His hug of forgiveness shocked the country
Strangers now recognize Brandt Jean after he publicly forgave the former Dallas police officer who killed his older brother in his own apartment.
People share their own stories of forgiveness. Some ask for pictures and praise him for being brave. He just listens.
Brandt Jean shocked many when he told Amber Guyger he forgave her and said he didn’t want her to go to prison after she received a 10-year sentence in October for killing Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant.
With the judge’s permission, Brandt walked across a Dallas courtroom and hugged Guyger tightly for nearly a minute.
Two months after that hug, Brandt has not dwelled on the moment. It was a show of forgiveness in the most public of places, an instance of him being the person he was raised to be.
But he is keenly aware of the impact of his act of forgiveness on the life of others and on his life. The usually quiet 18-year-old — who has chosen not to watch the video of that day in the courtroom because he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice — feels his voice has more power now.
“I just want to lead by example, just be my own person,” Brandt, who lives in St. Lucia, said in an interview with CNN this week.
For him that means “being a positive influence to whoever’s around me,” he said.
Brandt used that voice when he accepted an ethical courage award from a law enforcement organization this week in Plano, Texas. He attended with some reservation.
His mother, Allison Jean, said Brandt had turned down many invitations because “he felt that what he had done in the courtroom was not for his recognition.”
Before the ceremony, he told CNN: “I really don’t want this to happen again. As much as I want people to be forgiving, I don’t want there to be another brother who has to forgive.”
“My brother was well aware of the danger posed to young black men due to the misconceptions about color that seem particularly pronounced among the law enforcement community,” Brandt said as he accepted the award from the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration.
“I want you all to know I am not a threat, that young black males are not inherently dangerous or criminal,” Brandt said.
‘I pretty much hated her’
Guyger contended the September 2018 shooting was a mistake.
The former officer said she went to the wrong apartment, which she had mistaken for her own, and believed Botham Jean was an intruder. Jean was on the couch in his shorts, watching TV and eating vanilla ice cream, when Guyger entered, according to prosecutors.
Brandt said his brother’s death made him angry. His mother testified in October he had gone from punching walls to not saying much about his feelings.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what he was thinking,” she told CNN this week.
Brandt recalled, “pretty much this entire year, I pretty much … hated her.”
“I used to talk to my friends about wanting to kill her and stuff.” But that all changed when he heard her apologize.
“Going through the trial, I just had to hear it once, and that’s when like my heart kind of opened up,” he said.
After Guyger was sentenced, when he sat on the stand, “I just, you know, let it all out.”
“Gradually, throughout this year, I worked on myself and I understood that this anger shouldn’t be kept inside me,” he told CNN.
His willingness to forgive Guyger will help him apply that spirit of forgiveness to other parts of his life, he said.
“I usually tell myself if I could forgive her then, I could forgive anyone for anything,” he said.
Botham’s death and the trial hasn’t changed him, he said. “It’s just forced me to improve my humility and freed me from anxiety.”
‘I want people to have the heart that God has’
Brandt’s decision to forgive Guyger sparked discussions in many corners of black America, especially on social media.
Many said black people have been conditioned by years of trauma to reflexively offer forgiveness, especially when the perpetrator is a white person.
“Why do black folks always have to forgive?” CNN analyst Bakari Sellers tweeted after the hug. “We can have a conversation about black folk and our unconscionable forgiveness in the face of hate and violence. I don’t get it.”
Brandt said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism. He said his feeling was authentic and driven by the principles he was raised by in the Church of Christ.
“I want them to discard this thing from their minds that … certain people are supposed to act a certain way,” he said. “I want people to have the heart that God has. This may have just been about God and what would God want me to do in this situation, without even looking at race.”
S. Lee Merritt, a family attorney, said it “meant something for him to offer forgiveness at that point.”
“Most people don’t reach a point of forgiveness that quickly,” Merritt said in an interview. “And so, I was inspired by him. And I thought everybody would be because we all know that no one suffered more than his family, and probably in his family, no one suffered more than him.”
A new chapter at Harding University
At least twice a month, Brandt visits Botham’s grave in St. Lucia.
He goes alone, sits there in silence and drinks a Gatorade or a bottle of Ting, a grapefruit-flavored soda — two drinks they liked a lot.
Brandt’s conversations with his brother are light talks, filled with updates about LeBron James’ remarkable season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s literally the only time I kinda talk to him, especially with the way LeBron’s season has started,” he said.
Brandt said he has come to terms with his brother’s death.
“It is sad that he’s not able to be here,” he said. “My mind is set on just moving forward … just trying to be happy,” he said.
In January, he will start his freshman year at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, where Botham attended, and major in civil engineering.
Brandt is focused on getting ready for school by practicing good sleeping habits. For now, he’s nervous about not knowing who his roommate will be. Down the road are dreams of getting married and having a big family.
The hug and the act of forgiveness was a “big event that happened in my life,” Brandt said.
“I’m moving forward in different ways,” Brandt said. “Just trying to continue having a normal life … I understand a lot of people say I’m famous. I still feel normal.”
Darran Simon reported and wrote from Atlanta. Ed Lavendera and Ashley Killough reported from Dallas. Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.