I saw something yesterday that I have never seen before. A woman being sentenced for murdering an unarmed man having hair rubbed and fondled by a court bailiff right there in the courtroom.
The trial judge, who handed the killer a 10-year sentence out of a possible 99 years, came down later, cried and hugged the convicted woman and gave her a Bible to take to jail with her.
And, I saw the brother of the victim tearfully say he forgave the killer and then they hugged. That was compelling. It caused tears in some. And, for some people I know, it was yet another time African Americans are too forgiving of their perpetrators.
This all happened in the Amber Guyger trial, conviction and sentencing. If you didn’t see it on TV, online or read about it, you were probably caught up in unfolding presidential impeachment saga.
The trial was laced with race, unusual and unprofessional court activities, religion and anger.
Guyger, who is white, is the former Dallas policewoman who said she mistakenly walked into an apartment she thought was hers. She saw a black man named Botham Jean inside and thought he was a burglar. She shot him twice. He was armed with ice cream. Trained in CPR, with the man still alive, she chose not to help him after learning of her mistake.
My cellphone’s news feed, emails and Facebook exploded after her sentencing, almost everyone believing she should have gotten more time.
What’s more there was the “What if?” What if the cop was a black man and he had barged into the wrong apartment and shot and killed a white female occupant? The answers: the sentence would have been longer, much longer.
But what bothered so many people, including me, was the treatment that Guyger received in the courtroom. A black bailiff, during the sentencing phase, walked over to Guyger and stroked her hair. I wonder if she has done that before?
A court bailiff, that I’ve known most of her life, said that she was shocked by the lack of professionalism. “A box of tissue is all I would have offered,” she said.
Jacqueline Nash Grant, a lawyer and professor at the Southern University Law Center, said “never in my 38 years of practice” has she seen a bailiff do that. Neither has she seen a judge embrace the guilty defendant.
To get another vibe about this, I went to the iconic Webb’s Barber Shop in Baton Rouge. The nearly 100-year-old shop has customers from politicians, to business people, to ministers to everyday 9-to-5ers.
Everyone, from the barbers to the customers, believed Guyger should have received a longer sentence and that her defense was bogus.
“Ten years, that’s not long enough,” said Louis Tillotson, my barber who has been there for 55 years. “Yes indeed, I think the sentence should have been longer. To not know she was in the wrong apartment is hard to believe. ... She must have been on something.”
His son Quentin Tillotson, also a barber there, said, “If the officer was black and the victim was white, the black officer would have gotten a lot more time.”
Customer Sandra Costello had a different take. Given Guyger’s “poor judgment, she would have done the same thing on the street.”
Costello said she feels for the family and especially his mother: “That could had been my son or my grandson.”
“She was 100 percent wrong,” said barber Lenny Davis, adding that most people are not going to support the 10-year sentence. “Because she is a police officer they will probably let her out in less than five years.”
Barber Lindell Davis said Guyger had to know she was in the wrong place. “The apartment is not going to look like or smell like your apartment … the kind of lighting is different.” He believes she should have gotten at least 20 years.
The most jaw-dropping incident was Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, at the sentencing phase. He said he forgave Guyger. He ended his emotional speech by walking to Guyger and embracing her. The video has gone viral.
There are folks who say it was the Christian thing to do. That it took courage, especially in this divisive time in the country’s history, to do what he did. TV morning show hosts on Thursday were praising his move. It made people feel good.
But there are others who say, it is yet another time that African Americans feel obligated to forgive their attackers for killing and brutalizing them.
As one of my friends said on Twitter, reflecting the feelings of hundreds more, “I’m not there yet (with forgiveness). I’m a work in progress.” It should be pointed out that the victim’s mother did not go to embrace the killer of her son.
But Costello, the customer in the barbershop, said something else that brings the racial issue to light. She said she was just happy, “justice was done” because the jury did find Guyger guilty. “Too often that doesn’t happen when it’s the police and the victims are African American,” she said.
This is not the last you’ll hear from this case.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column for this newspaper, at email@example.com.