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We now know that
amber guyger, the former police officer who entered Botham Jean’s apartment and murdered him, was found guilty of that murder. She’ll be serving 10 years for her crime. Botham Jean’s brother Brandt Jean hugged and forgave guyger in the courtroom after the sentencing. People are outraged.
There is a lot to parse here. She claimed her entry into Botham Jean’s apartment was a mistake. Okay, but she is a police officer. PD is provided a Batman utility belt of non-lethal tools to incapacitate someone. Botham Jean could have been tased or pepper sprayed and very salty right now, but alive. Also, as a police officer, she should have seen all the context clues to know that she was in the wrong apartment, starting with the giant red doormat. She went straight to murder. I am not moved by her weaponized tears on the stand. She hates herself? Good. She should. Her carelessness ended an innocent life. Some may be mad about the 10 year sentencing, but I was ready for a light sentence. White offenders often get light punishments for crimes against black folks and other marginalized groups, if any punishment at all. It is a near miracle that a police officer was found guilty of a crime. The loudest, most salient outrage is that Brandt Jean forgave and hugged guyger. It led to the mantra I heard after members of Emanuel AME Church forgave dylann roof forgave him two days after he murdered 9 members of their congregation:
“Black people are too forgiving”. But are we? And even if we are, is that a weakness, or a strength? Forgiving someone is VERY difficult. Just like Alexander Pope said, “To err is human. To forgive is divine.” Though I don’t think you need to depend on a deity to find it in your heart to forgive someone who has wronged you, I understand the sentiment, and think it a testament of the character of a person to be able to do so. The fact that some black folks can do so in the face of such a horrendous crime speaks volumes about those individuals who can bring themselves to forgive someone who has done such heinous destruction, especially since she was too lazy to look around and see that she was making a mistake. There is great virtue in forgiving.
Forgiveness is not the problem. The problem is that we live in a society that rewards selfishness and sees everything as a cut-and-dry transaction. Forgiveness should not be seen as absolution. We often think that once someone says, “I’m sorry”, and the other person says, “Apology accepted”, that is the end of the story. That is just the beginning of a new chapter. The person who assailed the other person still needs to answer for what they did. Perhaps if the infraction was that someone accidentally knocked over someone’s fries, “Apology accepted” might suffice, but even then, they could offer to purchase some fresh fries for the person. Forgiving is a gift. The person who wronged someone does not deserve it, no matter how sorry they are. They should not expect it, and victims should not feel obligated to forgive someone. Nowhere did Brandt Jean say, “You shouldn’t go to jail because I forgive you”. Brandt Jean’s forgiveness is just the beginning of a chapter of dealing with his loss, and guyger shouldn’t expect leniency because the brother of her victim is strong enough to forgive her.
Repeat after me: FORGIVENESS IS NOT TRANSACTIONAL. We need to stop looking at it that way. Black folks’ forgiveness is a strength, but that does not mean it absolves this system of all the atrocities this system has rained on our community for 400 years. Actions still MUST be taken to show true sorrow for what was done. guyger still deserves every minute of the 10 years (probably even more) that she will serve. Jean’s forgiveness does not negate that.
Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com