Cruel and Unusual Punishments
It's Black and it's White
I know this is way overdue, but it still bothers me. So I am still talking about it. On October 2nd, 2019, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering a neighbor in his own home. She walked into the wrong apartment and shot the victim, Botham Jean, dead on the spot. The strangest part, in my opinion, was that the defense could use what we call The Castle Doctrine in America. It states that a person can in fact use deadly force to protect one’s home and its inhabitants from invaders. Which is uncanny, considering that it was not her home. Nevertheless, it was futile as she was indeed found guilty by the jury. She will be eligible for parole in five years. However, what took occurrence after the verdict has become a story on its own.
The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, forgave her and proceeded to give Guyger a hug. Afterwards, Judge Tammy Kemp gave her a Bible and embraced her as well. This is where it gets complicated for me. At first, I thought I was angry at the Dallas system for providing what I think was a lenient decision; she might just do five years instead of 10, Which is not enough for taking someone’s life. There are people in America doing more time for non-violent crimes, but I will talk more about that later. Anyway, just like there are people out there who are experiencing my anger, there are also people who are choosing to see this as a healthy coping mechanism via forgiveness. But still, this seems to be another example of the system choosing a specific person who looks a specific way. Trevor Noah from The Daily Show called this an effect of a myth regarding the power of White Women Tears. He states that, throughout history, white women have been known for stepping away of a problem simply by crying; these tears are felt by people as opposed to tears of other people of other races, explains Noah.
I thought of those tears, and then something in my nervous system changed. My anger changed sources. It now comes from the realization that the level of empathy Amber Guyger is getting is not the same one people of color get while in court. That is the empathy everyone should receive in court. Regardless of the crimes you commit, and regardless of the punishments you acquire, you should get a judge that looks at you like the human being that you are.
However, my and Noah’s opinion don’t seem to function when it comes to people of color. While painted as a beautiful moment for Guyger, Latinos and Black males are simply “sentenced” and “found guilty.” In terms of news coverage, people of color are portrayed as purposely putting themselves in danger when explaining the crimes they commit. White people, on the other hand, get a chance to have their humanity displayed on media outlets. This is best seen when I remembered that the news told us that Jean had a history with weed. The man was relaxing in his own space at his own time; the weed part was, and still is, irrelevant. I think it is fair to say that I don’t care what sort of punishment Guyger endures. I just want to believe that I should receive the same level of compassion if I ever commit a crime. People of color should be looked upon under the same empathic telescope as a mentally ill young white person who goes on a rampage and gets disarmed peacefully. At the end of the day, it’s 2019. We shouldn’t still be asking for equality, but here we are.
As for the 10 years she is getting in prison, I lied. I said it didn’t bother me; you know that’s not true. Specially because I mentioned that people have served harsher sentences in the past regarding nonviolent crimes. The one example I can think of right now is Sharanda Jones. She was caught in a major drug bust regarding crack cocaine back in 1999. She was a first-time, nonviolent offender. Authorities had nothing on her but one wiretap, explained Jennifer Turner, author and human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union. She stated in an interview with Democracy Now! that a couple that had been caught prior to Jones called her and asked about drugs. The wiretap caught Sharanda saying, “Let me see what I can do.” And that was enough; they never found any drugs on her. No video surveillance of her with drugs. But she was sentenced to life without parole. Turner goes on to explain that:
“In the federal system, Blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime. In some states it’s even higher. In Louisiana, where 91 percent of the people serving these sentences are Black, they’re 23 times more likely. In the federal system, Latinos are five times more likely to be sentenced to life for nonviolent crime than whites.”
Thankfully, after 17 years, she was given a Presidential Pardon in 2016 by Barack Obama. However, even though this interview happened six years ago, it still applies. There is a discrepancy between the crime and the punishment, and the media doesn’t make it any easier. To clarify, I am not advocating for lenient sentences to drug-based nonviolent crimes. All that I am asking is for an adequate, and compassionate, distribution of penalties regardless of the narratives and skin tones. If Amber Guyger got 10 years for murdering a man in his own home, then there was no reason for Sharanda Jones to initially be sentenced for life because of a nonviolent crime. Who knows? She could have gotten hugs as well from the Judge. I know it’s controversial, but I felt inspired. Feel free to hit me up with questions and exclamations and what not. Except for threats. I am brown; I don’t deal quite well with threats.
Until next time,