Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean, who was in his own apartment eating ice cream at the time she shot him. She was a police officer who entered the wrong apartment, claiming she thought it was her own, and finding Botham there, shot him.
Justice was done, because this was no “mistake” when a white police officer shoots a black man for doing nothing that a police officer should find necessary to use deadly force–never mind that she wasn’t on duty or doing “police” work. The fact that she is white and he was black made the terrible story even worse, open to vengeance, race baiting and claims of inherent unfairness.
At Guyger’s sentencing, Judge Tammy Kemp handed down 10 years, meaning that Guyger will be eligible for parole in just five years. It would have been expected and even acceptable in today’s culture if Botham Jean’s brother Brandt, in his victim impact statement, condemned the sentence as a slap on the wrist. It would have been expected, and even acceptable if he had used his opportunity to speak to fan the flames of vengeance and racial division.
But he fanned a flame of a different kind; one that is rarely seen these days, so it appears all the brighter when it does. Grace.
“I forgive you,” Brandt Jean said from the stand. He then said, “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you,” he told her. “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
Then he stunned the courtroom when he asked if he could give Guyger a hug. And then he hugged her, again and again.
This simple act of human compassion, and divine forgiveness strikes as the Bible says it would: It is a sharper blade than flesh and bone, cutting to the heart.
Those who see the bright flame of grace burning in Brandt Jean’s grieving heart either see it as a reminder that Jesus Christ is alive, and that our society has become inured to death, violence and incivility of mankind; or they see it as a fire searing to their own beliefs in the injustice of mankind.
Some could understand the grace, but not without the injustice.
Omar Suleiman, a civil rights activist and imam, acknowledged the grace Jean’s younger brother had shown in hugging and forgiving Guyger but said it doesn’t suggest people shouldn’t fight against injustice.
“If you’re going to talk about the grace of his brother, then talk about the outrage of his mother,” Suleiman said.
Grace catches like a fire. After Brandt’s embrace, Judge Tammy Kemp also hugged Guyger. That was too much for some who prefer their justice served cold.
“How Botham Jean’s brother chooses to grieve is his business. He’s entitled to that. But this judge choosing to hug this woman is unacceptable,” tweeted Atlantic writer Jemele Hill, telling people to remember that “this convicted murderer is the same one who laughed about Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.”
Certainly there’s room for discussion of race. There’s room to ask the difficult questions like “if Botham Jean was white and Amber Guyger was black, would she be getting 10 years, or life in prison?” But when we ask these questions while we’re hugging, they lose their ability to enrage. In the burning flame of grace, all other fires go cold.
The burning flame of grace is a reminder to all of us that justice is only found in God. It burns all the brighter when we notice we’ve all been living in darkness for so long.
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