On Thursday, 28-year-old Atatiana Koquice Jefferson is being laid to rest. Had former Fort Worth, Texas officer Aaron Dean — one of two cops who showed up to her home following a neighbor’s welfare check request just 11 days prior — not shot her through her window while she was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, I imagine she may have been easing into her work day just as I am.
Perhaps she’d be reminiscing about the wonderful time she had with her nephews at the Texas State Fair. Or, perhaps she would have had the day off, caring for her mother, who was in the hospital the night Atatiana was shot and is presently recovering from heart surgery.
Or, maybe the Xavier University grad, who worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales to save money for medical school, would have been head-down in her textbooks preparing for a pre-med exam.
Instead, she lies breathlessly, surrounded by grieving loved ones who are forced to cope with the reality that she won’t be doing any of these things ever again. I, like so many others understandably have, could lament over the fact that Black folks aren’t safe in our own homes. After all, it was just a little over a year ago — September 6, 2018, to be exact — that Botham Jean was similarly gunned down in his apartment by ex-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who now faces a 10-year prison sentence.
But as history —and especially recent headlines — has shown us, the reality is that we aren’t safe anywhere. Not in a restaurant. Not on a sidewalk. Not in a park. Not at a convenience store. And especially not in a car. Jefferson’s death further drives home the troubling reality that Black lives are under constant surveillance of blue, trigger-happy hands. According to a study conducted by researchers earlier this year, we’re 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than our white counterparts. For Black women in particular, that chance is 1.4 times more likely.
In the case of Fort Worth, Texas, residents say police violence is common. You may or may not recall, as The New York Times revisits, Jacqueline Craig, a Black woman who called the cops after her white neighbor put his hands on her son, just to end up being arrested herself. There was also Henry Newson, a Black man who was punched in the face by an officer after being discharged from the hospital. Craigory Adams, who knocked on his neighbor’s door late at night while carrying a barbeque fork, was shot in the arm by a white officer after a neighbor called to report him. These reports of mistreatment are just a few of many that residents note as having preceded Atatiana’s murder.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Rev. Kyev Tatum, who is one of multiple community leaders urging the Justice Department to investigate “over-aggressive policing” in Fort Worth’s Black and brown communities, recently told The New York Times . “This is historic and it is systemic, and we understand that racism is at the heart of this.”
Tatum, who gathered with his fellow leaders last week to officially announce their push for a consent decree, began working toward having a court-monitored plan put in place last summer after a separate shooting involving law enforcement, as noted by CBS News. Tatum doesn’t believe the city of Fort Worth will enforce needed changes on its own, so the community is taking matters into its own hands. They're also urging the Fort Worth Police Department to employ federal examination similar to other departments in places like New Orleans, Chicago and Baltimore.
“It says we sit at a table of reasonableness,” Tatum said of the decree. “Come up with a reasonable solution to this. And allow a court to monitor us, through a monitor and the federal court. When you do that it says you’re committed to long term restoration in our community.”
He continued, “It’s time for somebody else to take control of putting in the right mechanisms to hold the city of Fort Worth and our Fort Worth Police Department accountable when they break local state and federal laws.”
Another day, another hashtag. Atatiana’s death poses yet another instance in which a battered community is haunted by the ghosts of injustice left behind by our country’s broken “justice” system. We quickly recall the names we previously retweeted, and despite the fact that some names are no longer “trending,” the urgency many of us feel to address this crisis remains.
Every new hashtag means the problem persists — which means we can’t, and won’t, be quiet. Atatiana may not physically be with us, but, like the many Black and brown lives taken before her, she will live on in all of us, and we will forever say her name.