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Botham Jean's family poses with members of Harding's Sub T-16 men's social club at the memorial.
Dialogue
Photo by Audrey Jackson

‘Healing from my brother’s murder’

Allisa Charles-Findley shares her struggles with handling grief, finding forgiveness and seeking justice.

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Are memorials the best we can do in the face of injustice? When do laws need to change?

These questions and more are what Allisa Charles-Findley has struggled with since 2018. The sister of Harding University alumnus Botham Jean, who was murdered in his apartment by an off-duty police officer, wrestled with the concept of forgiveness — and understanding where justice fits into the equation — after her brother’s death. 

Allisa Charles-Findley

Allisa Charles-Findley

It’s a topic she tackles in the recently released book “After Botham: Healing from My Brother’s Murder by a Police Officer.”

Findley has tirelessly advocated for victims killed by law enforcement since her brother’s death, as well as founded the Botham Jean Foundation, which carries on her brother’s legacy by supporting youth empowerment, social justice and poverty intervention programs around the world. 

The extended version of this interview can be found on The Christian Chronicle Podcast.

B.T.: In the American church these days, we may forget Jesus wept, and I think maybe we’ve lost the ancient art of lamentation. What are you learning about grief and lament?


Related: Amber Guyger found guilty of murder in slaying of church member Botham Jean


Allisa: I think in the beginning I tried to rush myself with the process that society dictates. You grieve for your loved one, and you move on and keep it moving. Even when it came down to my faith. 

I was raised in the Church of Christ … and we were raised to not question God. Everything happens for a reason, and all these little verses that people throw at you that they think will make you feel better, but it actually makes you feel worse.  

So my first struggle with losing Botham was with my faith. I was struggling not to question God and ask why. Because I prayed for Botham right before I went to sleep that night, and less than an hour later I get a call from Baylor University Hospital asking me to identify my brother over the phone. Right there, my faith took a hit. 

B.T.: What is it like for you now to work on a relationship with God compared to before?

Allisa: I’m no longer angry at God. 

In the beginning it was a little stiff, for lack of a better word. I would find my Bible lessons on faith. Then I would go on to lessons on peace, lessons on forgiveness, and it just really got me back to a place where I was familiar. 

I wanted to get back to the old Allisa where I knew all of this. This is what I know. This is what I’m used to. This is where I feel most at peace.

That’s what I wanted. I wanted to get back to the old Allisa where I knew all of this. This is what I know. This is what I’m used to. This is where I feel most at peace. 

B.T.: Everybody who knows the stages of grief knows that anger is part of that. But in your case, your brother was 26 years old. He was eating ice cream and watching TV in his own home, and a stranger walked into his home and shot and killed him. How has the way you lost your brother affected your anger and your grief?

Allisa: I think there is something called survivor’s guilt that, to me, is real. On Sept. 6, 2018, I spoke to Botham. He was driving home from work, and, as always, he would give me a call because traffic is crazy in Dallas. 

It was a light conversation. We spoke about his birthday coming up on Sept. 29. I reminded him that it was the first game of the NFL season, and he again tried to get me to do fantasy football. 

Botham Shem Jean sings at the Dallas West Church of Christ in fall 2017.

Botham Shem Jean sings at the Dallas West Church of Christ in fall 2017.

We spoke about just any and everything. He mentioned his friend Kevin invited him to go to a sports bar to watch the first game, and, in true big sister fashion, I said, “No, stay home, because I always feel like you’re safer at home.” 

So when I say survivors’ guilt is real, I still feel guilty about telling him to stay home. He listened to his big sister, and he stayed home. Then, hours later, I got a call asking me to identify my brother over the phone because he was shot in his apartment. I think no matter how much therapy I receive, how much prayer I go through, how many Bible lessons — the survivor’s guilt will always be there.

I think no matter how much therapy I receive, how much prayer I go through, how many Bible lessons — the survivor’s guilt  will always be there.

B.T.: Your brother’s death, Amber Guyger’s trial conviction and the sentencing raised a lot of really difficult, messy questions about forgiveness and justice and how those things relate — most of all for Christians. 

First, there’s the question of justice. Second, there’s the question of forgiveness. A lot of people remember your brother Brandt made international news when, at the sentencing, he made a public statement of forgiveness and embraced Amber Guyger in the courtroom. 

What have you learned about the strange relationship between forgiveness and justice?


Related: Guilty and forgiven


Allisa: No matter who we are, no matter if we do something wrong — there is accountability for our actions. With Amber Guyger, she walked into Botham’s apartment, pulled out her service pistol, shot him, killed him. 

During the trial, she was asked if she intended to kill him, and she said yes. For a murder conviction, you need to prove intent. She was sentenced to 10 years. That is what happens when you commit a crime. 

For my brother Brandt, I heard someone refer to it as the hug felt around the world. I am really proud of him for getting to the point of forgiveness. I think we saw Christ in the courtroom that day. 

Brandt Jean hugs Amber Guyger in the courtroom following her sentencing for killing his older brother Botham Jean.

Brandt Jean hugs Amber Guyger in the courtroom following her sentencing for killing his older brother Botham Jean.

He also received a lot of backlash for it. Even though you have some Christians, some churches, who embraced him for it, there were also some Christians and some churches that resented him for it. I got emails from Christians, from pastors, from faculty, from professors all over the world saying, “How could he betray us?” 

My response to everyone is the same: You don’t have to understand it, but you do have to respect it. It’s his decision. He did it for himself, not for anybody else. 

I am not there yet. I’m not at the point of forgiving Amber Guyger. I guess maybe because I’m the big sister and I’m the protective one, and it could be part of my survivor’s guilt, but I think my relationship with God took priority. My faith takes priority before I work on forgiving her.

Botham Jean's family poses with members of Harding's Sub T-16 men's social club at the memorial.

Botham Jean’s family poses with members of Harding’s Sub T-16 men’s social club at the memorial.

B.T.: You wrote that in America, when Black men die at the hands of law enforcement, our collective default reaction is, “They must have done something wrong,” or, if not, it probably happened because they didn’t make good choices. So, when a White law enforcement officer shot your brother on his couch as he ate ice cream and watched TV in his own home, you thought just maybe it would start to change minds and get through to those who can’t or won’t believe their Black brothers and sisters. Do you think it has changed anything over the last five years?

Allisa: If I’m being honest, I would say no. I think it’s only because a lot of our fellow Christians close their minds to it — out of sight, out of mind. That thought came to me on the plane ride from New York to Dallas, just going to make funeral arrangements for my brother, and I thought, “Well, God couldn’t have picked a better victim.” 

Because Botham, he was a song leader, he taught the singles ministry at his church — he was a perfect victim. I really thought that would be the turning point, that from there on we would see change. 

I sometimes think it’s the color of our skin being perceived as a weapon, and it’s scary. It’s scary for me because I’m raising three Black sons in America, but I haven’t seen much of a difference from then to now. 

I sometimes think it’s the color of our skin being perceived as a weapon, and it’s scary. It’s scary for me because I’m raising three Black sons in America, but I haven’t seen much of a difference from then to now.

It doesn’t mean that we cannot all work to change. It takes all of us. I tell anyone that I can: Even though you’re not affected by it, you can still be part of the change. You can speak to your lawmakers, because we need laws changed or we need laws implemented. 

Who would have thought that we needed a law to say that you know you shouldn’t have a no-knock warrant to just barge into someone’s dwelling just because you think there is a threat in there? Who knew we needed a law to say that we should ban chokeholds? 

We still have a long way to go, and I think it would take all of us as one to really push forward to have this change implemented. I don’t think we’re asking for much. We’re just asking to be safe. 

B.T.: One of the lines in your book that really grabbed me was, “For a Black man, the scariest idea isn’t even that he will be shot down by a police officer even if he is innocent. The scariest thing he can imagine is that he will be shot down, and his innocence will never be discovered.”

Allisa: With a lot of police brutality victims, we see a lot of victim-bashing from day one, and I started seeing it with Botham. In the beginning, I would get on social media, and I felt like I needed to defend my brother, because you had a lot of people coming to conclusions. 

But people need to understand that police officer is like any other profession. They’re also human and — like us — they can also make mistakes. 

With every milestone, it’s like your grief is being delayed over and over and over, because you feel like you have to constantly defend your loved one even though they’re the victim.

It’s a constant struggle. You get the phone call telling you that your loved one was murdered, and immediately, because of the circumstances surrounding his murder, you have to go into fight mode. 

There’s no time to grieve. You have to win. There’s the media, because if it’s a high-profile case, the media is surrounding you. You have to do interviews, you have to meet with the district attorney, and you also have to defend your loved one. 

It’s a constant struggle. You go through the grand jury hearing. You go through the trial. You go through all of these things. You go through appeals. With every milestone, it’s like your grief is being delayed over and over and over, because you feel like you have to constantly defend your loved one even though they’re the victim.

Filed under: #justiceforbotham Allisa Charles-Findley Amber Guyger Botham Jean Botham Jean Foundation Dialogue Features law enforcement Opinion Top Stories

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