An historic court case happened a couple of weeks ago that we should all remember and reflect upon. This is the background:
Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger went into the unlocked apartment of Botham Shem Jean, a native of the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia and an employee at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Dallas. The apartment was directly over her own and she mistakenly thought that he had broken into her apartment. The lights were off.
Mistaking him for a burglar, she pulls out her gun and shoots him in the chest and kills him. Botham Jean, 26, was a graduate of Harding University in Arkansas, where he had been a beloved worship leader. University officials say that Jean was “one of those people who really stood out, with his voice and his leadership.”
The officer who shot Jean is white, and Jean’s mother said she wondered whether the outcome would have been different if her son hadn't been black.
“I don't want to judge her. We are Christians. We forgive,” she said. “But I need to look into her eyes and ask her why did she do that to my son.”
Officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The verdict came after only several hours of deliberation. In Texas, the sentence for murder can be from five to 99 years. However, in Texas a convicted person must serve the entire sentence; there is no possibility of parole.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who also represented the family, said, “This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this is a victory for black people in America. It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change the policing culture around the world.”
Guyger apologized with tears for killing Jean and told the jurors she feared for her life when she found the door to what she thought was her apartment unlocked. Guyger said that Jean came toward her at a fast walk when she entered with her gun out, but prosecutors have suggested he was just rising from a couch toward the back of the room when the officer shot him.
The brother of Botham Jean, Brandt Jean, spoke at the sentencing phase of the trial and gave a statement that moved every Christian who watched it. Directing his remarks to Amber Guyger Brandt Jean said he forgave her and urged her to “embrace Christ.”
“I love you just like anyone else,” Brandt said. “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die … 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 to give your life to Christ.”
At the end of his statement, Brandt asked if he could hug Guyger which the judge allowed. She was willing and both hugged each other crying with deep emotions. It was one of the most emotional moments I have ever experienced. This is what Jesus is taking about when he asked us to forgive. That’s the greatest act of forgiveness I have ever witnessed.
Amber acted out of racial fear and ignorance. Seeing a black man in what she thought was her apartment caused her to act without thinking. When fear and ignorance takes over our lives, we do stupid things. She killed a very special human being “and asked questions later.” Her ten-year sentence should give her the time to reflect on her actions and come closer to God.
This case should give each of us an occasion to reflect on our own racial prejudices.