Last Month the Texas-based Institute for Law Enforcement Administration honored 18-year-old Brandt Jean with the 2019 Ethical Courage award for his public embrace of the ex-Dallas police officer who was convicted of murdering his brother, Botham Jean, when she walked into his apartment thinking it was her own.
Brandt Jean’s statement during Amber Guyger’s trial shocked Americans around the country as he looked at the woman who fatally shot his brother and spoke words of forgiveness.
“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time, what you’ve, or how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that,” he said. “But I just –.”
He paused, adjusted himself again.
“If you truly are sorry — I know I can speak for myself — I, I forgive you,” he told Guyger.
“And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you,” he said.
“I love you just like anyone else,” he said. “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did. … I personally want the best for you.”
The courtroom grew silent except for the loud sobs of Guyger as she fell into Brandt Jean’s embrace. Jean’s unconditional, unfathomable forgiveness shocked many of the courtroom occupants and created controversy as it set off a national debate about the appropriateness of forgiveness in police brutality cases. Even Brandt Jean has felt the ripple effect of his actions from that day, saying “I never intended for the statement I made to the person that murdered my brother to receive such international recognition.”
Such a drastic example of forgiveness raises many questions: How would Jean be able to forgive his brother’s killer? Even if Jean did forgive Guyger, why would he express it so publically? Is it even right for him to forgive the woman who so brutally and suddenly ended his brothers life?
“Contrary to what others may say, I would not be able to forgive the officer. The incident resulted in the loss of an innocent person’s life. Things should never get to that point and the officer should have been more cautious,” said Magan Bui, Senior.
“It would take me years to forgive her because my brother is really important to me, and she was making my excuses…she could have avoided this entire situation… I don’t want to get too far into it because it’s so controversial,” said Daniel Argumedez, Freshman.
“I have a lot of respect for the guy who forgave her because it shows character. It doesn’t mean he forgot about it but he still forgave her,” said Sophia Howard, Senior.
According to Berkeley psychology professor Fred Luskin, when understanding what forgiveness is, it is important to understand what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness should not be glossing over or denying the serious offenses that were committed against you. We have all heard the cliche saying, “forgive and forget,” yet Luskin argues that forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing the offense. It simply brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees them from their corrosive anger.
Matthew Stroup, psychology teacher at Paschal said, “When someone forgives, they communicate an understanding of their place in humanity, where all are deserving of praise and forgiveness. Personal well-being is built on experiences of trial, error, forgiveness, and praise. It is just as important to praise as it is to forgive. We must learn to accept the forgiveness and praise of others, else life is without true friends.”
Another psychologist, Dr. Robert Lee Enright, the author of Exploring Forgiveness, wrote that forgiving is more than simply “moving on” or “putting the past behind us.” He states it is also more than ceasing our anger at the offender; instead, it is a process of forgiveness in which the victim begins to accept the harm done to them, and not expect the offender to give them anything in return.
Jean made it clear that while his act of forgiveness may have aided Guyger, it also benefited him because, in his words, he “needed to be free from the burden of unforgiveness.” In order to move on from his brother’s death, Jean forgave, astonishing America.