Editorial: A recent trial and ancient holy day remind us of the power of forgiveness

  • Brandt Jean hugs convicted murderer and former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years for killing Jean's brother Botham.

    Brandt Jean hugs convicted murderer and former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years for killing Jean's brother Botham. Associated Press

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted10/7/2019 4:16 PM

Last week, a teenager's surprising words -- and even more surprising request -- went viral.

On the day former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 2018 murder of Botham Jean, the man's younger brother made a courtroom statement in Texas that sparked discussion across the country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Guyger, who is white, was found guilty of the murder of Jean, who is black, in his Dallas home. She argued that she pulled the trigger out of fear after entering the wrong apartment in the complex where both she and the victim lived.

At the sentencing, Botham's brother Brandt Jean offered a victim impact statement inspired by his Christian faith.

"If you are truly sorry," the 18-year-old said. "I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you."

He then asked -- and received -- permission to hug Guyger.

Their embrace and the words that preceded it sparked praise and controversy. While many hailed the young man's incredible gift of forgiveness, others worried that his gesture overshadowed the racial overtones of the case. Black leaders emphasized that forgiveness should not be confused with absolution.

The debate has raised important issues. As Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., wrote in a tweet: "Racism and white supremacist ideology can't be 'hugged out.'"

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Still, the power of forgiveness is undeniable -- and timely.

At sundown tonight, Jews in the suburbs and across the world mark the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Tonight and Wednesday, Yom Kippur is observed with fasting, prayer and repentance.

Prayers offer confessions and seek forgiveness. But, as the faithful importantly point out, the Day of Atonement offers forgiveness for "transgressions against God." Sins against others require seeking their forgiveness.

Brandt Jean's actions were motivated by his Christian faith, the prayers of Yom Kippur by the tenets of Judaism. But there are important lessons regardless of faith. There is deep power, and often personal healing, in seeking forgiveness from those you have wronged. And there is deep power and healing in granting forgiveness to those who have wronged you.

Some would argue that there are crimes too heinous to forgive. We will leave that debate to religious leaders and philosophy professors. Regardless, there are lessons for all of us in the Day of Atonement -- and in the kindness of a grieving brother.

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