I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I sat motionless, mouth agape, as I watched Brandt Jean offer his forgiveness, prayers, love and even an extended hug to the woman who had just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering his brother and mentor.
In that improbable and moving moment, a flurry of emotions washed over me, but one thought stood out: Black people are truly amazing.
When black people were being attacked by police dogs, sprayed with fire hoses, spat upon and hit with rocks as they marched for equality during the Civil Rights Movement, they responded with nonviolence. When nine black members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, were gunned down by a white supremacist they had welcomed into their Bible study, survivors and the victims’ families offered their forgiveness and prayed for mercy on the soul of the killer. After Rodney King was savagely beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers during an arrest and rioting erupted in 1991, he tried to calm the raging racial storm with these now-famous words: “Can we all get along?”
No group of people in the history of this country has been more disrespected, dehumanized, demeaned, devalued, discriminated against, brutalized, violated, marginalized, hoodwinked, bamboozled, lied to and taken advantage of than black people. Yet time and time again, we find it in our hearts to forgive the unforgivable and to try to see the best in those who often times don’t see us at all.
Black people have not only proven to be extremely resilient, but we have such a forgiving nature. Too much of one, some say.
Despite what media has fed the public for years about the violent nature of black people, I can say this without fear of contradiction: if white Americans endured the extreme levels of brutality, discrimination, disrespect and injustice that blacks have endured since we were brought to these shores in chains, their response would not be so forgiving or nonviolent.
Jean’s brother, Botham, was shot and killed in his own apartment in 2018 by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Guyger said she mistook the unit for her own and believed Botham Jean was an intruder. On Tuesday, a Texas jury found her guilty of murder, and on Wednesday, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison – a punishment many felt was shamefully light considering Guyger faced up to life. Prior to the sentencing, prosecutors had asked the jury for a minimum of 28 years, equal to the age of Botham at the time of his murder.
But during a family impact statement, Brandt Jean told the judge and those in the courtroom that he forgave Guyger and that he didn’t even want her to go to jail.
“I love you just like anyone else,” he said. “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did. … I personally want the best for you. …Again, I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
I have seen family members of victims rush to hurt a defendant before, but never to hug them. The 18-year-old’s response in that courtroom Wednesday was nothing short of extraordinary and God-inspired. Like his brother, Brandt was raised in the Church of Christ in St. Lucia, where his family lives, CNN reported. His mother, Allison Jean, gave all of her three children Biblical middle names. Botham Jean’s middle name was Shem, who was a son of Noah. Brandt’s middle name is Samuel, after a prophet in the Old Testament.
As a pastor myself, I’d like to think my response would be the same as Brandt’s if someone senselessly took the life of one of my brothers. But I can’t say for sure that it would be. I pray to God I never find myself in a position to have to make that choice.
African Americans are not a monolith so there will be some who won’t like or agree with Brandt’s response. To be sure, some black people want blood for blood. For them, there’s just been too much injustice in the courts and on the streets to forgive so easily. Forgiveness offered too quickly can undermine both justice and accountability, some say. And for the non-religious, “churchisms” such as, “The Lord will fight your battles” and “Vengeance is mine, thus saith the Lord,” just sound like more opium for the masses.
Brandt chose love in the aftermath of losing his big brother to a bullet fired from a cop who tried to open the wrong apartment. The worst moment of his life.
Love is too often viewed as a weak emotion. But in its truest form, it is by far the strongest. It took strength to look his brother’s killer in the face and say, “I forgive you.” Brandt Jean refused to allow an unjust system to turn him into the very thing that he despises.
Some might say Brandt’s forgiveness released Guyger undeservedly, and that may be true. But I believe Brandt’s act freed him more than her. Maybe it can release the rest of us too.
— Written by Kevin S. Aldridge, Opinion Editor, Cincinnati Enquirer