Yesterday afternoon an improbable scene unfolded in Dallas. A young woman just sentenced to 10 years in prison and the tearful teenage brother of a slain man came together in a wordless, but very public, display of shared anguish.
It was the conclusion of a highly visible and seriously contested case. In September 2018, Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer, shot and killed unarmed Botham Jean, a young black man who had emigrated from St. Lucia
Stunned onlookers in the suddenly-hushed courtroom openly shed tears. And, I suspect, the description of yesterday’s moment, a momentous and unexpected hug, will continue to be shared on social media for a long, long time.
Two souls united in grief, wrapped in hope, showed that humans can rise to grace and greatness even in the most horrific of circumstances. What the world witnessed in that simple embrace was redemption, the possibility of healing, and a goal worth striving for in the best, as well as the worst, of times.
Read more about the sentencing, as reported by ABC News.
The shooting had prompted angry outbursts, a threat of potential violence, and national news coverage almost from the outset. Guyger was fired from the department soon after her arrest in September 2018.
Botham Jean died while quietly eating ice cream in his own apartment. Guyger, who was returning home after a long shift, still in uniform with gear in hand, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, and fired two shots. She testified that she acted out of fear when she believed the man she saw “in silhouette” started moving toward her.
The brief trial was disturbing on many levels; facts were cloudy, testimony was charged with emotion. The jury was sequestered for the duration. Public opinion ran high. All that was certain was that two lives were irreparably broken.
On Tuesday, there were audible shrieks when the jury, after only five hours of deliberation, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on a charge of murder. Under Texas law, the mandatory imprisonment could range from five to 99 years. The following day, there were audible gasps when the same jury returned a sentence of 10 years for Miss Guyger, with eligibility for parole after five years. Jurors discussed the sentence for just 90 minutes.
Inside the room, according to all reports, it was quiet. However, when the sentence was read, chants of “No justice, no peace” began almost immediately in the hallway.
It was Brandt Jean’s turn to address the court. Botham’s 18-year-old brother quietly told Guyger, “I forgive you,” ” I don’t want you to go to jail,” and “I don’t wish anything bad on you.” Then, in an unexpected and virtually unprecedented move, he turned to the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but could I give her a hug?” Almost pleadingly, he said, “Please?”
After a pause, Judge Tammy Kemp gave her approval.
Jean and Guyger met in the middle of the courtroom. They were, at that moment, totally alone in the world. And that hug, in its simplicity and its symbolism, might become a catalyst for change for the entire world. It was that powerful.