A law enforcement institute on Tuesday honored the brother of Botham Jean, a Dallas man shot to death in his own apartment in 2018, for his public embrace of the police officer convicted in the killing.
The Texas-based Institute for Law Enforcement Administration bestowed its 2019 Ethical Courage Award on 18-year-old Brandt Jean for his Oct. 2 courtroom hug of disgraced officer Amber Guyger.
“I am honored to accept it on behalf of my brother Botham Shem Jean, who was an example of ethical leadership," Brandt Jean told an institute gathering in Plano, Texas.
When Brandt Jean hugged Guyger at her sentencing, it set off a fierce debate about the appropriateness of forgiveness in police brutality cases. And on Tuesday, Jean admitted he has had second thoughts about his actions that day.
“I never intended for the statement I made to the person that murdered my brother to receive such international recognition," Jean said. "To be honest, I struggled with it for a long time as I struggled with accepting this award from this agency."
He added: "My brother was well aware of the danger posed to young black men (by police)."
Botham Jean, 26, was in his home the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when Guyger claimed that she mistakenly entered his apartment and believed he was an intruder.
She drew her weapon and shot Jean twice, killing him. Guyger was convicted of murder, as jurors rejected lesser charges of manslaughter.
At sentencing, when the victim's loved ones were allowed to address the court and Guyger, Brandt Jean publicly expressed his forgiveness of the officer and gave her a hug. He told Guyger at the time: "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."
The embrace was hailed by some as a healing act of great compassion — though others wondered publicly if Jean's expression of forgiveness might obscure the crime committed.
Former NAACP President Cornell William Brooks tweeted at the time that he has preached forgiveness for 25 years, but "using the willingness of Black people to forgive as an excuse to further victimize Black people" is sinful. "America should ask Black people forgiveness for serially asking African Americans to forgive sanctioned #PoliceBrutality."
On Tuesday, Brandt Jean said his embrace of Guyger had been as much for his benefit as for hers.
"I am grateful for for this award for the same reason I was grateful for the opportunity to embrace her after she was convicted of murder in her trial," he said. "After being found guilty by a jury of her peers, sentenced under the law, Ms. Guyger needed to be forgiven, and I needed to be free from the burden of unforgivenness."
He also urged all law enforcement officers in the room think twice before taking deadly action.
“I want you all to know that I am not a threat — that young black males are not inherently dangerous or criminal. I implore you to champion the causes and procedures that amplify the value of all lives," he said.
Gregory Smith, director of the law-enforcement institute, a division of the Center for American and International Law dedicated to disseminating best practices for police leaders, said, "Brandt Jean represents the best in us."
Smith said Jean showed the same kind of moral backbone exhibited by the award's first recipient, U.S. Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who rescued Vietnamese civilians from his fellow GIs during the My Lai massacre.
"Brandt, you are truly a model of good parenting. I see the values instilled in you by your parents," Smith said. "If the rest of us can tap into just a slice of the moral courage and principles which you displayed at that moment this world would be a better place. I thank you. I thank your parents. I thank your siblings."