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INTERVIEW: One-on-One with Judge Tammy Kemp — Amber Guyger Murder Trial

NNPA NEWSWIRE — I Messenger Media (Texas Metro News/Garland Journal/I Messenger) sat down recently with Judge Tammy Kemp to discuss criticism she has received as a result of her actions following the conclusion of the Amber Guyger murder trial last week.



Mother of Botham Jean, Mrs. Allison Jean, embraces Judge Tammy Kemp. (Photo: Cheryl Smith / I Messenger Media L.L.C.)

The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

By Cheryl Smith, Publisher of Texas Metro News/I Messenger Media L.L.C.

I Messenger Media (Texas Metro News/Garland Journal/I Messenger) sat down recently with Judge Tammy Kemp to discuss criticism she has received as a result of her actions following the conclusion of the Amber Guyger murder trial last week. On October 1, 2019, Ms. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was convicted by a Dallas County jury of murder for fatally shooting 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean, in his apartment at the Southside Flats on September 6, 2018. Ms. Guyger claimed self-defense as she said she thought she was in her apartment and that Mr. Jean was an intruder. Mr. Jean’s apartment, #1478, was located on the fourth floor and Guyger’s apartment, #1378, was located directly beneath his on the third floor.

The jury found her guilty of murder and sentenced Ms. Guyger to serve 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. After Judge Kemp read the jury’s punishment verdict, she thanked the jury for their service, released them from the court’s previous restrictions regarding reading or watching coverage or engaging in/consuming social media content about the trial and offered contact information for counseling services should they find themselves in need of assistance following the trial.

The jury exited the courtroom, the trial was over and the court was officially off the record. However, as is customary in any case where there is a victim of a crime, the victim’s family has a right to make a victim impact statement to the defendant before he/she is transported from the courtroom. In this case, Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother of Botham Jean, took the witness stand to address Amber Guyger directly and delivered an undoubtedly unexpected, yet powerful message of forgiveness and love to the woman who took his brother’s life.

Then in a stunning turn of events, the victim’s brother asked Judge Kemp if he could “give her a hug.” He pleaded with Judge Kemp, “Please.” There was a brief pause of silence before Judge Kemp responded, “Yes.” Mr. Brandt descended from the witness stand and approached Ms. Guyger, who ran to him and they embraced and whispered to each other for a couple of minutes before releasing from the embrace and returning to their respective seats. Next Judge Kemp walked over to the Jean Family and after a short conversation, there were embraces.

The next exchange was between Judge Kemp and Ms. Guyger and also ended in an unexpected hug; one that not only sent shock waves across the nation but has drawn fire from the African American community in particular as well as a formal complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

I Messenger reached out to Judge Kemp to provide the facts and set the record straight on several issues that were raised during and after the trial.

I Messenger: Explain the difference between a jury trial and a trial before the court.

Judge Kemp: In the State of Texas, a jury trial is when the accused has his or her case argued before a jury of 12 citizens. Jurors are selected by prosecutors (the State) and defense attorneys prior to the trial during the jury selection process. In a jury trial, the defendant has two decisions to make — who will decide guilt/innocence, the judge or a jury, and if convicted, who will decide punishment, again the judge or a jury.

In contrast, a trial before the court or TBC, is when a defendant has his or her case presented to the judge of a specific court and the judge decides both guilt/innocence and any associated punishment for that individual. Both the State and the defense have to agree to a trial before the Court. Just to be clear, the State vs. Amber Guyger was a jury trial in which the defendant, Ms. Guyger, decided to have both guilt/innocence and punishment decided by a jury.

I Messenger: One source of contention was your ruling to allow the jury to consider the Castle Doctrine during their deliberation on guilt/innocence. Considering that the law was actually intended for homeowners, like Botham Jean, to protect themselves and their homes against intruders, in this case, like Amber Guyger, why did you allow the Castle Doctrine in as a self-defense theory in the jury’s instructions on deliberation during the guilt/innocence phase of the trial?

Judge Kemp: While I do not comment on my rulings in any case, I would like to take this opportunity to educate people on the Castle Doctrine in general terms.

As it pertains to self-defense and deadly force, the Texas Penal Code states a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense if the issue is raised by the evidence, whether that evidence is strong or weak, unimpeached or contradicted, and regardless of what the trial court may think about the credibility of the defense. If you deny a defendant their defense, the case will be reversed and then have to be retried.

I Messenger: What went through your mind in those brief seconds immediately after Brandt Jean asked you if he could give Amber Guyger a hug?

Judge Kemp: My first thought was the security risk. I quickly connected non-verbally with the deputies standing post inside the courtroom and made a split decision that Brandt Jean was sincere in his remarks to Ms. Guyger and that neither he nor Ms. Guyger intended any physical harm towards one another and allowed the contact between them to take place, and I knew I was going to have to explain my decision to Sheriff Brown.

I Messenger: You have been accused by some media outlets and the court of public opinion, particularly in the African American community, of disrespecting the victim’s family by coming off the bench to hug the woman who murdered Botham Jean and giving her a bible. Let’s set the record straight on the facts and what led up to the exchange and ultimate hug between you and Amber Guyger.

Judge Kemp: Like everyone else in the courtroom after witnessing the moving, emotional moment between Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger, I wiped my eyes, then came off the bench and went directly over to talk to Botham Jean’s family first.

I offered my condolences to Mr. Jean’s parents and shared words of comfort and encouragement with them before asking them if I could hug them, which they agreed to and I hugged each family member, father, mother, grandmother, sister and brother one by one. After I spent time with the victim’s family, I went over to the defense’s table and addressed Ms. Guyger. I told her, ‘Brandt has forgiven you. You have to forgive yourself.’ To which Ms. Guyger responded,

‘Do you think God will forgive me?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Important to note, it was Ms. Guyger who first mentioned anything about religion. Then and only then, did I respond to her faith-based inquiry. Although I am a Christian, because of an individual’s religious freedom rights, I never discuss anything religious during the performance of my duties as a judge unless a victim or defendant mentions it to me first and again only after a trial or plea is officially completed.

I continued, ‘He has a purpose for you.’ She said, ‘You think I can have a purpose for my life?’ I said, ‘Yes’ and she said, ‘I don’t know where to start. I don’t own a bible.’ Her response prompted me to go to my chambers and retrieve the bible I keep in my office. I returned to the courtroom and told Ms. Guyger, ‘You can have this one. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use at work every day.’ I turned to John 3:16 and read the scripture to her. I told her when you read this and you get to the ‘whosoever,’ you say ‘Amber.’

I told her she needs to read John 3:16 for the next month so it could sink in and then to start with the Gospels. I also told her that the translation that I gave her was difficult for new believers and she probably needed a study bible. I told her, ‘If you like, I will get one for you and get it to your defense team.’ She said, ‘yes’ and told me she would bring my bible back in 10 years. It was at that point, she asked, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ Honestly, I hesitated initially and here’s what ran through my mind in that instant. That Sunday, September 29th, which would have been Botham Jean’s 28th birthday, the sermon I heard at church was, The One is Greater Than the 99, which talked about if you are going to attract the lost, you must show love and compassion. Additionally,

I thought about my job responsibilities as it pertains to my faith, and I have a duty to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly. Ms. Guyger asked me a second time for a hug and I agreed. As she was hugging me, she was telling me that I was such a good person and I was fair and good. Contrary to speculation, I was not praying with her.

I Messenger: Have you ever hugged any other defendants in your court following the conclusion of a trial or plea in your court?

Judge Kemp: I have hugged a lot of defendants, but I have never been asked for a hug by a defendant convicted of a violent offense before and I have never hugged one defendant who did not ask me for a hug. On any given day in the 204th District Court, however, I routinely counsel defendants on forgiveness and second chances. As a matter of fact, a lot of the defendants that I have ended up hugging were initially angry with me because I would not just give them their time. Instead, when necessary, I required them to go to treatment and after they completed treatment they would come back and thank me.

I Messenger: Continuing on that note of second chances, tell us about Project Phoenix.

Judge Kemp: In my first year on the bench in 2014, I founded Project Phoenix in partnership with the Dallas AFL-CIO to provide marketable skills through apprenticeships in the various trade industries to first-time, non-violent low-level offenders. Upon successful completion of the program, offenders’ cases are dismissed and later expunged from their records. My primary goal in creating this program was to make sure participants could earn a living wage and have a true second chance.

I Messenger: One of the female bailiffs has also come under fire for what appears as if the bailiff is fixing or caressing Amber Guyger’s hair. What was happening?

Judge Tammy Kemp: The jury returned a verdict of guilty and I held Ms. Guyger’s bond insufficient. At that point, she was in the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and no longer free to move about.

I instructed the Sheriff’s deputies to restrict Ms. Guyger’s movement to the defense workroom, the courtroom and the restroom. Typically, once a defendant has been convicted, they are transported to the county jail to be booked and processed – a process that can take up to three hours. Instead, I asked that they detain her in the courtroom to ensure we did not experience any delays in the trial.

What people saw in that moment was actually the bailiff doing a moderate pat down of the defendant and discreetly checking her hair for contraband.

I Messenger: After the trial there were protests and criticism by those who believed 10 years was not enough time for the fatal shooting of Botham Jean. Do you believe the sentence was fair given the testimony in this case?

Judge Kemp: That is a question for the jurors. As with any case, I respect the jury’s verdict. I never question or comment on a jury’s decision.

I Messenger: Could you as the judge, have overturned the jury’s sentence and given the defendant a longer sentence?

Judge Kemp: No, by law I could not overturn the jury’s verdict. Again, once a defendant decides to go before the jury to decide guilt/innocence and punishment, the jury’s verdicts in both phases of a trial are the final decisions.

I Messenger: A photo of your political endorsement from the Dallas Police Association (DPA) Political Action Committee has been circulating on social media and many voiced disapproval of the endorsement. In terms of the timeline, when did you receive the DPA’s endorsement relative to when Mr. Jean was killed?

Judge Kemp: The Dallas Police Association’s Political Action Committee endorsed both my first campaign in 2014 and my campaign for reelection in 2018, just as they endorse multiple judicial candidates in every election cycle. During my last election, DPA announced their endorsement of my campaign for re-election in the fall of 2017. Amber Guyger shot and killed Mr. Botham Jean on September 6, 2018. Obviously, no one could have predicted this horrific tragedy would occur a year later, long after the organization endorsed my campaign.

I Messenger: On October 3, 2019, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission, against you for the now ‘infamous hug.’ Do you believe your actions were inappropriate?

Judge Kemp: Obviously, I do not think it was inappropriate, but I will leave that decision to the Ethics Commission.

I Messenger: On October 4, 2019, you summoned Dallas County Criminal District Attorney John Creuzot to appear before the 204th Judicial District Court for a contempt of court hearing that is scheduled to take place on October 31st. What is the purpose of this hearing and why do you believe it is necessary?

Judge Kemp: On September 23, the very first day of trial, as the attorneys and I were wrapping up preliminary matters outside the presence of the jury, Amber Guyger’s defense team informed the court that our elected DA had appeared in a new television interview alleging that it was in direct violation of the court’s gag order prohibiting both the prosecutors and defense lawyers from speaking publicly about the case and/or trial in any way.

It was determined and confirmed that the DA’s interview on FOX 4 News was not taped the night before the beginning of trial, but in fact had been taped on September 20, 2019, which was three days before the trial was set to begin. Due to the high volume of media coverage on this case, I had put a gag order in place in January of this year for all parties involved in the case. In general, the purpose of a court’s gag order on any case is to prohibit the parties from trying their case in the public.

A contempt of court hearing, also known as a show cause hearing, requires the alleged violator to appear before the court and explain why he/she did not adhere to the court’s order(s). I believe it is necessary in this case, just as it would be with any case, because court orders are meant to be followed, no exceptions. Additionally, with all of the hard work that went into this case on both sides, it was pretty shocking to learn that the order had allegedly been violated, a decision that technically could have resulted in a mistrial before the trial even started, had any of the jurors seen the interview.

However, after I watched the interview, I polled each juror individually and confirmed that none of them had seen it and the trial proceeded accordingly.

I Messenger: What would you like for people to know about the 204th Court?

Judge Kemp: I want people to know that we treat everyone with compassionate accountability in our court. My principles for running were to be accountable to the public, compassionate towards victims and fair to the accused, and we’ve made those principles the bedrock of everything we do in court.

Tammy Kemp is the presiding Judge of the 204th Judicial District Court. There has been a transformation and many successes since she took the bench. Judge Kemp is a native of Wewoka, OK and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and a Juris Doctorate degree from OU. After graduating law school, she worked as an Assistant Attorney General and an Assistant Secretary of State for the State of Oklahoma, before relocating to the Dallas area.

She has been practicing law since 1988 and her areas of expertise include criminal, corporate and retirement law. In her previous role of Administrative Chief of the Family Violence and Child Abuse Divisions at the Dallas County District Attorney’s (DA) Office, she supervised 28 attorneys, 21 investigators, and 18 support staff. Her duties included the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses, including death penalty capital murders.

She is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the State Bar of Oklahoma and has been a member of Concord Church for more than 26 years, where she serves as a Deaconess. A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Judge Kemp is married to a wonderful, supportive husband and they have three amazing children.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Metro News.

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WATCH LIVE! — NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Welcome to the NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception
The post WATCH LIVE! — NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




The post WATCH LIVE! — NNPA 2023 National Leadership Awards Reception first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Just last month, FEMA announced nearly $3 billion in climate mitigation project selections nationwide to help communities build resilience through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) national competition and Flood Mitigation Assistance program. In total, more than 50% of these projects will benefit disadvantaged communities, and in particular, 70% of BRIC projects will do the same.
The post OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




By Erik A. Hooks, FEMA Deputy Administrator

We know that disasters do not discriminate. Yet, recovery from the same event can be uneven from community to community, perpetuating pre-existing inequalities. Recognizing these disparities, FEMA and the entire Biden-Harris Administration have prioritized equity when it comes to accessing federal programs and resources.

The numbers tell the story.

Just last month, FEMA announced nearly $3 billion in climate mitigation project selections nationwide to help communities build resilience through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) national competition and Flood Mitigation Assistance program. In total, more than 50% of these projects will benefit disadvantaged communities, and in particular, 70% of BRIC projects will do the same.

These selections further underscore the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to equity and reaffirm FEMA’s mission of helping people before, during and after disasters, delivering funding to the communities that need it most.

Building on this momentum and our people-first approach, FEMA recently announced the initial designation of nearly 500 census tracts, which will be eligible for increased federal support to become more resilient to natural hazards and extreme weather worsened by the climate crisis. FEMA will use “Community Disaster Resilience Zone” designations to direct and manage financial and technical assistance for resilience projects nationwide, targeting communities most at risk due to climate change. More Community Disaster Resilience Zone designations, including tribal lands and territories, are expected to be announced in the fall of 2023.

These types of investments have, and will yield a significant return on investment for communities nationwide.

For example, in my home state of North Carolina, the historic community of Princeville, founded by freed African American slaves, uses BRIC funding to move vulnerable homes and critical utilities out of flood-prone areas.

In East Harlem, BRIC dollars will provide nature-based flood control solutions to mitigate the impacts of extreme rainfall events in the Clinton low-income housing community.

While we are encouraged by these investments, we know more must be done.

Not every community has the personnel, the time or the resources to apply for these federal dollars. Fortunately, FEMA offers free, Direct Technical Assistance to help under-resourced communities navigate the grant application process and get connected with critical resources. Under the leadership of FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, this assistance has been a game-changer, reducing barriers and providing even more flexible, customer-focused, tailored support to communities interested in building and sustaining successful resilience programs.

In Eastwick, Philadelphia, FEMA’s dedicated support helped the city with outreach to multiple federal agencies. Together, we built a comprehensive community-led flood mitigation strategy. When applied and implemented, this will make this community more resilient to hazards like flooding, which was negatively affecting many neighborhood blocks.

In DePue, Illinois, we worked hand-in-hand with communities to improve their ability to submit high-quality funding applications for hazard mitigation projects. We are happy to share that DePue is the first Direct Technical Assistance community to be selected in the BRIC national competition. And, we know they will not be the last. Thanks to this assistance and their ambition, DePue was awarded more than $20 million to build a new wastewater treatment plant, which will reduce flooding and raw sewage back-up into the basements of homes.

In total, our agency is working with over 70 communities, including tribal nations, to increase access to funding for mitigation projects that will make communities more livable and resilient.

With extreme weather events becoming increasingly intense and frequent due to climate change, we must keep pressing forward and continue investing in ways to better protect ourselves and our neighbors. And we are encouraged that local officials are engaging with us to learn more about the benefits of the BRIC non-financial Direct Technical Assistance initiative—just last week, we saw hundreds of participants nationwide register for a recent webinar on this important topic.

We want to see even more communities take advantage of this initiative, and, ultimately, obtain grants for innovative and forward-looking resilience projects. To that end, FEMA recently published a blog with five steps to help local communities and tribal nations learn more about the benefits of this non-financial technical assistance to access federal funding. I hope your community will take action and submit a letter of interest for this exciting opportunity and increase meaningful mitigation work throughout the country.

With the pace of disasters accelerating, communities can utilize federal resources to reduce their risk and take action to save property and lives. FEMA stands ready to be a partner and collaborator with any community that is ready to implement creative mitigation strategies and help build our nation’s resilience.

The post OP-ED: Delivering Climate Resilience Funding to Communities that Need it the Most first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities

ARIZONA INFORMANT — Prior to the Civil War, many communities in the Ohio River Valley were a part of an elaborate system that provided resources and protection for enslaved persons from Southern states on their journey to freedom. Once someone crossed the Ohio River, they traveled along unknown terrain of trails to safe houses and hiding places that would become known as the Underground Railroad. 
The post Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities first appeared on BlackPressUSA.




By Christopher J. Miller, Sr. Director of Education & Community Engagement, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller

September is International Underground Railroad Month.

This proclamation began in the State of Maryland in 2019, and now more than 11 States officially celebrate one of the most significant eras in U.S. history. With the signing of Ohio HB 340 in June 2022, Ohio became the 12th state to designate September International Underground Railroad Month.

Many history enthusiasts and scholars hope the momentum of the proclamation spreads to other states so that all our forebears of freedom are remembered.

Examining this era, you find that the Ohio River Valley is instrumental in the many narratives of freedom seekers. These stories are critical to our understanding of race relations and civic responsibilities.

Before the Civil War, many communities in the Ohio River Valley were part of an elaborate system that provided resources and protection for enslaved persons from Southern states on their journey to freedom. Once someone crossed the Ohio River, they traveled along unknown terrain of trails to safe houses and hiding places that would become known as the Underground Railroad.

Gateway to Freedom sign

Gateway to Freedom sign

The Underground Railroad was comprised of courageous people who were held to a higher law that confronted the institution of slavery with acts of civil disobedience by helping freedom seekers elude enslavers and slave hunters and help them get to Canada.

Many communities were a force for freedom along the more than 900-mile stretch of the Ohio River Valley, but I would like to focus on two significant communities.

Southern Indiana was a major part of this history. It was originally believed that there were from Posey to South Bend, Corydon to Porter, and Madison to DeKalb County, with many stops in between.

In further examination, the Underground Railroad in Indiana was a web of trails through the forests, swamps, briars, and dirt roads. The city that is often overlooked in reflecting on the history of the Underground Railroad is New Albany, Indiana.

By 1850, New Albany was the largest city in Indiana, with a population of 8,632. Free Blacks accounted for 502 of that population. Across the river, Louisville was Kentucky’s largest city, with a population of 42,829. A quarter of the 6,687 Black population were free in Louisville.

Town Clock Church (aerial view)

Town Clock Church (aerial view)

Louisville and New Albany would grow to become a significant region for Underground Railroad activity. People like Henson McIntosh became a prominent community member and major Underground Railroad conductor. McIntosh was one of approximately ten Underground Railroad agents in New Albany who used their wealth and influence to impact the lives of freedom seekers crossing the Ohio River.

The Carnegie Center for Art & History is an outstanding resource that continues to preserve New Albany’s role during the Underground Railroad era. Approximately 104 miles east along the Ohio River is another institution that plays a critical role in elevating the profile of the Underground Railroad on a national scope.

Inside Town Clock Church New Albany Indiana safe house

Inside Town Clock Church New Albany Indiana safe house

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

By 1850, Cincinnati would grow to be the 6th largest city in the Union, with a sizable Black population.

The Freedom Center is prominently located in the heart of a historic Black community called Little Africa. Although the community no longer exists, its legacy lives on through the Freedom Center.

As with New Albany, the community that resided along the banks of the river served an important role in the story of the Underground Railroad. Little Africa was the gateway to freedom for thousands of freedom seekers escaping slavery.

Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, Ohio had the most active network of any other state, with approximately 3,000 miles of routes used by an estimated 40,000 freedom seekers that crossed through Little Africa.

Despite the growth of enslavement leading up to the Civil War, communities such as Little Africa and New Albany reveal the realities regarding race relations and a model for the dignity of human life through their respective efforts to be kind and resilient friends for the freedom seekers.

For More Information:

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center –

Cincinnati Tourism –

Carnegie Center for Art & History –

Southern Indiana Tourism –

The post Tale of Two Underground Railroad Communities first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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