Moments of Grace in a Dallas Courtroom

Brandt Jean–younger brother of Botham Jean, murdered in his own apartment by former police officer Amber Guyger–expresses forgiveness that metamorphoses into moments of grace during the sentencing phase of trial.

Many of us know the high-profile story of a former Dallas police officer who claimed she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, thinking it was hers, and shot 26-year-old Botham Jean who was sitting on his couch, eating ice cream.

He posed no threat, but was killed by a white officer, sparking questions about police shooting unarmed African-Americans–not on the street, or in a car–but in the fabled safety of a person’s own home.

Guyger, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. With good behavior, she could be released in 5. She could have been sentenced to 99 years. Prosecutors had asked for 28 in light of her actions following the shooting, including no attempt to render CPR while Bothan Jean lay dying. Moreover, prosecutors discovered that Guyger in her past had shared offensive texts and memes in social media posts.

One stated: “People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”

While many believed the 10-year sentence was too lenient, given the murder charge and prosecutor’s request, Brandt Jean’s victim impact statement seemed to symbolize the life and beliefs of his brother Botham Jean,  a preacher and singer at Dallas West Church of Christ.

It should be noted that moments of grace in a courtroom are rare, if ever witnessed at all. That made it the focus of news. However, as filmmaker Bree Newsome states in a tweet that appears in a CNN analysis of the courtroom scene:

The focus of concern is the white person who committed violence and their redemption. … The Black person who forgives them is viewed through the white gaze lens as a model minority solely for their willingness to forgive. The Black person exists as a vehicle for white redemption.

Brandt Jean’s words of forgiveness was affirmed when he asked Judge Tammy Kemp if he could hug Guyger. The judge allowed it, and otherwise impartial court reporters said they held back tears, describing the moment.

The scene also inspired Judge Kemp who gave Guyger her personal bible and told her to read John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life). They, too, shared a hug.

WFAA investigative producer Jason Trahan said, “I have never seen anything like that in 20 years covering courts.”

Trahan added that once Kemp gave Brandt Jean permission to hug Guyger–something else he had never seen–“the whole tenor of the courtroom changed.” The judge gave her the prisoner one of her bibles. “Most of us in the courtroom were trying not to cry, watching this happen.”

Kemp told Guyger to forgive herself and reflect on the transcendence of grace while in prison.

Living Media Ethics describes the highest humane principles of forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, empathy and grace, informing prospective journalists and practitioners not only to recognize the values in themselves but also to capture them when they happen in public to others.

Those are the photos, stories, videos, podcasts and campaigns that win awards, build community and inspire others.

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