“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” — Jesus
“To understand everything is to forgive everything.” — Buddha
In September 2018, Amber Guyger, a white, female Dallas police officer, entered the apartment of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man, and shot and killed him.
Guyger claimed that she believed she was in her own apartment (which was one floor below Jean’s apartment) and thought he was an intruder.
She was sentenced to 10 years in the Texas State Penitentiary. At the sentencing hearing, Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother told Guyger, the court and the world that he and his family forgave Guyger for killing his older brother.
Two questions arise from this incident. First, what is proper forgiveness and are there some people and states of affair that we ought not to forgive? And, second, does forgiveness exonerate injustice?
Forgiveness relieves the person (or family) victimized by violence (or any offense) from the weight of hatred.
Forgiveness is not about the recipient; it is for the forgiving party. It is not tied to the confessional nature of the offender, because no one can be certain about the sincerity of the confessor.
After all, we live in a culture that has taught all of us how to “fake” it.
Forgiveness transforms the offended from the burden of hatred and malice to the power and opportunity of forward movement.
Forgiveness prevents the offended from being handcuffed to an event of the past, no matter how heinous the event might be.
What Botham Jean’s younger brother did in declaring the family’s forgiveness of Amber Guyger’s murderous act was to declare before humanity and God that the action will not shackle us to hatred or prevent our movement forward into the future.
We will not be slaves to madness. Such is the power of forgiveness.
What forgiveness does not do is excuse or exonerate injustice. In the case of Amber Guyger, injustice was demonstrated at multiple levels.
It was wrong for investigating officers to attempt to find marijuana in Jean’s apartment to discredit him.
It was wrong to leave Guyger at the crime scene alone. And paramount to all of this is the fact that Guyger was sentenced to only 10 years, which means she is eligible for parole in five.
If I walked into an Anglo person’s abode and murdered the occupant, please believe I would receive a sentence of more than 10 years.
For clarity’s sake, let me say that I do not want Amber Guyger to receive an unjust sentence because of the long history of unjust sentences black people have received throughout American history.
That would not be justice. That is simply revenge, and revenge is the bastard twin of hatred.
I want the judicial system to treat all people fairly and not give preferential treatment to those who enjoy access to privilege and power.
If judges are going to give hugs and Bibles to Amber Guyger, then give hugs and Bibles (or Korans, Vedas, Tanaks, Tao Te Ching, etc.) to everyone convicted of a heinous crime.
I want murderers to be convicted whether they live as parasites in the black community or wear blue uniforms. No one should be allowed to murder the innocent without just punishment.
This is not advocacy for the death penalty (that is another form of injustice). This is an appeal for just, uniform punishment.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” I would add from author Bell Hooks, “There can be no love where there is no justice.”
We must become better at practicing forgiveness, love and justice if as a society we are to live as we ought. One without the other is merely an invitation to destruction.
The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.