Justice for Atatiana Jefferson

Justice for Atatiana Jefferson October 14, 2019

Last week, I mused about what justice ought to look like for Botham Jean, who was shot dead in 2018 by Amber Guyger, an off-study Dallas police officer who mistook him for a burglar, while he was eating ice cream in his own damn apartment. I wrote that justice for Jean would look like far more than Amber Guyger going to jail. It would look like reform of the system that created Amber Guyger.

As I wrote at the time:

Amber Guyger is behind bars. That much is good. But will this stop crimes like this from happening again? No. No it will not. We need to do more than just put the individual perpetrator away. We need to go after the systems that created Amber Guyger.

Guess what? It happened again.

At 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, a man called a non-emergency line to ask for a well check on a neighbor, after noticing that their front door was open and the lights were on, which seemed abnormal.

Officers parked near Jefferson’s housefound the door open, searched the perimeter and observed a person standing inside near a rear window, police said in a statement.

“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot, striking the person inside the residence,” the statement said.

That person was Atatiana Jefferson, who was looking out the window because she’d seen flashlights in her backyard and thought there was a prowler. She’d been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew in her Forth Worth home when she got up to investigate.

According to a statement released by the Forth Worth Police Department:

Responding officers searched the perimeter of the house and observed a person standing inside the residence near a window. Perceiving a threat the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence.

Perceiving a threat. What, black people standing at the window in their own damn home is a threat now? I mean, we’re arresting black people for loitering on their own damn front yards now, so I guess? We have moved so far from what the police force was designed to do it’s absurd.

Oh wait. What’s that now? Police forces have long functioned not as a means of protecting all citizens, but rather as a means for keeping those people out of the way of white people with money? Treating black people as a de facto threat is baked into the system? You don’t say.

Let me rephrase that, then: We have moved so far from what the police force ought to be it’s absurd.

In a news conference, Lee Merritt, the lawyer retained by Atatiana’s family, stated that the officer fired so quickly he “didn’t have time to perceive a threat.” Lee Merritt, coincidentally, is the same lawyer retained by Botham Jean’s family. Atatiana’s mother reached out to him after her daughter’s death, having followed the Amber Guyger trial in nearby Dallas on television.

Why didn’t the officer knock at the front door? The neighbor called in a well check, not a suspected burglary in progress! Why didn’t the police officer announce himself? Why did the police officer fire at Atatiana through a window? How was Atatiana a threat, when there was a window between herself and the police officer? Why did the police officer yell “put your hands up, show me your hands!” but fire while he was still shouting, without giving Atatiana any time to respond—if she could even hear him, given that he was yelling through a closed window?

The police department has made hay out of the fact that they found a gun in the home. Well yes. It was a legally registered firearm. It was Texas. The police department has not stated whether Atatiana had the gun on her person when she was shot. But if she did, would it have even mattered? She thought the cop was a goddamn prowler. Wouldn’t you, if someone was moving furtively around your backyard at 2:30 in the morning with a flashlight?

The police officer didn’t even pull up in front of her house. He parked a block away, and then walked over. He didn’t announce himself. Nothing. He could have come to the open front door, knocked on the door frame, and said: “Police, is anyone in there?” He did not do that.

Atatiana Jefferson is gone. She was 28 years old. She had a degree in biology, and was premed. She was the “cool aunt” to her nieces and nephews. She was a devoted daughter and caretaker to her mother. She was shot and killed by police in her own home. She was murdered the middle of the night, while investigating a prowler, after staying up late playing video games with her nephew.

In front of her nephew. Did I forget to mention that part? That poor baby. I have a son that age, and I cannot even fathom what that poor child is going through right now.

The time for change is long past due. It is time for a complete rethinking of how our police force functions, their purpose, their training, their procedures—everything. That is what actual justice for Atatiana Jefferson would look like.

Complete. Comprehensive. Change.

But then, who am I kidding? Nothing will bring Atatiana Jefferson back. She is gone. There is no justice possible for her, because real justice would look like Atatiana side by side with her nephew, playing video games late into another Friday night, and that will never happen again.

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