The most powerful moment Americans have witnessed this year did not come from a politician.
It did not come from a Hollywood celebrity or a popular pro sports figure.
It didn’t come from a reality TV show contestant.
It came from a murder trial judge and an 18-year-old by the name of Brandt Jean.
Brandt Jean is the brother of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Texas man who was sitting in his apartment when off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, 31, entered his apartment Sept. 6, 2018, thinking it was hers. She shot and killed him, claiming she believed he had broken into her home.
Though no racial motive was established, the case had racial overtones. Guyger is white. Jean was black. Racially offensive texts and social media posts were revealed during the trial.
Protests were held alleging racism. Some members of Jean’s family have stated they wondered if Guyger would have shot Botham Jean had he been white.
Guyger’s murder trial was held last month. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison last week.
The jury in the case was reportedly made up mostly of women and people of color, and they ended up agreeing that the 28-year sentence being asked for by the prosecution was too harsh.
Brandt Jean’s victim impact statement last week was as powerful as it was unusual. It is not often you hear loved ones of a murder victim speak of forgiveness and mercy for the killer, let alone ask the judge for permission to hug them.
But that’s what Brandt Jean did.
Here’s a partial transcript of his remarks:
“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.
“I love you just like anyone else.
“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: give your life to Christ.
“Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you. I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?”
After a few moments of consideration, Judge Tammy Kemp allowed it.
It was an extraordinarily moving moment, made even more so when Kemp, who is also African American, stepped down from the bench after the sentencing, offered comfort for Jean’s family and then also hugged Guyger.
She later gave her a Bible and urged her to read John 3:16.
“You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven,” Kemp said, according to a courtroom journalist. “You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”
In a sign of the polarizing times we live in, some social justice activists criticized Brandt Jean and Kemp, calling their actions inappropriate and unacceptable. In Kemp’s case, some critics raised questions about her impartiality, even though it was Guyger who initiated the hug with her.
A freedom from religion group has already filed a complaint against Kemp, saying she crossed the line in giving Guyger a Bible and “preaching” to her.
Complaints and criticisms aside, both Brandt Jean and Judge Kemp demonstrated that even in times of great tragedy that grace and compassion can still coexist alongside understandable anger, sadness and pain, and the need for justice to be served.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.