Hug seen around the world: Botham Jean's brother forgives ex-officer who killed his brother

Stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

That’s the only way to describe what happened in a Dallas courtroom Wednesday.

If you pay attention at all to the news, you know what I’m talking about, of course: the hug seen around the world.

The hug, as you know, followed an amazing gesture of forgiveness that nobody — absolutely nobody — saw coming.

Here’s how it played out on the front page of today’s Dallas Morning News, the local newspaper that has covered this story so well from start to finish:

I was driving home from Harding University — the Searcy, Ark., college where Botham Jean earned his accounting degree — when I stopped for gas and briefly checked Twitter.

That’s when I learned that Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer convicted of murder in Jean’s 2018 shooting death, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. She had faced five to 99 years in prison.

I learned, too — and this part was more surprising — that Jean’s younger brother, Brandt, had made an incredible victim impact statement in which he forgave Guyger, urged her to follow Jesus Christ and then asked to hug her.

Stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

Numerous news organizations covered this news, but none captured it so eloquently as Jennifer Emily, the Dallas Morning News writer who has followed this story from the beginning. She even traveled to Botham Jean’s home country — the Caribbean island of St. Lucia — to cover his funeral.

Here is Emily’s lede on today’s front page:

Chants of “no justice, no peace” drifted from the hallway into the the 204th District Court, and then Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother stepped up to the witness stand Wednesday.

This was Brandt Jean’s chance to tell Guyger exactly what he thought of the former Dallas officer after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering his brother last year when she mistook his apartment for hers.

There were only two rules for his “victim impact statement”: no threats and no profanity.

What came next was a stunning moment that played out after many had left the courtroom and the world watched online. Even courthouse veterans wept at something they’d never seen before.

Jean took a breath into the microphone and began to speak. He hadn’t told his family what he planned to say, he told Guyger. He spoke for himself, not them.

"If you truly are sorry," Jean said.  "I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you."

Keep reading, and the Dallas Morning News writer lets the brother’s words — including those about Jesus and faith — speak from themselves.

Likewise, the newspaper simply reports more astounding developments concerning the judge’s faith-filled interactions with the Jean family and Guyger.

Imagine this:

"Thank you for the way you modeled Christ," Kemp told Allison Jean.

And this:

Kemp crouched in front of Guyger, still wearing her black robe and gave her a Bible. Those watching on the internet could see the judge and Guyger. But they couldn't hear what happened.

They spoke quietly, with Guyger in tears and Kemp punctuated the conversation by gesturing at the Bible and saying, “Read this.”

Guyger leaped up to hug Kemp. The judge paused for a second, unsure of what to do.

Then, Tammy Kemp embraced Guyger, who whispered in her ear.

Only the judge’s responses were heard: “Ma’am, it’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ. None of us are worthy.”

“Forgive yourself.”

Stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

Emily’s story doesn’t offer a whole lot of detail about the Jean family’s faith. In many cases, we at GetReligion would advocate more context and background along the lines. Given how exhaustively the Dallas Morning News and other news organizations have covered this story, though, most news consumers are relatively familiar with that information. In this case, I think the simpler story — letting the powerful details tell the story in a concise way — works remarkably.

For anyone watching to catch up on the faith of the Jean family, here is an interview I did a few months ago with the victim’s parents. And here is a story I wrote featuring worship at Botham Jean’s home congregation on the Sunday after his death.

I’m pretty sure Botham Jean’s brother can forgive Guyger and proselytize her, if that’s the right word.

The judge? That one surprised me. I wonder if there’ll be a letter in the mail soon from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And honestly, I’d love to hear from legal and constitutional experts on that exchange. It’s fascinating to me.

The forgiveness? There might be room for some deeper, more in-depth exploration of what that means in a case such as this.

In other dramatic scenarios like this (such as when victims forgave Dylann Roof after his 2015 massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, W.Va.), the real story of forgiveness has turned out to be more complicated than it originally seemed. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes explored this in her exceptional book, “Grace Will Lead Us Home.”

Since I started with the video of Brandt Jean hugging Guyger, I’ll end with this video of the judge and Guyger:

Pool photo by Tom Fox, The Dallas Morning News

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