Grace under fire: The tragedy of Botham Jean’s shooting by Amber Guyger
Lewisville, Texas: Former Dallas Police Officer, Amber Guyger who killed an unarmed black man, twenty-six-year-old Botham Jean, September 2018 in his own apartment was found guilty of murder. The emotional impact of the story reveals Grace under Fire.
The off-duty officer shot Botham Jean when she came home to find what she believed to be an intruder inside her apartment. However, she entered the wrong apartment just one floor above her own.
The white female officer killing a young black man ignited protests outside Police Headquarters and inside City Hall calling for justice. After weeks of community unrest and accusations of preferential treatment of a white police officer, a grand jury charged her with murder—carrying a maximum ninety-nine-year prison sentence if found guilty.
On Tuesday, October 1, 2019, waiting for the jury to return a verdict, the family of Botham Jean feared the white female officer would be found not guilty following an established pattern in which police officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the killings of unarmed black men.
The family listened intently as the Dallas County jury announced that they found Amber Guyger, 31, guilty of murder. The verdict set off a scene of jubilation. When Botham’s mother, Allison Jean, heard the verdict she stood up, face looking upwards, raised her hands in the air and celebrated in a voice of praise: “God is good.”
In the hallways, supporters shouted approval: “Black lives matter.”
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It was reported that five hours after the announced sentence, a small group of protesters were marching in the streets of Dallas unsatisfied with the inadequate ten-year sentence. Twitter was filled with mixed, emotional reactions to the sentence.
While the case captured the racial and legal attention of the community and nation, the real story of God’s grace and forgiveness came from an unlikely party. With the judge’s permission, the victim’s brother, eighteen-year-old Brandt Jean embraced the ex-police officer and expressed an unexpected, life-changing gift to the killer: “I forgive you.”
From the witness stand, he stated, “I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
The stunning willingness to forgive tells us more about the young black man than anything about the offender, the protestors or the jubilant court observers.
The expression of forgiveness and love continued when, unexpectedly, Judge Tammy Kemp dressed in her black robe of justice, choking back tears, gave Guyger a Bible and embraced her. This act of graciousness to a woman she just sentenced to ten years in prison, like the controversial trial itself, stirred criticism and protests.
A tweet, reportedly from the Dallas Police Department, acknowledges the unusual act of love:
“[It is] a spirit of forgiveness, faith, and trust.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, District Attorney John Creuzot and former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley joined in lauding the young man’s unselfish gift of forgiveness.
Accusations of this white Police Officer mocking and laughing at Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, have led some to reject the leniency and forgiveness given to Guyger. These emotions are real and many feel a deep sense of injustice.
From a biblical perspective, such forgiveness is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Often, in the heat of such an offensive crime, it is easy to confuse revenge with justice. Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to lay aside feelings of resentment toward a person who has wronged you. Forgiveness is not forgetting nor excusing wrongdoings, in this case, it is the result of acknowledging God’s forgiveness of sin. The Bible is clear:
“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished….” (Numbers 14:18) (NIV)
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
I don’t know whether or not the punishment fits the crime, but we shouldn’t confuse revenge with justice. The young man gave the woman two gifts of grace: personal forgiveness and the message of God’s forgiveness. With passion as he nervously tugging at his shirt collar, eighteen-year-old Brandt Jean became a living sermon on biblical forgiveness,
“I’m speaking for myself, not even on behalf of my family, but I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. But I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. And the best would be, give your life to Christ.”
There are times that we don’t feel like forgiving someone who has wronged us. It is easier to lash out in our pain and bitterness to release our sorrow. But forgiving releases us emotionally and spiritually and allows healing to take place.
Here is a young man facing enormous personal tragedy whose wisdom is far beyond his years. In the midst of a firestorm of controversy, he exercised Godly kindness, grace, and forgiveness. What a wonderful inspiration to men of all ages. Imagine a world that operated on the principles of this eighteen-year-old. An emotional trial that ended well because of the character of Brandt Jean—truly an expression of “grace under fire.”
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