As the verdict for Amber Guyger’s sentence came in, sentencing her to ten years in prison for killing Botham Jean, the conversation quickly turned to the embrace of Amber Guyger by Brandt Jean in the midst of the celebration of the guilty verdict. From that moment on, sides were taken from cries of “what would possess him to do such a thing” swinging all the way to “I understand.” It’s been almost impossible to meet in the middle, it seems.
Lost in this discourse is one very important person whose life will be forever altered by this event- and that’s Brandt Jean. Most of us cannot imagine the type of grief and heartbreak one feels when a family member is murdered in his own home. His older brother has become another sad reminder that racist violence at the hands of the state still continues to plague the everyday lives of black people in this country. And much like many families whose loved ones death become symbols in the movement, he and his family also become symbols of the pain, suffering, and hope left behind by such actions.
The public extension of an olive branch that Brandt Jean gave to Amber Guyger when he took the stand is something that I, personally would not have done. The optics of not only hugging the person that murdered your brother but professing that you love her and forgive her are beyond the scope of infuriating. Especially when such an action is easily weaponized by white people. But to suggest as many have done, that this was an action done for the performance of whiteness is not believable to me. Brandt Jean and his family are practicing Christians and the Christian idea of forgiveness is not about the white gaze. Or any gaze at all, for that matter. It’s about a type of liberation from the things that actively harm a person.
Another thing to take into account is the familiar statements on social media demanding no forgiveness from one’s family if said person ever came to harm. In retrospect that makes perfect sense. Nevertheless, the person in question will still be dead. The family is the one that will be left behind to continue living. Whatever ethics, code, or moral stance they may need to adopt in order to face the next day for the rest of their lives, they should be able to do that. Free from judgment and disapproval.
The other approach to this type of violence is anger, which black people in this country are more than entitled to. Who can forget the full-throated and definitive “Hell No” of Esaw Garner when she was asked if she accepts the remorse of the police officer who ended her husband’s life? Her anger was palpable and eviscerating. It was what she needed to be and feel at that moment. Her anger was necessary in order to cope with the death of her husband.
The point in all of this is that there is no one way to manage such a tragedy. From anger to forgiveness to any and every decision in between. Black people must be given the space to come to terms with a horrifying chapter in their lives. Their individual complexity and challenges must be taken into account, and their humanity never is forgotten. Black anger should be respected and revered because so often we aren’t given the space to be that. But so should the decision to forgive. The path to life after a calamity is complex and confusing. We’d all be better off as bystanders remembering that.