Why Did Some Media Show Brandt Jean’s Courtroom Hug But Edit Out his Remarks?
(OPINION) Video clips have gone viral of Brandt Jean speaking from the witness stand in Texas and then offering a hug to former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was convicted of shooting Brandt’s older brother Botham Jean in 2018 while he ate ice cream in his home.
Those of us who tried searching for the video clips of the emotional courtroom encounter found it puzzling that some news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, the New York Post and others offered videos that only featured the hug in the courtroom and didn’t include Brandt Jean’s speech from the witness stand, where he encourages Guyger to give her life to Jesus. We had to search a bit harder to find the actual speech Brandt gave in court.
Here is the video on a Washington Post story:
After several clicks and searches we did find full-length versions of the video provided by Fox News and the Dallas Morning News. It makes us wonder why some media felt the need to excise Brandt’s words, which were so incredible.
As our friends at GetReligion pointed out, the Dallas Morning News covered this story very well from top to bottom and provided full context of Brandt’s speech in the courtroom.
“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, with all the bad things you have done in the past. Each and every one of us may have done bad things,” he said. “I can speak for myself, I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you… I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. I personally want the best for you… I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. That’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. The best would be to give your life to Christ.”
Botham Jean was an accountant at PriceWaterHouseCoopers and a gospel singer who had graduated in 2016 from Harding University, a Christian college in Searcey, Ark. Brandt also plans to attend Harding University. His words and actions in court most likely captured the tragedy, heartbreak and essence of his brother’s life and legacy better than anything else could. And it was beautiful.
Some skeptics argued that Brandt Jean’s response was different from his mother’s response and testimony and that people should celebrate her pain as well as Brandt’s forgiveness. But a clip from Anderson Cooper’s interview with Botham’s mother Allison Jean further indicates the power of Brandt’s words and actions. “I didn’t know he was going to do that,” she said. She told Cooper that Brandt had been quiet and closed off after Botham’s death. “I saw it as an opportunity for him to express himself. I didn’t know what he was going to say… Botham loved mankind and humanity. What Brandt demonstrated yesterday was what I believe Botham would have done. To be honest, when I saw Brandt up there and what he was saying, I really felt Botham’s presence in the room.”
TV host (and former NFL football player) Michael Strahan of ABC’s Good Morning America interviewed Brandt Jean about his decision to forgive Guyger. And it was good to hear Brandt’s thoughts about the courtroom moment and why he is fueled by clear-minded reason, faith and forgiveness.
The judge in the case got in on the spiritual discussion in the courtroom as well. After sentencing Guyger to 10 years in prison, judge Tammy Kemp procured a Bible from her chambers and gave it to Guyger, reading her John 3:16 and discussing the passage with her.
This action prompted a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, suggesting the judge was proselytizing from the bench. Judge Kemp defended her actions in an interview with the Associated Press, noting that her human conversation with Guyger took place after the legal proceeding was over and were not part of the official trial record. The AP reported:
“Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not,” said Kemp, who is black. “And I don’t understand the anger. And I guess I could say if you profess religious beliefs and you are going to follow them, I would hope that they not be situational and limited to one race only.”
Millions of Americans have followed the story. And many Americans want to see the full, unedited version of these videos. So we are making sure those are linked here. This case may involve further battles in the court or culture over professional responsibilities of a judge and the concept of forgiveness. But, more than anything, the videos and the conversation also directs us to consider and observe the tragic loss and the beautiful short life of Botham Jean.
Paul Glader is executive editor of Religion Unplugged and is an associate professor of journalism, culture and society at The King’s College in New York City.