Does Forgiveness Humanize Injustice?

Sep. 6, 2018 may have been just an ordinary day for you and me, but for Bertram and Allison Jean this day marked the beginning of their lives without their beloved son, Botham Jean.

On that night, an off-duty police officer mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment thinking that Jean was an intruder in her own living space. The result? Yet another unarmed black man was gunned down by a white police officer. 

Courtesy: CNN

After over a year of enduring pain for the Jean family and the black community, justice was finally served last week on Oct. 1. Amanda Guyger, the officer who fatally shot Jean, was sentenced to ten years in prison. As this sentence echoed across the nation, members of the African American community erupted in both reluctancy and disappointment. Many, like Botham’s parents, argued that it was too small of a sentence. Others, like actor and activist Kendrick Sampson took to social media and celebrated this as a “small bit of justice in an area where it’s so rare.” 

What is sparking even more controversy, however, is the bold statement and act of forgiveness from Brandt Jean, Botham’s younger brother. In a direct address to the person responsible for his brother’s death, CBS News reported that Brandt said, “I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.” He even embraced Guyger with a long hug of assurance.

Brandt’s act of compassion—while notable because of his bravery-- cannot be used to mask or even humanize this horrific act of racism. In her powerful NY Times article, Roxanne Gay condemned a society in which people and media avidly seek forgiveness and compassion from mourners. She states, “They want to believe it is possible to heal from such profound and malingering trauma because to face the openness of the wounds racism has created in our society is too much. I, for one, am done forgiving.” 

Racism is not simply a fact of our country’s past, but an unrelenting part of our present. America’s DNA has been encoded with racial injustice from the very beginning, and as such, black people have become a race conditioned to forgive. We forgive slavery. We forgive Jim Crow. We forgive wrongful incarceration. We forgive over, and over again. Members of this community wonder when the same forgiveness will be reciprocated. 

Courtesy: Adam Serwer

I want to live in a world where I am not forced to hashtag that black lives matter because others continue to devalue them. I want my children’s children to live in a society where they do not have to be persistently trained on how to interact with law enforcement in the event that they are stopped on the side of the road or even caught existing within the walls of their own homes. 

Courtesy: Medium

Brandt Jean’s words will forever remind us of the incredible strength and compassion we are all capable of showing each other despite trauma; but we can never forget the name Botham Jean. His story is worth sharing until there is never another case like his. 

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