On September 16, 2018 a white Dallas Police Officer, Amber Guyger ended her 13-hour tour of duty and went home like every other day. When she got home she took the elevator to her floor. She found her door and discovered the door wasn’t latched or locked as she had left it prior to her shift. Red flag.
She opened the door to find a dark room with an unknown black male inside. Guyger drew her handgun and pointed it at the man seated on the couch. As he was getting up, she fired two shots. One of the bullets entered the man’s chest, ripped his heart, lung, and intestine, and killed him. Then, she turned on the lights.
Amber looked around. She saw furniture that wasn’t hers. Walls that weren’t hers. An apartment that wasn’t hers. She looked down and saw a man, 26-year-old Botham Jean, now crying, bleeding, gasping, and dying on the floor of his own apartment because she got off the elevator on the wrong floor. She saw a TV on. She saw a half-eaten bowl of ice cream on the coffee table. She called 911.
“Hi, this is an off-duty officer. Can I get… I need EMS!”
“I thought I was in my apartment.”
On the open line Guyger attempts to coax life into Botham Jean.
“I’m sorry. Hey, come on, man.”
“Hey, bud. They’re coming, man. I’m sorry.”
“Stay with me, bud…”
Botham Jean died that night. Amber Guyger was fired by the Dallas Police Department and charged with manslaughter. Protests erupted in Dallas and the charge was increased to murder. Last week, Guyger was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. 10 years for killing an unarmed human in his own apartment.
At the sentencing hearing, numerous family members of Botham spoke to Amber Guyger. Some refused forgiveness. Others wished the worst upon her. Some poured out emotion that anyone would feel if a loved one was murdered the way Botham was.
Brandt Jean, Botham’s 19-year-old brother took the stand. Brandt spoke of the forgiveness of Jesus, then turned to the judge and asked if he could hug Guyger. Brandt and Amber tearfully embraced in an act of grace that is nothing short of remarkable – a superhuman display of grace.
The clip has now gone viral. The conversations about the cultural implications of the hug abound. Does the hug excuse the murder or the murderer? Does the hug show that black victims and their families are expected to forgive? Does the hug mean the verdict and sentence are merely for show? Does this hug distract us from the injustice of a 10-year sentence? Does the hug end the bigger discussion of race and policing in America? Will those in the white community realize that had a black man shot a police officer in a similar fashion, he would likely not receive hugs?
Although these observations are worthy of discussing they shouldn’t detract from the power of Brandt’s actions. Although I do not speak for Brandt, I am sure he wouldn’t want his hug to end the discussion either.
These are not mutually exclusive ideas. We don’t have to choose between applauding Brandt Jean’s Christ-like forgiveness, and discussing the double standards at play. Do not let the partisan and divisive state of American culture steal the power of forgiveness. Additionally, don’t let forgiveness be a roadblock of progress. We can forgive while making changes to ensure another Botham Jean is not murdered.
To my white brothers and sisters, please see Brandt Jean as the remarkable young man he is, but don’t stop there. Self-reflect on how you would truly feel if the situation was different. If that honest, self-reflection yields the discovery of a biased blind spot, prayerfully bring it to light.
As I have said on this blog before, “We do not have to choose between supporting law enforcement and pursuing racial justice.” We can and must do both.