Amber Guyger, Systemic Racism, and the Culture of Coercive Forgiveness

By Marc W. Polite

The case of Amber Guyger has been discussed all over social media and the news since the announcement of the verdict. To briefly recap, Amber Guyger is a former police officer who killed Botham Jean in his own apartment back in 2018. She was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to just 10 years. Now, what has emerged now, is that Joshua Brown, one of the key witnesses was killed on Friday evening. This is highly suspect, and it raises a lot of questions that need to be answered. Whatever happened to protecting the witnesses? The entire Dallas police department should be investigated.

In addition to this entire ordeal, the question of forgiveness has emerged in the discussion of some of the actions of Botham Jean’s family in the courtroom. Botham Jean’s brother Brandt Jean hugged Amber Guyger, expressing his forgiveness, and his father said that he wants to “be friends” with Amber Guyger at some point. Given the murder of a key witness in the Guyger case, is it possible that this show of forgiveness is based out of fear of reprisal? Was the family threatened by the Dallas police department directly or indirectly? These are all fair questions with what we have seen thus far.

Here, I’d like to point to a bigger narrative. In cases where Black people have been murdered by police, its almost expected that the family express “forgiveness” towards the culprit. It is frowned upon if the survivors are not sufficiently conciliatory to those who have taken the life of their loved one, and they are made out to be “bitter” and without grace should they express normal rage towards this person. There’s nothing graceful about absolving murderers of responsibility, and especially since many of these forgiveness gestures are socially coerced. The oppressed are expected to forgive those who oppress them, and that power dynamic in itself makes the expectation questionable. Besides, how can you “forgive” an occurrence that is institutionalized like state sanctioned murder? To do so is to encourage this to continue.

Considering that this is all going on, I move that all forgiveness vouchers from the Black community be voided until further notice. There’s way too much going on to be handing them out. I hope you’ll “forgive” my skepticism in this post- since we are all showing grace at this moment. Just saying.