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“They murdered this woman”: Texans outraged after an officer shoots a black woman in her own home

Vox.com logo Vox.com 10/13/2019 P.R. Lockhart
a close up of a person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Atatiana Jefferson,28, was fatally shot by police responding to a welfare check at her home in the early morning hours of October 12. © Screenshot/Facebook Atatiana Jefferson,28, was fatally shot by police responding to a welfare check at her home in the early morning hours of October 12.

A black woman was fatally shot in her home Saturday after a Fort Worth, Texas police officer fired into a bedroom window while performing a welfare check at her residence, sparking outrage and calls for police accountability in a community whose trust in law enforcement had already been shaken by other police shootings and the death of Botham Jean in nearby Dallas.

At around 2 am local time on October 12, a neighbor of 28-year-old Atatiana Koquice Jefferson called a non-emergency hotline, saying that he was concerned about an open door at the woman’s residence and wanted to make sure she was okay. According to a statement released by the Fort Worth Police Department, officers arrived at the home at around 2:25 am, and after seeing the open door, walked around the perimeter of the residence.

The department said that while doing so, officers saw a person inside standing near a window. “Perceiving a threat the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” police said.

That person was Jefferson, who was shot while standing in a bedroom. After firing, officers entered the home and began providing emergency aid, but the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

The department released body camera footage of the shooting on Saturday, showing what happened outside of Jefferson’s home, as well as the residence itself, which had a door open and the lights on inside. The video shows two officers walking around the outside of Jefferson’s home, looking into screen doors before walking into the backyard. Moving towards a closed window on the first floor, one of the officers quickly points a flashlight at it before drawing his weapon.

He then yells, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” before firing a shot less than a second later. At no point in the released video do the men clearly identify themselves as police officers.

In addition to the statement and the body camera video, the police department also released edited footage of a firearm officers said they found at the residence, but did not offer any additional information about where Jefferson was in relation to it or if the weapon was ever visible to the officers. Texas is an open carry state, and state residents are allowed to possess and carry firearms with few exceptions.

The officer who shot Jefferson was not named by the police statement. The agency did say that he is a “white male who has been with the department since April of 2018.” The unnamed officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. Body camera footage and the results of the investigation will be handed over to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, which will decide if the officer will face any charges.

The shooting has left Fort-Worth’s black residents devastated

Jefferson’s shooting, which is the seventh local police shooting involving a civilian since June 1 according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has left the area’s black residents angered and confused. Community members say that the shooting proves that they cannot call the police for assistance.

“The Fort Worth police murdered this woman. They murdered this woman in her own house,” said Rev. Michael Bell, a local pastor who joined a group of community leaders for a Saturday press conference. “And now, African Americans, we have no recourse. If we call the police, they will come and kill us. And we know that.”

A similar fear was echoed by James Smith, the neighbor of Jefferson’s who called police after noticing the open door and lights at her home, saying that he was concerned about Jefferson and her 8-year old nephew, who also lived at the residence. “I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Saturday. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”

“I don’t know what went on in the house, but I know that she wasn’t a threat,” he added.

The shooting of Jefferson, who was born in Dallas and graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana according to her Facebook page, has quickly drawn comparisons to the 2018 shooting of Botham Jean, a 26-year old black man fatally shot by former off-duty Dallas officer Amber Guyger as he ate ice cream in his apartment.

Lee Merritt, a local civil rights attorney who represents Jean’s family, has also been retained by Jefferson’s family members. He said the Saturday shooting is yet another example of black people being unable to live safely in their own homes.

“You didn’t hear the officer say ‘gun, gun, gun,’ you didn’t hear him—he didn’t have time to perceive a threat,” Merritt told reporters on Saturday. “That’s murder.”

He adds that before the shooting, Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew. He says that the woman, a pharmaceutical equipment sales professional, was helping take care of the home while her mother is in the hospital. And Merritt claims when she went to the window on Saturday morning, she was concerned about the possibility of a burglar being outside.

“We expect a thorough and expedient investigation,” Merritt said on Saturday.

Jefferson’s death has drawn national attention — and comparisons to the 2018 death of Botham Jean

News of Jefferson’s death, which comes less than two weeks after Guyger was convicted of murdering Jean and sentenced to 10 years in prison, adds to already intense attention to policing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In recent months, Dallas residents have voiced several concerns about the Dallas Police Department, concerns that were only intensified by evidence revealed during Guyger’s trial and by the October 4 death of Joshua Brown, a black man who testified against Guyger last month. The Dallas Police Department has condemned speculation that its officers were somehow connected to Brown’s death, saying that the man was killed in a drug deal gone bad.

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, Jefferson is one of at least 689 people who have been killed by police since the start of 2019. The database notes that 32 women have been killed by police officers this year; four of those women were black.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, members of Jefferson’s family said that it was “inconceivable and confusing” that the woman was shot by police in her home. “It’s another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us,” Amber Carr, Jefferson’s older sister, told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, adding that she was concerned about the training given to officers.

Jefferson’s family and community say that as the Fort Worth Police Department’s investigation continues, they plan to fight to hold the department accountable for the shooting.

But they also acknowledged that accountability will not erase the pain that the shooting has caused. “You want to see justice, but justice don’t bring my sister back,” Carr told reporters before breaking down into tears.

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