If I Should Die At the Hands of The Police, Don’t Hug My Murderer
Rage, I want you to rage because my life was/is/will always be worth it.
“If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman
And the papers say
We’re going to call it a suicide, would you even question why
Would you shake your head and say that ain’t right
Or do your best to forget about me
Please, please, please don’t forget about me”
-Say My Name, Mumu Fresh (Maimouna Youssef)
In the aftermath of the Amber Guyger trial, I am pissed off. I wish I could be more articulate about it in this moment but I cannot. If you are unfamiliar with the case here is a quick and dirty rundown:
- In September 2018, An off-duty White woman cop in Dallas, Texas turned up at her neighbor’s apartment, forced her way in and shot him dead.
- According to her story, she thought the apartment was her own, the door was open and she believed there was a break-in. All of this, despite a doormat she didn’t own, furniture that didn’t belong to her, and a big black man in shorts and slippers on the couch eating ice cream, and watching t.v. She thought he was an intruder.
- Conflicting reports say that she was banging ferociously on his door and that they might’ve known each other in some capacity before this incident. It is unclear what the nature of their relationship might’ve been but there are photos of the two together floating around the inter webs. They were not strangers.
- She was found guilty of murder not the lesser charge of manslaughter on October 2, 2019.
- A conviction is a victory because we — Black people — have become accustomed to acquittals in these often, egregious cases of racially motivated killings by police. We expected to be disappointed yet again.
I was as excited as the next person when the verdict was revealed. However, by the time the verdict had sunken in and it was time for sentencing, something seemed to have gone awry. Facing between five and ninety-nine years, Amber Guyger was sentenced to just ten years for killing a model negro in the most literal sense of the word.
The media coverage for this trial was radically different from that following most police killings of Black bodies in recent years. You know why? Botham Jean was a squeaky clean choir boy — a model Black man — that would put any White audience at ease.
He was not wearing a hoodie or looking thuggish. He didn’t have an attitude. He wasn’t pointing a toy gun or even on the street evoking terror in the hearts of the White masses. He was a 26 year-old, Price Waterhouse Cooper accountant in shorts and slippers, eating ice cream in his own home, alone. Not even Fox news could find an angle to properly discredit him.
With all of that said, for ending his life most abruptly and with no apparent justifiable cause besides the fact that she was a White woman with access to a gun, Amber Guyger got just ten years for shooting down the picture of Black success. He was what White America tells every Black child they should be. Not radical, not offensively Black, not ghetto or hood, not loud or obnoxious, not violent, not criminal — by the measure of respectability politics that is often levied against slain Black men, Botham Jean was at the top tier of that whom should be respected. Even at that level, the life of a murderous racist White woman is more valuable than that of the life and legacy of a Black person. So much so, that she will likely be eligible for parole in five years with good behaviour.
Yet, people are saying “justice was served,” and I don’t understand. How is ten years justice? How can you walk into an innocent person’s home whilst they are eating ice cream and watching t.v., kill them, and get ten years?
There are Black men and women serving more time for killing dogs or being arrested with twenty dollars worth of marijuana. I will not step n’ fetch any grace or gratitude or false sense of hope from this ire-inducing trial, sentencing, and moment in history.
Rage is the least we can do
The overwhelming disappointment of the leniency of the sentence was only compounded by the aftermath. I will not comment on Brandt Jean or Bertrand Jean’s (victims brother and father, respectively) actions or statements. They are entitled to grieve and behave in any way they see fit. They are processing the extraordinary loss of a loved one through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. However, it is a shame that the mainstream American media is co-opting their pain, their grief, and their reactions to codify appropriate responses by Black people when we find ourselves in similarly heartbreaking situations.
If you google Brandt Jean’s name, a litany of headlines with the word Grace pop up on your screen. He hugged his brother’s convicted murderer post-sentencing.
Let’s define this thing
- smoothness and elegance of movement.
- bring honour or credit to (someone or something) by one’s attendance or participation.
When I was growing up, my grandmother used to say, “Patience is virtue, virtue is grace, grace is a dirty little girl that doesn’t wash her face.”
What place does grace have in the murder of an innocent human being?
What place does grace have in justice?
Why are Black people expected to be gracious in the face of abhorrent, continual, and unyielding attacks on our humanity?
We’ve been conditioned and our conditioning has been conditioned
In the midst of processing our feelings about this case and it’s post-sentencing brouhaha, a friend of mine sent me an op-ed by a Black man processing the 2015 terrorist attack wherein nine Black people were shot to death in a Charleston, South Carolina church. In the piece entitled, Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves, the author, Kiese Laymon said several things that resonated with me but none more than this:
“loving white supremacists in the face of white supremacy is a hallmark of American evil, and a really a fundamental part of the black American experience in this country.
It’s what we’re supposed to do, I said.
Many of us have made a life of hoping to get chosen for jobs, chosen for awards, chosen for acceptance from people, structures and corporations bred on white supremacy. We’re hoping to get chosen by people who can not see us. Knowing that they hate and terrorize us doesn’t stop us from wanting to get chosen. That’s the crazy thing. Everything about this country told Grandma, a black woman born in Central Mississippi in 1920s, to love, honor and forgive white folks. And this country still tells me, a black boy born in Mississippi in the 1970s, to titillate and tend to the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of white people in my work.”
When I hear the Jean family profess that this “forgiveness,” and “grace,” is what Botham would’ve wanted for Amber Guyger because he was a devout Christian, all I can think is that we have been irreversibly conditioned by White Jesus.
The systemic and centuries old methods of breaking down Black people’s mental fortitude, sense of dignity, pride, belief in our own humanity through the institution of white Christianity has been overwhelmingly successful.
In the midst of being sentenced for murder, a racist white woman cop was given a bible and a hug by the judge. The court officer was lovingly and/or tenderly adjusting said murderer’s hair. We’ve seen immigrant toddlers receive less care and understanding in U.S. court rooms as of late.
Even in guilt, White women wield a privilege — a presumption — of innocence that never seems to be present for people of color. God bless’em.
As I stated previously, I cannot and will not condemn the actions or grieving process of this family. Grief is a burden that doesn’t leave us. It changes, grows, creates pockets and corners of our souls and lives for eternity. I have lost and felt the loss of too many to attack anyone’s process.
What I can do and will do is tell my loved ones — so that there is no mistake, no possible misinterpretation — that if I should die at the hands of the police or any unjust, unnatural element, do not hug my murderer. Rain down on them with all of the rage and the fury, all of the might that you can muster…bust their ass or at least get tackled trying!
Melissa explores questions about life, food, parenting, navigating the world as a Black woman and much more in her writing. To read more, follow her.