By Joshua Redd •
Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison on October 1st, 2019 for the murder of Botham Jean on September 6th, 2018. The murder of Black folks by the hands of officers is nothing new. What made this case extremely peculiar was that he was murdered in his own home. Guyger, apparently, thought that she was “in her own apartment” and thought Jean had invaded her home. I have no patience or time to go over the ideologies that comprise Black criminality, Black masculinity and how those two theoretical frameworks support each other. There is a plethora of books I can recommend. Rather, I would like to express my take on a couple of aspects of this case.
Many people have expressed dissatisfaction with the length of Guyger’s sentencing. I have seen many people calling for Guyger to be sentenced to a longer, harsher sentencing than the one she was given. It is true that had this big, Black man had killed Guyger in her apartment, they would have prosecuted him to the fullest of the fullest extent of the law. The 28-year sentence that Guyger would have originally received (which she did not because Jurors felt it was too harsh) would have been given to Jean with no hesitation or remorse. The criminal justice system was created and is currently supported by systems of surveillance, over-policing, confining, and a pipeline for disenfranchisement. The 28-year sentence would have fallen in line with Jean, not for Guyger.
White women are always viewed as innocent, or the aggressor with good, meaningful intentions. It’s not surprising that the jurors felt that this was too harsh. This is why, for me, I am very conflicted. I am a firm believer in the reduction of jails and prisons. I want to see a world where prisons are made obsolete. Prisons and jails are not created to be rehabilitated. For example, in New York City, Kalief Browder (who deserves an entire post for himself) was arrested without trial at Rikers Island for 3 Years at 16 years old. He spent almost two of those years in solitary confinement (which is known to have adverse and serious impacts on mental health and physical health). The reason why he was forced to stay at Rikers for 3 years was due to the cash-bail system (which disproportionately detriments low-income families of color); he literally could not afford his freedom.
In a system that flagrantly mocks slavery, I cannot advocate for “harsher sentences”. That is a prosecutor’s job. However, I do want white people to be held accountable for stealing and criminalization of Black life. They are threats to my mother, my father, my nephew, my future students, my future child or children. It is so hard to think about the theoretical and tangible applications of prison abolition when it calls for you to keep that same energy for folks who want you in prisons.
Moving on, multiple videos and stills have been circulating of Jean’s murderer, Guyger, being hugged and consoled by Black people. I don’t have the patience to get into all of them. However, I want to focus on Jean’s brother. I think it is an extremely precarious position to assert that Jean’s brother cannot express forgiveness. He knew Botham. You didn’t. I didn’t. Hating Guyger is not changing the fact that his brother is in a casket.
bell hooks speaks about how the ethics of love and loving self are the true keys to deconstruct the power of oppressors. Black people are always represented as monsters incapable of love and loving. Love has also been constantly slated by radical movements as “weak.” This is probably a tangential conversation about the way Black men (predominantly) feel like love and loving makes them weak and their sons feminine (synonyms: weak, gay)). There is nothing wrong with love.
There is nothing wrong with forgiveness. It is wrong to police how any person chooses to grieve the loss of their loved ones at the hands of state violence; as well as it is wrong to tell them where they can and cannot do. As Bakari Sellers said, I’m not at the place in my journey yet. Right now, I would have kicked Guyger’s ass across the room before ever offering a hug. But that is me. It is an emotionally turbulent time for Jean’s family. There has never been a time where Black people have not been in a state of emotional despair or agony. Let him live. Let him grieve. Let him breathe.
Joshua Redd is a gay Black male attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) located in Maine, who is deeply interested in the intersections between gender, age, class, race, and all the other intricacies that life has to offer.