Courtroom Compassion

A gesture of forgiveness. A moment of kindness. The first is stirring hearts. The second is stirring controversy.

Amber Guyger had just been convicted of murdering Botham Jean. She shot him on the evening of September 6, 2018. He was in his apartment. She was ending a shift on the Dallas Police force. He was eating ice cream, sitting on his couch. She thought he was an intruder in her apartment. She was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Brandt Jean is the victim’s brother. He was given an opportunity to address Guyger in court. This moment was a tinderbox. Brandt, however, refused to light the match.

He did not wish any ill will upon Guyger. To the contrary, he wished nothing but the best, and asked the presiding judge a stunning question. Holding back tears, the 18-year-old asked the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug? Please?”

The judged paused, then said “Yes.”

Sobs could be heard in the courtroom as witness and accused embraced.

Good for Brandt. He set us an example. Forgiveness does not downplay the offense, excuse the misdeed, nor does it condone it. Forgiveness is simply the act of changing your attitude toward the offender; it’s moving from a desire to harm toward an openness to be at peace. This teenager reminded us that, while justice matters, forgiveness heals. He modeled the power of forgiveness.

The judge then displayed the power of kindness. Tammy Kemp left the bench to retrieve one of her personal Bibles; then handed it to Guyger. “This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start.”  Then the judge quoted the verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Who saw this coming? We expect government officials to remain detached, to keep faith at arm’s length. And yet here, in the middle of a courtroom we see a refreshing, affirming act of humanity. We see a person treating another person like, well, like a person.

The judge is under fire for her kindness. A national atheist group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, has filed a formal complaint with the State of Texas, stating that Kemp’s actions overstepped judicial authority.


Can we not appreciate this gesture  for what it is? A flower finding a way to bloom in this hard sidewalk of our society. We are so harsh to one another. Leaders in DC, shouting. People on the airwaves, shouting. Motorists in traffic, shouting. Anger seems to be the order of the day. Then,  when a person models an act of kindness, we recoil. We accuse her of proselytizing.

I, for one, welcome her compassion.

You and I indwell a lonely planet. Broken hearts populate every office building. Discouragement mummifies countless lives. The world is hungry, yes hungry for a cavalry of kindness. We cannot solve every problem in society, but we can bring hope to a few hearts. And, who knows, if you brighten your corner of the world and I do the same in mine, a quiet revolution of kindness might break out.

© Max Lucado, October 2019