On Oct. 12, Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman living in Fort Worth, Texas, was murdered by a white police officer, Aaron Dean. According to CBS news, a concerned neighbor called a non-emergency line requesting a wellness check, and officers arrived to respond to an “open structure” call. Whilst performing a perimeter check, Dean saw a figure, Jefferson, standing in the window of the house, commanded she put her hands up and then fired the shot that killed her the very next instant, all without identifying himself as a police officer. Jefferson was jailed on charge of murder and was held on a bail set at $200,000. He has since been bailed out.
Before she was shot, Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, and according to the family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, she made sure he did not check the window himself. The Associated Press shared that Jefferson had moved into her house earlier this year with her nephew and mother with intentions to help her family as her mother’s health grew worse. So not only does Jefferson’s family have to experience the untimely and unnecessary death of a loved one, but they will also have to adapt to running a household just a young child and an aging parent. All because of a problem we Americans continue to ignore.
That is to say, since Jefferson’s death, The Washington Post reports police have shot and killed seven more people, bringing up the total of fatal police shootings in 2019 to at least 709. Last year’s total was 992. Some people, especially white people unexposed to systematic racism on a daily basis, remain ignorant to the perils caused by our police force. While white people are also shot and killed by police, police motivations in those instances are not based on racial profiling, so we continue to feel safe calling the cops in emergency situations. Clearly, people of color do not have this privilege.
EJScreen, an environmental justice mapping and screening tool provided by the U.S. EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency, lists the location in which Jefferson lived as having an 82 percentile minority population in reference to the general US. Had Dean and his fellow officers performed the same wellness check in a predominantly white neighborhood, it is extremely unlikely anyone would have lost their lives or been injured. Dean was performing his job on the basis of racism and bias, and countless other officers are too. Before they even encounter a situation, they are already calculating — subconsciously or not — whether or not they will need to use force and how much because they dehumanize black people.
Considering this yearslong pattern of violence, we need to completely reinvent the American police force because public service should serve the public, not the status quo. People of color should have a reliable resource when they are or feel endangered, so police officers who clearly act and kill on impulse and personal bias should not be armed. We need to uproot racism in America, but we cannot erase and ignore the past or stamp out the bigotry within individuals. For that reason, we should implement an unarmed police force, as countries such as the U.K., Norway, New Zealand, Ireland and Iceland have. Of course, these measures must come with other long overdue gun control policies, and to make that happen, we must hold our government, our police force and the people around us accountable for the violence that has yet to stop.
Photo: S. Spenser