Eighteen-year-old Brandt Jean stunned a courtroom, and the world, with a simple request for a Texas judge on Wednesday. “Can I give her a hug, please?”
It wouldn’t have been an extraordinary request, except that the woman Jean wanted to hug had the day before been convicted of murdering his brother, Botham Jean.
Amber Guyger, who is white and was a Dallas police officer, entered Botham Jean’s apartment last year. Thinking she was in her own apartment, she shot and killed Jean, a 26-year-old black man, who had been sitting on his couch and eating ice cream. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“If you truly are sorry — I know I can speak for myself — I, I forgive you,” Brandt Jean told Guyger during a sentencing hearing. “And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.”
“I love you just like anyone else,” he added. “I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did. … I personally want the best for you.”
Jean then turned to Judge Tammy Kemp. “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please,” he asked. “Please?”
The judge said yes and Jean stepped down from the witness stand and wrapped Guyger in his arms. Both sobbed.
We are not so naive to suggest that we can all be as forgiving and understanding as Jean. We suspect that a significant number of internet denizens who watched the video and gushed about how uplifting it was were, minutes later, back at their keyboards mocking “their opponents.” Yet, we should take a lesson from his extraordinary action, which has been shared by media around the world.
There is much more that unites us in our shared human experience than divides us. We are all human, no matter our race and ethnicity, our religion, our sexual orientation or party affiliation.
We live in a time when building walls — metaphorical and real — is a too common response to our misperceptions, our misunderstandings and our fears. Denigrating and fighting against those who cast a ballot for a different candidate, who came from a different country, or who worship a different god (or none at all) is wearing us down.
Jean reminds us that we have a different choice — we can choose forgiveness and understanding, despite what feels like a chasm between us.
We are all striving for a better life for ourselves and our family. For some, the path is straight and easy. For many, there are hardships that require assistance and understanding. Some make horrific mistakes. But, as Brandt Jean so eloquently voiced, we should all want what is best for one another — even if we have different ideas of what that means.
When we condemn one another for how we look, how much money we make, what we value, where we come from, how we drive, who we love, where we shop and many other small differences, we throw up unnecessary roadblocks to our wellbeing as a nation, and a planet.
There was another popular video on social media this week. It showed an out-of-control catering cart circling perilously close to an airplane parked at a gate at O’Hare airport in Chicago, spilling its cargo and scattering airport workers. Many joked that the chaos symbolized the current state of American affairs.
But there is a deeper question raised by the video. Who are we? Are we the circle of people mostly standing by, wondering what to do? Or are we the person who acts, using a ramp truck to stop the runaway cart, ending the chaos and danger?