Making sense of forgiveness

On my mind

I am still struggling to articulate my thoughts after watching the brother of Botham Jean, the man who was shot in his apartment last year by Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer, then hug Guyger after she is sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Social media is a strange place where we process such intense emotions around people we have never met and build fantasies out of other people’s nightmares. We love seeing cops hand out free money to people who think they’re being pulled over, young children of different races embrace each other in public, and non-Muslims stand up for visibly Muslim women when they’re being harassed. We are touched by these gestures. We celebrate these moments. We gather these events and tuck them away for safekeeping, eager to pull them out again when the harshness of the system overwhelms us and we want reminders that everything is not so bad. We think that maybe one day if we find ourselves in those situations, we hope we will embody such grace or encounter such kindness. After all, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

And yet…do we change? Does anything change?

I don’t mean to diminish the significance of forgiveness on an emotional and spiritual level, but it seems to me that we rush to make individual moments of forgiveness equal to collective accountability. Forgiveness is an admirable action, however we know from history, it does not replace justice. It is not the same as reconciliation or rehabilitation. Justice is a much longer process that requires the perpetrator of the crime to admit fault with sincerity and for tangible steps to be taken that actually address the root of the problem.

Now, I believe that the compassion Botham Jean’s brother showed towards the woman who took his brother’s life is his own choice, but it doesn’t relieve the rest of us from paying attention to context of that crime and the criminal justice system as a whole. His mother stressed that in her remarks. I don’t see as many people jumping to share her words of anger, hurt, and demand for accountability…

I think that’s what is so troubling about the validation of the hug as genuine as it may have been. It’s a tremendous display of compassion, but are we also willing to validate tremendous displays of pain, hurt and sorrow? We want to be a part of forgiveness perhaps so that we may be forgiven for what we can or cannot do around senseless violence, but why don’t we want to acknowledge our part in the pain it causes families every single day?

What I actually found more surprising than the brother’s hug was the judge’s response. I’m not sure what the code of conduct is for judges in a courtroom, but giving a hug and a Bible to someone you just sentenced to prison? Has that happened before?

All in all, I am reflecting on what the ultimate lesson will be from this tragedy and the responsibility the media has in reporting on events like this. I find the words from these folks particularly moving:


What I’m noting

That’s it for me. I’m heading out to the Bay Area tomorrow morning for this banquet (which I’m told is now sold out!!). Hope you all have a good weekend!

— Nesima