murderer in the courtroom you preside over. You are not representing yourself or your faith at that point. You are representing the People of the State of Texas.

The brother obviously should be able to do whatever he needs to do to get through his life with his brother stolen from him, but I hate the fetishizing of it.
posted by praemunire at 12:49 PM on October 9, 2019 [96 favorites]

I wish there were more room for grace and forgiveness in the midst of these awful and fraught situations, not less of it.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:56 PM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

[Quick note: as always with this kind of thing, please keep in mind this isn't just about the one incident and whether this one lady deserves whatever. It's about the bigger picture and the specific phenomenon of forgiveness toward whites being expected from black people in a racist society. So please let's not get bogged into the details of this one case or the individual acts of forgiveness here, or get going on forgiveness in general ignoring the central racial context.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2019 [18 favorites]

For all the focus on forgiving Amber Guyger, the amazing part is that she was convicted to begin with. Two steps forward, one step back?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 1:15 PM on October 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

"The presentation of Jean’s act of forgiveness and the ensuing reaction was immediately reminiscent of when the survivors of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., publicly forgave Dylann Roof."

It's important to remember that both Brandt and the Emanuel AME church did not offer forgiveness on behalf of all POC or offer forgiveness to America for being a white supremacist country: they each extended forgiveness to a murderer as a part of their Christian witness.

All followers of Christ are required to extend personal forgiveness to those who do us wrong. Our salvation literally depends upon it (Matt. 6:14-15).
posted by gorgeous_sorel at 1:31 PM on October 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

For all the focus on forgiving Amber Guyger, the amazing part is that she was convicted to begin with. Two steps forward, one step back?

If she appeals, the prosecution has lost a major witness and others may refuse to cooperate this time.
posted by maxsparber at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2019 [16 favorites]

The murder of Joshua Brown linked above, and all of the Ferguson activists underscores the ruthlessness and unaccountability of the blue mafia, and cements in my mind at least, that many police departments continue to be white supremacist organizations despite attempts to jettison that foundational aspect of their past.
posted by nikoniko at 1:37 PM on October 9, 2019 [32 favorites]

If she appeals, the prosecution has lost a major witness

She would have to appeal and win for there to be a question of hearing witnesses again, and the dead witness's testimony would be still be admissible at a new trial, unless Texas law is very unusual about unavailable witnesses.

I mean, when you're playing defense, every little scrap counts, and testimony read in doesn't have the same impact on juries as a live witness, but it doesn't quite work that way.
posted by praemunire at 1:39 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

The murder of Joshua Brown really shook me. I can't stop thinking about it. That Dallas cops or their allies can just gun down a testifying witness like this and then make up a story that isn't even believable to cover it, as if they don't need to bother with something plausible... cops can murder with impunity but to murder (or commission the murder) of a cooperating witness in a police trial? It's too much
posted by jcruelty at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2019 [25 favorites]

And it feels like they will get away with it. And the story will be forgotten. I won't forget.
posted by jcruelty at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Props to Brandt Jean for living his values.

Fuck anyone who points at this to suggest that people are entitled to forgiveness from their victims.
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:23 PM on October 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

The day the video of Brandt Jean hugging his brother's murderer was released online, my social media timelines were flooded with praise and admiration for Brandt Jean's noble forgiveness of his brother's murderer, as well as for Canadian NDP party leader Jagmeet Singh's gracious response to a racist comment from a Canadian voter (as documented by another video that was circulating that day). I do agree that Singh and Jean are fine and inspiring people who deserve acclaim for their behaviour.

But my prevailing feeling when I think about their situations is one of horror that they are being put in the position of having to deal with such appalling racism and violence in the first place. I don't know how anyone could look at these videos and feel only a sense of gratification, as though the answer to and solution for such widespread, ingrained bigotry begins and ends with the victim taking the high road in response. Singh and Jean can forgive and be gracious or not just as they please, but the problem here isn't their reaction to racism; it is the racism itself.

We ask too much of the victims of racism and the other systemic ills of our society, and not enough of ourselves as a whole when it comes to actually addressing the problems that are making life so difficult for so many. Those who face routine abuse should not be left to struggle with it on their own, and their reactions to bigotry should not be tone policed.
posted by orange swan at 2:27 PM on October 9, 2019 [42 favorites]

All followers of Christ are required to extend personal forgiveness to those who do us wrong.

that's nice for you but it should never, ever become the expected norm for human society. nor should any other religious dictate.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:53 PM on October 9, 2019 [48 favorites]

I will always assume that the people making any such expression of forgiveness do so because they know they'll get it even worse if white society gets even a hint of their righteous anger. They'll take it with a smile because what else is their alternative?

I remember during a past UK election the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with a voter who was expressing an anti-immigration viewpoint and when he got into his car he made a comment about her being bigoted while his mic was still live. The media had a field day with it and he had to apologize to her. (for what, using bigot when xenophobe was more accurate?)
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:11 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Guyger's conviction makes the interpersonal forgiveness that can be helpful for everyone significantly easier. There are reasonable arguments for a longer sentence (certainly people guilty of much less have been handed longer sentences) but there aren't any arguments that a decade in prison isn't a weighty punishment. Nobody wants to lose 10 years of their life in a cell. No one is required to forgive her because of that, but the retributive sense can be a burden, maybe one that can be released onto the sentence itself.

The killing of the witness, otoh.... that's some gangster shit right there, and as such the safest assumption right now is that the entire damn PD should be treated as a host for a dangerous and lawless gang.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:33 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the Jean family needed to forgive Guyger as part of their religious practice or as part of their healing process, it's not my place to say they were wrong to do that. But I'm not religious, so personally I don't think all people deserve forgiveness. I think being sorry about the transgression is part of deserving forgiveness, but not all of it. I don't think Amber Guyger has done enough to deserve forgiveness at this point. In my experience, it can oftentimes be a good thing (for yourself) to forgive others who have wronged you when they are remorseful and when they have put in effort to show you how they've changed, how they've done things to avoid the same thing happening again. Guyger is a murderer who (imo) lied about details of the murder she committed in order to try and avoid going to jail, and who has a bunch of unexamined racism and anger issues. I don't think she's done enough to deserve forgiveness.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:36 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thanks to the fact that the soundtrack to The Harder They Come was one of the five or six audiocassettes that my dad would play incessantly on long car trips, I'll always see forgiveness not as a kindness or favor you reward your enemies with for seeing the error of their ways, but as a necessary practice for consolidating one's own spiritual power.

If your forgiveness is transactional, keep it! The other person sure as heck doesn't need it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:51 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bree Newsome Bass has been discussing this a lot recently.
I'm not moved by the white establishment making a genre of Black people hugging white people who have been violent against us. If there were genuine belief in agape love, racial oppression wouldn't exist & you wouldn't send police with snipers when we protest it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:09 PM on October 9, 2019 [29 favorites]

Mr. Jean can do whatever he feels compelled to do.

No judge should be hugging people in their courtroom, unless maybe it's a closed juvenile court and the juvenile has just done something huggable. Even then, I think no.

Personally, I have never understood this sort of--it feels like it's performative forgiveness. Or performative Christianity. I don't like it.
posted by RedEmma at 4:20 PM on October 9, 2019 [31 favorites]

performative forgiveness. Or performative Christianity.

Performative wokeness.
posted by Fizz at 4:29 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

A judge should be impartial. No effin way should a judge give any sort of favors to a defendant or anyone else in a trial in a courtroom or not. End of story: the judge was wrong. I'm still pissed about it. Why aren't more people understanding that a judge did something inadmissible?!

And I think it's okay for the family of the murdered victim to have a say; even if I don't agree with their forgiveness.
posted by mightshould at 4:47 PM on October 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yeah the brother has 100% every right to offer forgiveness.

The judge may or may not think there is or is not an injustice. Regardless of how the judge thinks, they should not be offering condolences to the perpetrator (regardless of innocence).

If a judge wants to be soft and kind from the bench that is their right (in my sisters death by a drunk driver, I even asked the judge to not be too harsh - FROM THE BENCH), but crossing that personal line is wrong.

Crossing the State-Religion line is even wronger.

The judge needs to be prosecuted. Oh how conveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenient, we have a right-wing supreme court now, isn't that sweet. Now we can have Kavanagh's ilk ruling that judges handing out Bibles somehow don't violate the Establishment Clause and now we're all fucked.
posted by symbioid at 4:55 PM on October 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

No judge should be hugging people in their courtroom, unless maybe it's a closed juvenile court and the juvenile has just done something huggable. Even then, I think no.

Repeated for should-be-obvious-to-anybody-with-a-pulse-let-alone-anybody-with-the-education-and-experience-to-become-a-golmogging-JUDGE-dammit.

I mean, okay, a lighter sentence than normal if you sincerely believe the defendant is truly remorseful, is not otherwise a danger to society, and is almost certainly unlikely to reoffend? I can't say I have a big problem with that. A couple carefully-chosen encouraging words worked into your remarks? Okay. But a hug? Seriously? Completely unprofessional and sends a terrible message to the public.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:07 PM on October 9, 2019 [17 favorites]

For all the focus on forgiving Amber Guyger, the amazing part is that she was convicted to begin with. Two steps forward, one step back?

Two steps forward: convicted of murder.
One step back: sentenced to 10 years in prison, on the low end of murder sentences in Texas.
But the possible sentence was a zany spectrum of five to 99 years.

I mean, okay, a lighter sentence than normal if you sincerely believe the defendant is truly remorseful, is not otherwise a danger to society, and is almost certainly unlikely to reoffend?

The jury issued the sentence.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:22 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Trevor Noah did a good segment on The Daily Show (can't link because I'm in Canada).
posted by obliquity of the ecliptic at 5:50 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

So glad this verdict happened. So sad that black people are facing further complications and bullshit expectations even if their side of the situation is being handled with aplomb. Hope the lady spends as long as possible behind bars and all appeals are as fruitless as attempts to raise the victem from his grave would be because we [should be able to] trust the professionals in positions of power to help, not harm and this case was so blatantly into the latter that I remain astonished that anyone could see it as anything but gross, gross misconduct at best and murder by cop at worst.

God help us that this, all this, is the best we can do as a society at this point. It's sad.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:04 PM on October 9, 2019

Tonight, the first meeting of a citizen oversight board did not go well in Dallas when activists showed up to be told no public comment was on the agenda.
posted by emjaybee at 6:33 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

The witness who testified was executed in cold blood, so that’s two black men she’s killed. Perhaps these pubic displays of “forgiveness” are just acts of self-preservation.
posted by moorooka at 10:25 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Regarding the witness who was killed and an appeal.

I am not a lawyer, but I like the law and I try to understand it; this is not legal advice, and if I'm wrong hopefully a lawyer will weigh in.

As this was a jury trial, I believe that in Texas an appeals court can't consider questions of fact if they take the appeal, so the death of the witness shouldn't change anything on appeal. The defense could instead petition for a new trial instead of appealing, or they could appeal and the appeals court could order a new trial, but there would have to be a question of law in either case.
posted by gryftir at 12:25 AM on October 10, 2019

Perform it until you norm it.
posted by hypnogogue at 6:15 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the flip side of this, the (white) Florida man who shot a Black man in an argument over a handicapped parking space has been sentenced to 20 years, and didn't get any grace from the victim's family:
On Thursday, McGlockton's family addressed Drejka.

"I know in the Bible, it talks about in order to get into heaven, you have to forgive. At this part in my life I’m not there yet, and if the lord chooses to take me before I come to terms with this, then I will see you in hell where you and I will finish this. Mark my words," his father, Michael McGlockton, told Drejka before he was sentenced.
I understand this sentiment far more than I do forgiveness, to be quite honest.
posted by hanov3r at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2019 [31 favorites]

Amber Guyger was a white cop in Texas who shot a black person who did nothing wrong, inside the black person's own home. Those same details are present again in another death caused by a cop: This morning, Atatiana Jefferson (a black woman) was shot by a white cop in Texas inside her own bedroom. She heard noises around her home and went to investigate, turns out it was a cop who was there because a neighbor called in a request for a wellness check because the front door was open. The cop saw Atatiana through her bedroom window, said "Put your hands up, show me your hands", and when he said "hands" the second time (about a second after he started the sentence), he fired through her bedroom window, and she died from the gunshot. (Link to a Dallas news article; article includes a body-cam video of the cop shooting Atatiana.)
posted by 23skidoo at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Worth noting, I think, that the white cop who shot Atatiana in her house resigned on Monday and, several hours later, was arrested and charged with murder.
posted by hanov3r at 3:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

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