Amber Guyger has been getting a lot of forgiveness and a lot of hugs. The former Dallas police officer convicted of murder received a hug from Brandt Jean, the brother of her victim, St. Lucian businessman Botham Shem Jean. Jean’s father revealed he wants to be her friend at some point. Even the judge hugged Guyger and handed her a Bible in court.
How the expressions of forgiveness by Jean’s family members are perceived is a bit of a Rorschach blot. To some, it’s an inspirational testament to the Jean family’s deep Christian faith. To others, though, the “forgiving Amber” and “hugging Amber” narrative is distracting from what they perceive as a too-lenient sentence for Guyger and a double standard in how white (and police) defendants are treated compared to others.
When it comes to the judge, hugging a defendant raises different issues, of course, than when a family member of a victim chooses to do it. Some decried Judge Tammy Kemp’s hug as inappropriate and questioned whether she will hug all murderers. She’s now the subject of an ethics complaint over giving Guyger a Bible.
“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. Keep in mind this convicted murderer is the same one who laughed about Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, and killing ppl on sight,” wrote journalist Jemele Hill on Twitter.
Twitter is alight with contentious debate over it all. One person who was pleased with Brandt Jean’s offer to hug and forgive Guyger in court? The mother of Brandt and Botham Jean, Allison Jean, who is a prominent official in St. Lucia.
Allison Jean praised Brandt, the victim’s younger brother, on Facebook the day after the hug seen around the world, writing, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6. I’m proud of you my son, Brandt. Your load is lighter. Who feels it knows it. Regardless of the views of the spectators, walk with God always. Forgiveness is for the forgiver and it doesn’t matter what the forgiven does with it. #BelikeBo is being Christlike. #LetitRise.”
Here’s what you need to know:
People Are Sharply Divided Over Brandt’s Hug & Many Are Criticizing Judge Kemp
Many of the comments directed at Amber Guyger and those who are offering her forgiveness contain expletives or other language not fit to print. However, here is a roundup of some of the things people are saying on social media. Some people saw a double standard over how black defendants are treated. Others saw the forgiveness narrative as a way to keep attention away from systemic racial disparities.
“…pretty sure O.J. Simpson would love 2 receive forgiveness, hugs and kumba ya’s that u think Amber Guyger deserves.”
“I get the brother huging (sic) #AmberGuyger but #TammyKemp ? That was very unprofessional. I almost forgot who the real victim was in this trail (sic). She MURDERED #BothamJean in his own home, and then got a slap on the wrist for it.”
“That judge is disgusting… but I wasn’t feeling her vibe from the beginning anyway. Hugging a convicted murderer. F*ck no.”
“People Who have sold weed got more time than Amber Guyger did for taking the life of an ambitious & productive young man of #African Ancestry.”
“Amber Guyger got only 10 years for shooting a Black man in his own house. I got sad and mad, but then I remember that could be worse, she could have walked free like Zimmerman did. What about the hugs? I don’t even wanna talk about the hugs.”
“I was getting really angry yesterday, as news people gleefully retweeted that hug photo. Not because of the act of forgiveness, but bc of the way it’s being used by Disney-fied Americans to ignore the full weight of Amber Guyger’s crime. I found the delight taken grotesque.”
“If you see non-Black people giving praises to all the Black people who were hugging and forgiving in the Amber Guyger trial……But these same people are NOT condemning Guyger for her racism & murder….Then its safe to suspect these people could be white supremacists.”
“After the spectacle of forgiveness surrounding convicted murderer Amber Guyger, this might be a good time to reflect on the political utility of forgiveness, and its purpose in pressuring Black America to forget.”
“It’s hard to put words together on the Amber Guyger sentencing, the forgiveness from his brother, and new reports on his dad also stating he would be friends with Amber. Sadly, I’m not surprised at the sentencing, as a Justice Study major I understand the justice system and its special sympathy to white women. In fact, I did a research paper on chivalrism and how it plays in the justice system and white women are the largest beneficiaries of it. However, I’m truly baffled at all the forgiveness Botham’s family is handing out…”
However, others were very moved by Brandt Jean’s hug. “Watching Botham Jean’s brother hug Amber Guyger at the end of her sentencing had me in fucking tears. She deserves every moment of jail time but I am so amazed to see the family able to love and forgive her and remember Botham in nothing but positive light,” wrote one woman.
Judge Kemp Is Now Facing an Ethics Complaint for Her Actions With Guyger
When it comes to Judge Kemp, she’s now facing an ethical complaint for hugging Guyger and giving her a Bible. After Brandt Jean’s emotional statement, and as the courtroom cleared, Judge Kemp walked down from the bench to meet with Guyger. She also spoke with Jean’s family members. The judge hugged the former Dallas police officer and gave her a Bible, reading her a passage: 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.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint against Kemp with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to Law.com. “These proseletyzing actions overstepped judicial authority, were inappropriate and were unconstitutional,” it read. Some experts told the site that the judge should have remained impartial. But Guyger’s lawyer Robert Rogers defended Kemp to Law.com, saying:
“Those people didn’t live this trial. This trial is a one-in-a-billion circumstance, that had extreme emotions throughout it, and there was good on both sides. The judge lived through it. She saw this as a unique circumstance. She hugged the Jean family. She was crying when the father was testifying. The judge was just experiencing the emotions of a human being. For anyone to say it has any bearing on her ability to be fair is taking a cold, narrow, cynical view of a judge’s role.” A jury sentenced Guyger to 10 years in prison in this case, not the judge.
President and Director-Counsel of LDF (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational) Sherrilyn Ifill wrote on Twitter, “A judge is not… an average citizen. She is not the victim. She is not the prosecution (technically ‘the people’). She must, especially in a case that arouses passion and conflict like this one, stand for impartial justice. She may speak words from the bench. This is too much.”
Botham Jean’s Father Says He Wants to Befriend Guyger But There Are Still ‘Consequences’
Bertrum Jean, the father of Botham Shem Jean, said in church after Amber Guyger’s sentencing that he’d like to become her friend someday, according to CBS Dallas. You can watch a news broadcast containing video of his comments later in this article.
Guyger had said she mistakenly went into the wrong apartment, thinking it was her own; prosecutors countered that she should have known it was not. Botham Shem Jean was watching TV and eating ice cream in his own apartment when Guyger shot him.
CBS Dallas reported that Botham Jean’s father, Bertrum Jean, was with the family at church after the sentencing concluded. They were seated at Dallas West Church of Christ in the spot where Botham Jean liked to sit in church, according to the television station. “I’m not really surprised because we know how we raised him… The Holy Spirit was working,” said Bertrum, referring to Brandt Jean’s courtroom hug.
Then he said: “I’d like to become your friend at some point… I think I have the ability to do it and I would like to be a friend despite my loss. That’s why we are Christians.” The television station reported that Bertrum Jean was talking about befriending Amber Guyger in that statement.
Bertrum added, however: “I appreciate what Brandt did but there are consequences for actions.” Some sites have given the father’s name as Bertram Jean, but on Facebook, he goes by the spelling Bertrum Jean.
Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, said forgiveness as Christians is “healing for us.. but there are consequences. I will leave my forgiveness to Amber to myself.”
Brandt Jean’s expressions of forgiveness toward Guyger in the Texas courtroom generated headlines throughout the world. The moment led to sobs in court after Brandt told Guyger that he forgives and loves her, asking her to turn to Christ.
Jean asked the judge: “I don’t know if this is possible but can I give her a hug please? Please?” He was giving a victim impact statement at the time after Guyger’s sentencing. The judge allowed it, and Jean embraced Guyger in a lengthy hug.
Botham Jean was deeply connected to his Christian religion and known for his singing in church. A video of him singing in church was even presented previously in the sentencing hearing. Brandt Jean was only 17 when Guyger shot and killed his brother. He previously described hearing his mother cry, telling Fox 6, “I still don’t believe he’s gone, but we have to accept it. He was really inspiring. He had a positive mind and vibe.”
This is Brandt Jean’s full statement to Guyger:
“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that. But I just…I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past. Each and every one of us may have done something we’re not supposed to do. If you truly are sorry, I speak for myself, I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. And I don’t think anyone can say, I’m speaking for myself…but I love you just like everyone else. And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, 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… I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again I love you as a person. I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
Jean’s mother runs the Saint Lucia national Utilities Regulatory Commission. She told CBS of Brandt’s action, “What he did today, was remarkable, and he did it all on his own. What Brandt did was to cleanse his heart towards Amber … I do not want it to be misconstrued as a complete forgiveness of everybody.”
READ NEXT: The Life of Botham Shem Jean.