By John N. Mitchell
When the white woman who shot and killed an innocent Black man in his own home got hugs from the victim’s younger brother and the Black judge in court this week, some saw it as a demonstration of Christian compassion and forgiveness.
Others saw something a bit sinister.
“It’s not unusual for the family of victims to express compassion regardless of color and religion. But white supremacy operates in our minds even when the victim is Black,” said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church. “There is this idea that somehow this white woman deserves forgiveness in the very moment that she has been convicted of doing something indescribably evil … It is a problem because it indicates the internalization of racism and self-hatred.”
Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif called the incident in the Dallas courtroom, “Gone With the Wind 3.0.,” adding that former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger “had a whole staff of negroes waiting to attend to her.
“It’s bad because it sends a really bad message that white folks can kill us and it’s OK because Jesus will work it out.”
Guyger was convicted this week of killing Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant from St. Lucia, in his living room as he ate ice cream in front of the TV in 2018. Guyger claimed she thought the apartment was her own and Jean was an intruder.
Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
At her sentencing hearing, 18-year-old Brandt Jean told Guyger that his brother, a Christian who was active in his church choir, would have wanted her to turn her life over to Christ.
“I love you as a person. I don’t wish anything bad on you,” he said to the 31-year-old Guyger, before he asked the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug?”
Soon after, Judge Tammy Kemp stepped down, and offered Guyger a Bible and encouraged her to read John 3:16. Guyger then stood up to hug Kemp.
Photos and videos of the hugs were reported widely, with some reporters saying they had never seen anything like it in court. A video of a Black female bailiff gently stroking Guyger’s hair after the verdict has gone viral
The moment Brandt Jean hugged Guyger, referred to as “The Hug” on social media, reminded some of the way Black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, forgave Dylann Roof after he shot and killed nine of their fellow congregants during a prayer meeting in 2015.
Philadelphia-based counselor Stephen Milburn said he believes the Christian forgiveness displayed by African Americans in Dallas this week and in South Carolina in 2015 is “very much… tied to faith.”
But, he pointed out, it is not specific to African Americans.
He pointed to the 2006 shooting of 10 young Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, that left five dead.
The shooter, Charles Roberts turned the gun on himself and committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and three children. Still, family members who lost children to his rampage attended his funeral and contributed in a donation to his surviving family members.
“As you can see with the Amish families, they are also people of faith,” he said. “So yes, having a real relationship with a higher power at least helps to deal with the grieving, which is unavoidable.”
Khalif acknowledged that Brandt Jean might have been using the hug as a way to cope with his own grief.
Khalif said he had to do the same when his cousin, motorist Brandon Tate-Brown was shot and killed by Philadelphia police officers in 2014. The officers were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I had relatives that were police offices and I couldn’t look at them because of the uniform,” Khalif said. “The only way that I could move beyond that was to forgive. But the difference is that forgiveness is a process that takes time. We don’t wake up the next morning and say, ‘OK, I’m good.’ You have to give yourself time to grieve. Ten years from now when she’s released, you might have second thoughts because you never allowed yourself to go through a legitimate grieving process.”
Rose Simmons, the daughter of the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, who was killed in the Charleston shooting, said she has forgiven Roof, but still wants to be present for his execution.
“I forgive him, but it does not negate justice,” she said. “It does not negate the fact that he walked into a prayer meeting and slaughtered nine innocent people. It does not take away from my forgiveness. But it will put a period behind what he did for millions of people, particularly African Americans who have had justice denied for hundreds of years.”
Defense attorney Michael Coard, who is a Tribune columnist, echoed her sentiment when he posted on Twitter what he referred to as “The Five Commandments of Malcolm X,” which states that turning the other cheek in the face of violence is not an option.
Coard said that rather than giving her life over to Christ, Guyger “should turn her life over to the state executioner.”
The Rev. Greg Holston, executive director of multi-faith activist organization POWER, said, “There should be no distinction between forgiving people and demanding justice.
“I just hope,” he added, “that the same forgiveness that [Guyger] received will one day be offered by the justice system to African-American boys who are never portrayed as innocent.”
John N. Mitchell is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.