Last year’s incident in Dallas, Texas that just recently went to trial followed few of the common traits of so many police shootings. The officer was female, the victim was not combative, and the situation was non-confrontational. It wasn’t out in public in front of many eyes and cell phones. The shooter had worked a 14-15 hour shift and was understandably tired.
The common and unfortunate attribute was that a white police officer had killed an unarmed black man.
She was also predisposed to a stereotype which surely clouded her thinking and lessened her reasoning ability.
This man, Botham Shem Jean, was the direct opposite of what Amber Guyger’s instincts indicated and what is so often a suspect or a known law breaker in officer-related shootings.
Guyger had been a member of the Dallas police force for four years and had been involved in a previous work-related shooting. That night she parked on the wrong floor of her apartment building after that long shift. She was apparently distracted by an illicit sexting conversation or she would have noticed being on the wrong floor. She opened the wrong apartment door and shot and killed Botham Jean because she thought he was a burglar in the dark.
He wasn’t. He was a docile 26 year-old businessman and a college graduate who everyone loved. Jean was eating a bowl of ice cream and watching television in his own apartment when Guyger burst inside the unlocked door.
I don’t know all the details of the case. However, I’m sure Guyger locked her apartment door before her shift. Why would it be unlocked on her return? Why, as an unaccompanied officer, would she proceed in opening the door and why would she immediately enter a compromised area without appropriate back-up?
Jean was a native of Saint Lucia and a recent graduate from Harding University. He was a campus leader, active in leading worship and in campus student government. He was widely respected by students and faculty, and his singing voice was almost legendary. He was gainfully employed as a Risk Assurance Associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and his life was full of promise.
Botham was a faithful Christian from a young age, and he had devoted his short life to helping people who were less fortunate than he.
He was tenacious in community outreach, especially in his native country. His was passionate about the Gros Islet Infant School and Community Outreach, the Saint Lucia Boys’ Training Center, the New Beginnings Transit Home, the Marian Home for the Elderly, and the Church of Christ in Saint Lucia.
His love for missionary work knew no bounds.
Guyger was found guilty of his murder and was sentenced to 10 years, 5 of which will have to be served.
There are so many things about this case that make it exceptionally tragic.
The truly exceptional and memorable part of the story took place after the sentencing.
It began with Jeans’ younger brother, Brandt, taking the stand to address the shooter. If you have not seen the full four-minute uniterrupted clip, you need to.
Brandt’s few minutes on the stand and his request to step down and give his brother’s killer a hug of encouragement says so much about what kind of man his Botham was and what kind of influence he had on Brandt.
The rest of Jean’s family doesn’t share that level of forgiveness at this point.
Bothem Jean died a year ago, so it’s hard to know how long Brandt has felt like this. Yet, it is clear Botham Jean was a special individual and he seemed destined to impact many people.
However, in God’s mysterious way, what He has done by impacting these three young lives in such a meaningful and widely-seen way will likely resonate with millions of us for longer than any of them could have done as individuals in a lifetime.
A further interesting twist occurred after the sentencing when Judge Tammy Kemp came down from the bench to have a few words with Guyger. She first left the courtroom and came back with her office copy of the Bible and gave it to Guyger.
“You can have [my Bible]. I have three or four more at home,” Kemp said. “This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month. Right here. John: 3:16. And this is where you start, “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,” the judge told the former police officer.
“He has a purpose for you. This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this,” she added.
“It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ. I’m not so good. You haven’t done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”
Before she left, Kemp also gave a Guyger a parting hug.
It was a series of extraordinary moments.
The example of mercy and forgiveness was a great way to have the healing process begin.
And just think, had this not been a white on black crime it would never have received the initial media coverage which remains so impactful.
However, lot of people thought the judge’s gesture was grossly out of line. Others thought it was a violation of the separation of church and state ruling.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation immediately filed a formal complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct alleging Judge Kemp violated the law.
That’s not surprising either.
In what could possibly be among the most healing images this country has witnessed in decades and the most redeeming aspect for Guyger as she begins the rest of her life, the FFRF takes issue.
FFRF always looks to maximize public separation from any degree of Christianity. In the long term they may be biting off more than they can chew.
The Botham Jean Foundation has been set up to help promote the equality and uplifting that he was always working toward.
He seemed destined to accomplish many good things, but the good things and changes that can take place in his memory may far exceed what he could have done individually.
The foundation website is: BothamJeanFoundation.org