I Believe in Brandt Jean

I Believe in Brandt Jean

I believe ten years is a slap on the wrist for Amber Guyger, the ex-police officer turned convicted murderer. Guyger shot 26-year-old Botham Jean to death when she entered his apartment instead of her own and mistook Jean for an intruder. I believe it was a mistake. She was distracted, tired, busy sexting with her boyfriend. The apartments and the common areas of this particular complex all look the same. She got mixed up. She was on the wrong floor. None of that excuses what happened next. The jury was right to convict her of murder. I wish they’d given her a heftier sentence. How much was Botham Jean’s life worth? Ten years, apparently. Less than half the life he lived.

I believe prison will be tough for Guyger. She’s an ex-cop and there’s no love for cops in prison. Plus, she’s likely already made enemies of some of her future cellmates. During the sentencing phase, we learned Guyger had swapped numerous racist text messages with her friends. She made jokes about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. When someone told her a dog she was interested in adopting might be a “little bit racist,” she responded, “It’s ok, I’m the same.” She started numerous text messages with the phrase, “Not racist, but….”

Botham Jean was black. Amber Guyger is white. This is not irrelevant, though Guyger and her supporters insist that it is. They insist that this was not about race, but about a misunderstanding. They insist the outcome would be the same if Jean were white. She saw what she thought was an intruder in her home and she fired her weapon.

To quote the increasingly unhinged president: bullshit.

If Jean had been a 26-year-old white accountant sitting on his sofa, watching television, and eating ice cream, I don’t believe Guyger would have been so quick to shoot. Of course, I can’t prove that. No one can. It’s impossible to prove what someone might have done if the facts of the situation had been just a little bit different. But Guyger’s history of casual and blatant racism is telling. She does not trust black people in the same way she trusts white people. She’s said so numerous times. Her first instinct upon seeing a black man was to shoot to kill. I don’t believe her instinct would be the same if the man were white.

I also believe if Guyger had shot a white man under the same circumstances that her sentence would be heavier. Again, I can’t prove it, but I believe it. If the mother begging for justice for her son had been white instead of black, I think the jury would feel pressure to give Guyger more time. Jean’s friends and family asked the jury to sentence Guyger to at least 28 years. If he hadn’t been gunned down for no reason, Jean would have turned 28 this week. A sentence of 28 years does not seem too harsh for senseless murder. But Guyger got ten.

I wish I had more faith in people’s motives, I really do. I wish I could believe that Guyger would have responded the same way no matter the man’s race. I wish I could believe the jury would hand down the same sentence no matter the man’s race. I don’t believe those things and it makes me angry. I know that my anger and my lack of faith in humanity and in the system does not reflect well on me. A better person would look for the good in the outcome. A better person would trust that everyone is doing their best.

Brandt Jean is a better person than I am. Brandt is Botham’s brother, and during the sentencing hearing he asked to hug Guyger. He held her and told her he forgave her. He said he didn’t want her to go to jail. He said he wanted the best for her. And if you watched the scene on the evening news, you witnessed his sincerity and his warmth.

I envy Brandt Jean. I admire him, but I don’t understand him. I never met Botham Jean and I would never have heard his name if it weren’t for this terrible crime against him, but I want Amber Guyger to spend the majority of her life behind bars for killing him in his own home. I want her to spend every minute of every day for decades thinking about how she became the sort of woman who could do such a terrible thing. I want her to feel guilt and remorse about those racist texts. I want her to suffer.

And here’s the ugly truth: I don’t know many people like Brandt Jean, but I know a lot of women like Amber Guyger. I know women who make casual jokes about people of color or gay people or transgender people. I know women who believe that you should always stand on the side of law enforcement. I know women who believe immigrants don’t deserve our compassion or our help. I understand the society that creates these women. I don’t like it, but I understand it. What sort of world do I live in where I know more people like Amber Guyger than Brandt Jean? And how has that world formed my sense of justice and my desire for revenge and retribution? I honestly don’t know.

I do know that my way is not the best way. Brandt Jean has the right idea. Nothing he does will bring his brother back. Forgiveness is healthier than holding on to a grudge. I believe his way is better, but I don’t even know how to get to where he is. I don’t believe I have the ability to be so gracious. I don’t believe I have the capacity for such kindness. When I see Amber Guyger, I see a woman who deserves whatever misery the world can send her.

I have always said that I believe most people are good. Most people want to be kind and to do the right thing. But lately my belief in the basic goodness of people has been sorely tested. I have found myself becoming more cynical and less trusting. Brandt Jean’s generous act of forgiveness is not enough to completely turn the tide on my rising cynicism, but it slowed me down. Because I understand that the same world that created Amber Guyger also managed to create Brandt Jean. Today, thanks to Brandt Jean, I’m a bit more optimistic about the future. As long as there are more Brandt Jeans than Amber Guygers in the world, we’ll be okay.

I can probably hang on to that optimism right up until the moment I read a newspaper or watch a news report on television and so, just for now, I believe I’ll stick to reading a good book.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER is the winner of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and the Mississippi Author Award for Adult Fiction (selected by the Mississippi Library Association). This southern gothic novel steeped in local lore was selected as an "Okra Pick" by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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