These names are burned into history. Names that caused many in this nation to mourn. Names that ignited a movement. Names that became the personification of Martin Luther King’s poignant statement, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Each death, each funeral, each decision to not hold rouge citizens or police officers accountable weighed on the conscious of Black America, reminding us that our lives in this land held no value and honestly do not matter.
Just as those names are cemented into history so are the names of men like George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson. Names that we will never forget. Names of those that murdered Black men and that the justice system allowed to face no punishment. When would this nation finally say that Black Lives Matter?
When Botham Jean was murdered in his home by Amber Guyger, a blond, White woman that was a police officer, we waited. Although Guyger entered the wrong apartment and shot an innocent man, as Black people, we understood that even with all the facts, it was still no guarantee that Guyger would be arrested, let alone convicted for her crime. We waited with Trayvon; we waited with Mike; we waited with Sandra; we waited with Eric; we waited with Philando, we waited with Alton. Nothing. Black people exist in the realm of always waiting for justice that has been too long denied.
I was delighted to hear that the jury was diverse. Of the 12 jurors and four alternates, seven are African-American, four appear to be white, and five are of other races and ethnicities. Too often, juries are overwhelmingly White, calling into question if someone is genuinely given trial by their peers. Such a diverse jury gave me hope that we were heading in the right direction, that just perhaps we would see justice for Botham.
We waited. Always waiting.
Then there was the judge. Admittedly, the first time I saw Judge Tammy Kemp, I was thrilled. She was an older Black woman, a former prosecutor, and defense attorney, and has been on the bench since 2014. My first time seeing Judge Kemp was her chastising a DA for giving an interview after she had issued a gag order. Judge Kemp appeared as if she ran a no-nonsense courtroom. It was what Black people needed, someone that was going to make sure everyone toed the line so there would be no cries of a mistrial or any other issue.
The trial was swift, and the jury deliberated for about five hours before returning a verdict.
We waited. Always waiting.
It was almost as if you could feel Black people collectively holding our breath as Judge Kemp read the verdict. Guilty of Murder. I closed my eyes. Did I hear that correctly? Guilty of Murder. I finally let out the breath that was swelling in my chest. Amber Guyger had been found guilty. A White blond woman that was a police officer was found guilty of killing Botham Jean, a Black man. It almost didn’t seem as if it as believable. But it was.
While many expressed their happiness with the verdict, others were reserved, urging us to wait for the sentencing. How much time would Amber Guyger have to serve for killing a Black man in the prime of his life?
We waited. Always waiting.
Ten years. Less time than Botham Jean was on this earth.
But she was convicted, and that meant something, didn’t it?
Shouldn’t we be happy? Isn’t this justice? Isn’t this the “American Way?”
We waited. Always waiting as a Black officer groomed convicted murderer Amber Guyger’s hair as if they were at a slumber party.
We waited as Botham’s brother Brandt Jean offered Amber Guyger forgiveness, and they hugged. Two families forever joined in a way I am sure none of them ever imagined. I do not have any comments for Botham’s brother Brandt offering Guyger forgiveness. It is his brother that is dead, his brother that he mourns, his brother that he will grieve. How someone chooses to deal with grief is their own decision. I understand that holding on to anger is, at times, heavier than offering forgiveness. Brandt Jean must grieve the way that is best for him.
However, Judge Kemp is another story.
We waited. Always waiting as Judge Tammy Kemp came off the bench and embraced convicted murderer Amber Guyger and gave her one of her Bibles, inviting her to read scriptures.
In one moment, any sense of justice we felt, Judge Tammy Kemp quickly snatched back.
Judge Kemp has a job when she sits on the bench – to be fair and impartial.
To get off the bench and hug a White woman that is now a convicted murderer was a slap in the face to Black America. It was yet another reminder that the system will always be the system. At that moment, I felt like Judge Kemp was saying, “The verdict doesn’t matter. What you did doesn’t matter.” I cannot imagine having the shoe on the other foot, and Botham came home, walked in the wrong apartment, killed Amber, and was convicted of her murder, that Judge Kemp would get off the bench to hug him. Botham would immediately be the villain because that is always the narrative for Black men. He would not be seen as someone deserving of compassion.
Judge Kemp played into the narrative that White women will always be seen as the victim. It is not Botham’s memory and justice for this life that is the focal point of the nation, but it is Judge Kemp’s response that is now the story. It is now a story of Black people that have been victimized by White people offering White people forgiveness. It is now the story of Black people taking the obligatory high road even as we bury our loved ones.
Is this justice?
After the display in the courtroom, I still believe Black people are still waiting.
Categories: Current Events, Race Relations, Thoughts, Musings and Reflections
I simultaneously feel as a white passing Latinx person “who am I to grieve this as if I understand?” and “who am I not to grieve this as someone who benefits from white privilege and the safety that comes with it?” My heart hurts at the continuous injustice and I struggle with what I can do that would carry the most weight. I’m so sorry.
I was so relieved that there was a conviction, and gratified that his brother could be living without terrible hate and anger inside him, but oh the disbelief and heartsick disappointment at the sentencing. Guilty of murder, yet lightly sentenced. I have never seen a judge hug a murderer before. It deeply wounded me. We all need not to have to hold our collective breath waiting for justice.
While I was certainly glad that this trial ended in a conviction and while I was moved by the brother’s capacity for forgiveness (which honestly boggles my mind), I feel like the “heart-warming act of forgiveness” narrative is drowning out what we should be focused on and enraged by and that is the light nature of the sentence and the Judge behaving in a way that undermined her impartiality. The focus is now on the grace and endurance of black people rather than white people actually doing something to earn that forgiveness. I possess white privilege so, if that is my reaction, I can only try to imagine what a kick in the guts that sentence was to black people.
I must say I am not at all surprised. It is with the utmost disdain that I write this reply. As a black woman who is the mother of a black son … my question is how could you? How could you increase the blow to a grieving mother that will have to bury her son who was in the prime of his life? How could you NOT take a stand for justice sake? How could show such partiality to a family that does not care whether those that look like you live or die? How could you say as a token here is a Bible, yet not live by its words of JUSTICE? How could you think this was okay? How could you let those jurors down by giving this woman a smack on the hand? Let down again. Only this time it is someone with a mere reflection of US!! And yet still NO JUSTICE, so yes we’re still WAITING…