By Carrington Tatum, The Texas Tribune, Oct. 13, 2019
A White police officer shot and killed a Black Fort Worth woman in a home while responding to a request for a wellness check Saturday, police said.
Body camera footage shows the officer surveying the area around the house after seeing an open front door. The officer opens the backyard gate, notices movement in the window and shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands.” Within a breath of this order, the officer fired a shot through the window killing 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, according to the Fort Worth Police Department.
Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was in the room at the time she was killed, police said.
Officials said the officer did not announce himself as law enforcement prior to giving orders or shooting the woman. They said that will be addressed in their investigation.
In the video released by Fort Worth police, the department magnified a frame of the video and labeled it as a weapon laying in the bedroom. A department press release also noted that a firearm was found in the home. The department’s statement does not say if the woman was holding the gun or what threat the officer perceived.
At a press conference Sunday, police declined to say whether the woman used the weapon in a way that made the officer feel threatened. They also declined to say why they released information about the gun if they weren’t going to explain its relevance.
The officer, whose identity was not released, has been placed on administrative leave. Jefferson’s death comes less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, was sentenced to 10 years for the murder of Botham Jean in his Dallas home. Guyger mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and shot and killed him after entering it.
The murder of Jean, who was Black, sparked emotional conversations about the relationship between race, policing and the American criminal justice system in not only Dallas but across the United States.
WFAA-TV reported Sunday that activists, protestors and Fort Worth residents gathered near Jefferson’s home for a vigil that became a protest march. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price attended the vigil and told WFAA there would be a third-party investigation into the shooting.
Jefferson’s neighbor, 62-year-old James Smith asked for a wellness check after noticing the woman’s door was open, something he found unusual. Smith told the Washington Post he feels he’s partially to blame for Jefferson’s death because if he hadn’t made the call, Jefferson would be alive.
“It makes you not want to call the police department. Because not just Dallas or other incidents, if you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?” Smith said. “Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right? They tell you if you see something, say something. Well if you do that and you cause somebody to lose their life it makes you not want to do that and that’s sad.”
At Sunday’s press conference, police declined to comment on how officers are supposed to respond to welfare calls.
The same conversation about how police interact with people of color spurred in Dallas seems to be forming around the shooting of Jefferson, with community officials making calls for justice similar to those heard after the shooting of Jean.
Community members gathered in Greater Saint Stephen First Church where the Rev. Kyev Tatum demanded transparency from Fort Worth police.
“You cannot continue to kill people and justify it because they are law enforcement,” he said, according to WFAA-TV.
Lee Merritt, the Dallas-based civil rights attorney that is representing Jean’s family said on Facebook that he is now representing Jefferson’s family. In the post, Merritt said Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she went to investigate a “prowler” outside the window, which was the officer that shot her.
A Xavier University of Louisiana graduate and “beautiful peaceful woman,” Jefferson was tending to the house of her mother who recently fell ill and was hospitalized, Merritt told The Washington Post.
“There was no reason for her to be murdered. None,” he said. “We must have justice.”
Among many activists, legal scholars, and Black Americans, Guyger’s conviction was a marked shift after a long history of seemingly insufficient justice for cases of Black Americans killed by White police officers.
However, it remains to be seen if this Fort Worth case will replicate the cadence of Dallas. Within a month of Jean’s 2018 death, the Dallas district attorney and Texas Rangers had opened independent investigations, Guyger was fired and she was charged with manslaughter.
A month later, a grand jury upgraded the charges to murder, the charge on which the jury convicted Guyger, according to a Dallas Morning News timeline. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office said Sunday they did not have a statement on Jefferson’s death.
Fort Worth police drew scrutiny and accusations of excessive force in 2016 when a video of a White officer arresting a Black mother spread across social media.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.
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