Some of you may have heard the story of the female Dallas police officer who shot a black accountant living in the apartment above her, believe that he was a burgler in her own apartment.
The story is, frankly, a little hard to believe. On September 6, 2018, Guyger, a patrol officer with the Dallas police department returned home, but went to the wrong apartment. She lived on the 3rd floor, the apartment she entered was directly above on the 4th floor. There, she shot the apartment’s sole occupant, Botham Jean, an accountant born in Saint Lucia, who was watching TV and eating ice cream.
In his own apartment.
The story begged a number of questions, like:
- How did she get into the apartment if she had the wrong key? (Or was it unlocked?)
- How did could she possibly not notice that she was in the wrong apartment?
- Why did she shoot immediately, before attempting to find out why this guy was (supposedly) in her apartment if he was not armed?
Last week, Guyger was convicted of murder (not manslaughter). Then three things happened:
- She was sentenced to only 10 years in prison.
- During the victim impact statement, the victim’s brother asked to hug her.
- After the trial, the judge asked to hug her and gave her a bible.
A lot of folks, especially people of color, were upset by these events. They noted that if the scenario had been reversed — if Botham Jean had accidentally shot Amber Guyger — that he would have gotten a lot more than 10 years imprisonment. This is undoubtedly true.1
But people shouldn’t be upset that Brandt Jean, Botham’s brother, chose to give her a hug. That was his choice to make, and it was a beautiful thing. It was completely in keeping with his sincerely held Christian faith, demonstrates that he does not believe that she did it on purpose, and is a remarkable advertisement for the power of forgiveness.
I think the young man should be lauded. We need lots more forgiveness in this world.
However, the judge (Tammy Kemp, also an African American woman) was completely out of bounds when she also gave Guyger a hug as well as a Bible. That was not her role to play. The victim’s brother, sure, he could make that choice. But not a judge.
Amber Guyger will have to live with both her infamy and her conscience for what she did. Brandt Jean, on the other hand, may have moved us a small step closer to healing both the racial and political divide with his unexpected and heartfelt gesture.2
- It is significant here that Guyger was convicted of murder and not the lesser charge of manslaughter, which was available, and which suggests that the jury did not buy her argument that this was an “accident.”
- And Judge Tammy Kemp muddied the water and actually detracted from Brandt Jean’s gesture by apparently not really understanding the role of a judge in a criminal process.