I have really hesitated about engaging in a conversation about the murder of Botham Jean and the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Amber Guyger.
[Sidebar: I wanted to avoid the conversation because sometimes it just seems too difficult to be civil, when trying to navigate through an exhaustive conversation (about a 26-year-old black man, who happened to be an accountant and choir director at his church, who was murdered while sitting on his own sofa, in his own apartment, eating ice cream, by a white woman, who happened to be a Dallas police officer, who claims she mistook his apartment as her own and thought he was an intruder) with someone who will never really understand what “living in America while black” means.]
Then, news broke over the weekend that Joshua Brown — a key witness in the trial — was gunned down in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived.
Soon after, I saw this tweet:
Black woman who filmed Jean’s last moment, where he asked Amber Guyger, “Why did you shoot me?”: fired from job, film confiscated by police.
Black man who testified against Guyger: murdered, suspects still at large.
Botham Jean: dead.
National conversation: black forgiveness.
It was the last line that got me.
As I listened to and read the commentaries on the “act of forgiveness” — the hug that Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother gave to the woman who murdered his brother, after the younger Jean finished his victim impact statement and the convicted murder was sentenced to 10 years in prison – I was conflicted.
I am not going to speculate about his reasons for hugging her, but will accept that it was something he needed to do to move forward.
What I am extremely disheartened by is this national conversation that is celebrating this “act of forgiveness” as some sort of proxy for racial reconciliation or some kind of example of how the oppressed should respond to the oppressor or some form of absolution from sin – in this case, the systemic racism that plaques our nation.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in extending forgiveness.
But I also believe in seeking justice.
Therefore, I believe that any conversation about “black” forgiveness must include interactive communication about racial justice. Racial reconciliation is no easy task – it involves both forgiveness and justice.
My hope is that the embrace from Botham Jean’s brother does not distract us from his mother’s message, urging reforms to a (racially and culturally) biased system (during the trial, allegations surfaced of tampering with evidence and police misconduct):
“What you saw and what you heard in the courtroom really showed what your system is and you must seek to do something about it …You saw a contaminated crime scene, you saw deletion of evidence by persons in high offices. You saw turning off of body cams …You saw investigations that were marred with corruption … While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to show that our city does what is right.”
As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation – reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel. So, while we must practice forgiveness, we must also seek justice. Forgiveness does not negate our obligation to seek justice.
Miroslav Volf warns us, in his award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace, “forgiveness is not a substitute for justice.”
Forgiveness without justice is not reconciliation. Genuine and lasting reconciliation is possible only when both forgiveness and reparation of wrongs are satisfied. Reconciliation has two locks to open – forgiveness and justice.
Forgiveness is the one half of reconciling work that a victim exercises, while justice is the other half of reconciling work that is reserved for the perpetrator. Only after having achieved both goals can true reconciliation occur.
There is still plenty of work to be done. We all have a role to fulfill. Are you willing to do your part?