What Does Amber Guyer's Case Teach Us About Accountability?
Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyer’s conviction for the murder of Botham Jean was a shock. For many of us, we didn’t expect there to be any repercussions for a white cop killing a black man.
Guyer was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Guyer’s conviction is part of a string of high-profile cases in which a white officer who has killed a black person was found guilty. In 2018, Texas officer Roy D. Oliver II was found guilty of murdering 15-year-old Jordan Edwards; Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke pleaded guilty to killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald; this year, officer Nouman Raja was convicted of killing 31-year-old Corey Jones.
Considering justice being served, these cases make it difficult to determine if accountability is moving forward or a deviation.
Last week, we watched as Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean came off the witness stand and hugged Amber Guyer. Social media lit up with mixed feelings, as well as questions regarding humility and forgiveness.
I don’t believe that forgiveness is the issue here. Forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself; allowing yourself permission to let go of anger, burdens, and grudges.
Why were we so disturbed by Botham Jean’s act of forgiveness in that courtroom? While some people considered this an act of grace, others, many of them African American, were furious. Actress Yvette Nicole Brown retweeted a meme that said: “If somebody ever kills me, don’t you dare hug them.… Throw a chair, in my honor.” To which Brown added: “… and then dig me up and throw ME!” Others were angered that Guyger got “only” 10 years.
Let’s be clear. We don’t have the right to dictate how Botham Jean chooses to grieve his brother. We don’t have the right to take this one instance and allow it to represent everything.
The pain and heartbreak of this young man who has lost his older brother; we cannot possibly identify with his experience. We’re assuming that his display of affection towards Guyer is a performance to appease whiteness but we can’t tell him what he should do.
The fact is that he, alone, was having an experience that we know nothing about. We can’t internalize it into our own experience and vilify him for what he felt he needed to do. If we look at it from this standpoint, it doesn’t mean that we discount what she did.
We have to ask the question, “Who forgives black people?” What would this look like if Amber Guyer was a black woman that killed a white man? Botham Jean was eating ice cream on his couch – when he was killed by a white woman who perceived him as a threat in HIS OWN HOME.
In the midst of this controversy enters Judge Tammy Kemp who saw fit to embrace Guyer as well. She also gifted Guyer with her own personal bible.
I believe the repeating sentiment was “What are you doing?” Has she ever come down off the bench and hugged a convicted murderer before AND give them a bible? What if the roles were reversed and Botham Jean shot and killed Amber Guyer? Would Judge Tammy be pointing out scriptures then?
Black people are used to catering to white people, even after their most despicable acts. We are also used to humanity not being extended to us in any circumstance. By distributing a bible and telling Guyer that it’s her “job” to read a religious text as she’s on her way to prison, Judge Kemp is telling all defendants who come before her that their religious beliefs could affect the outcomes of their cases and their sentences.
This case has been another stark reminder that accountability can’t just be a trend, and forgiveness carries color. What do we do now?