Dallas has been in turmoil. A little over a year ago, police officer Amber Guyger left work after a 13.5-hour shift and drove to her apartment building. She was on the phone with a fellow officer with whom she was having a relationship when she pulled into the parking garage. She left her car and went to her apartment. Only it was not her apartment.
Officer Guyger had parked on the wrong floor of the garage. She entered her apartment building on the fourth instead of the third floor, where she lived. She found the door unlocked and, according to some reports, ajar. She entered to find a man sitting on the sofa, watching TV. She drew her service weapon and yelled, “Hands!” The man on the couch – his own couch, as it turned out – Botham Jean, said, “Hey! Hey!” and Ms. Guyger fired two shots, one through the heart.
Mr. Jean was black and Officer Guyger was white. Communities of color in Dallas were outraged by yet another killing of a black man by a white police officer. Protests were called, including one that temporarily ended a Dallas City Council meeting when dozens of protestors entered and began chanting, “No justice, no peace.” The mayor abruptly called for a recess.
The death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police has happened so frequently that the nation is in danger of becoming inured to it. While blacks make up 13 percent of the population, 25 percent of the time a person dies in an encounter with police, it is a black man. In some cities, police have killed black men at a higher rate than the U.S. murder rate. So when white police officer Amber Guyger entered Botham Jean’s apartment and fatally shot him, people were rightfully outraged.
The case finally went to court and Amber Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison. Many in the Dallas community are angry that Ms. Guyger will spend no more than ten years behind bars and will be eligible for parole in just five years, even though she killed an innocent man in his own apartment. But that is not all people are angry about. Some are angry at the victim’s brother because he publicly forgave Ms. Guyger.
I listened to National Public Radio today as a reporter recounted the remarkable scene in the courtroom. Brandt Jean, the murder victim’s 18-year-old brother, took the stand to present a victim’s statement in which he told Ms. Guyger he forgave her. He said, “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you. I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
He then asked the judge, “Can I give her a hug, please? Please.” When the judge gave him permission, he left the stand, met his brother’s killer in front of the court, and hugged her.
As a way of explaining Brandt Jean’s act of forgiveness, the reporter pointed out that Jean was from the Caribbean Island country of St. Lucia where racial relations are quite different than in the U.S. He believed the extraordinary act of forgiveness had a “cultural” explanation.
It may be that culture plays a part, though in light of the fact that St. Lucia police have been suspected of carrying out extrajudicial killings, it is doubtful. The truth is, the reporter discounted Mr. Jean’s own words. Jesus taught his people to forgive and Mr. Jean is one of his people.
The reporter’s “cultural” explanation also fails to explain similar acts of forgiveness. Who can forget the forgiveness offered by Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to the white supremacist killer Dylan Roof? Then there was the multi-colored Jamrowski family in El Paso who forgave the man who went to Walmart to kill Latinos. And some of us remember Corrie Ten Boom, who forgave her Nazi guard after the deaths of her sister and parents and her own terrible mistreatment in Ravensbrück.
People don’t understand it – this remarkable forgiveness. Some are angered by it. But sooner or later people will come to recognize it. It is the mark of the forgiven people of Jesus.
First published by Gatehouse Media