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A Fort Worth, Texas police officer fatally shot a Black woman in her own home on Saturday. The police were performing a wellness check on the woman, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, at the request of a concerned neighbor.
The neighbor, 62-year-old James Smith, called a non-emergency number around 2am on Saturday after he found out from his niece that Jefferson’s doors to her home were open, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
According to the Star-Telegram’s video interview with Smith, he said that Jefferson leaving her doors open was “unusual” for her.
Here's Smith describing why he decided to call a non-emergency police number around 2 a.m. Saturday: pic.twitter.com/JU4prCelMH— Jack Howland (@JHowl04) October 12, 2019
“I came over to see if there was anything wrong. I noticed that all the lights in the house were on,” he says in the video. “I didn’t see any movement, so instead of going in, I went back home and I called the Fort Worth Police Department to come out and do a welfare check to make sure my neighbor was OK.”
He says, about 15-minutes after his call, “five-to-10” officers surrounded the house, and he heard a loud noise.
Body-cam footage released by the Fort Worth Police Department shows a white officer noticing Jefferson’s home doors are open. The lights in her home were on. Then the officer, with a flashlight in hand, can be seen walking around the home, opening a gate, and traveling through a darker part of her yard.
The officer then looks into one of Jefferson’s windows. The officer raises both his gun and flashlight and shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands,” then fires a shot through the window within four seconds. The officer never identified himself as an officer.
.@fortworthpd cop murdered Atatiana Jefferson in her own home.— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) October 13, 2019
She came to the window after hearing noises outside. The cop yelled “hands up” and immediately fired a shot, killing her.
She posed no threat. She committed no crime. She was at home.
Blacks are not safe at home. pic.twitter.com/0Nr0frxrTg
Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew–she lived with her nephew and aunt–when she looked out the window because she thought there was a prowler lurking around her home, according to the Star-Telegram. That’s when she was shot by the officer.
The officer who killed Jefferson has not been publicly identified and has reportedly been placed on administrative leave, with an investigation pending.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the department wrote in a press release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
Once police entered the home, they found a firearm on the property. Texas is an open carry state, and about 35 to 43% of the population are gun owners. It’s unclear where the firearm was at the time of her death.
Civil rights lawyer S. Lee Merritt who is representing her family warned of the possibility of police “villainizing” the victim, according to the Star-Telegram.
People are shocked and frustrated, especially since it happened so close in timing to the high-profile Amber Guyger murder trial in which she was sentenced to 10 years–a sentence that has been scrutinized for being too light–for fatally shooting Botham Jean, a Black man, after she entered his apartment unit in Dallas, Texas, (which is also close to Fort Worth).
“This is murder I was hoping the amber guyger case would put the cops on notice. Now we need to demand cops be put on trial for murder but this time the death penalty or life in jail,” Twitter user
Others expressed that Guyger’s “light” sentencing and airy treatment during the trial only “emboldened” officers.
“The killing of #AtatianaJefferson was an execution in her own home. This sick, disgusting killing by North Texas cops must be met with swift exacting justice. No doubt the cops felt emboldened by such a weak sentence for racist and killer cop Amber Guyger. Not to mention hugs,” Twitter user @thepopcornreel wrote.
This is murder I was hoping the amber guyger case would put the cops on notice. Now we need to demand cops be put on trial for murder but this time the death penalty or life in jail #atatianajefferson @1Flpd https://t.co/ZByaTFArTu— ray quintana (@pokobbaby1) October 12, 2019
The killing of #AtatianaJefferson was an execution in her own home. This sick, disgusting killing by North Texas cops must be met with swift exacting justice. No doubt the cops felt emboldedened by such a weak sentence for racist and killer cop Amber Guyger. Not to mention hugs.— Omar Moore (@thepopcornreel) October 13, 2019
T/state of”Amber Guyger Syndrome” n Amerikkka— Thoughttravel24bpersecond (@BlakUnited) October 13, 2019
covert race soldiers are on code killing us because they have n institutionalised white supremacy system that allows them 2 be above t/laws of this demonic land! #SayHerName #AtatianaJefferson https://t.co/ghp1jX2ukl
A couple of weeks after Amber Guyger gets a slap on the wrist, forgiveness & a bunch of hugs for killing Botham Jean in his apartment, a POS cop in Fort Wort Dallas Texas thought it would be TOTALLY okay to shoot Atatiana Jefferson in her home.#AtatianaJefferson#SayHerName— ToPimpAButterfly (@StayWoke19) October 13, 2019
HOW? HOW do cops do this mere DAYS after Amber Guyger is sentenced in the same damn state for doing the same damn thing? Do they not have internet in Texas !??? Goddammit I'm so mad!!— Jen's fed up (@j8thegr8) October 13, 2019
Don’t call police to check on my welfare. That Is All. #AtatianaJefferson— PamplinLaw (@LesaPamplin) October 13, 2019
This is murder!!! I still don’t buy the death of Joshua Brown. I see people saying white people dont care. I care but I’m at a total loss. I know I wouldn’t die during a welfare check. No one should. #AtatianaJefferson— Jennifer (@laneyora) October 13, 2019
She was a pre med grad. A self described geek, a caretaker, an auntie, a friend. She was playing video games with her nephew. How in God's name is shooting a shadow through a window a "welfare check"? #AtatianaJefferson pic.twitter.com/cRx48Zordo— 🌹🔥@atticus (@XX7Atticus) October 13, 2019
Don’t call police to check on my welfare. #AtatianaJefferson. Not these police. Call the fire department and request the fire department or ambulance. If the fire department can check on old people and rescue their cats they can check on me and rescue me.— Proven Lush, Connoisseur of Ratchet Shit. (@KittitianBae) October 13, 2019
Many expressed sympathy over the guilt Smith said he felt, even though he did everything by the book.
“If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive,” Smith told the Star-Telegram. “It makes you not want to call the police department. If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?”
As one Twitter user pointed out, Smith, a Black man, could have put his own life in danger if he checked on Jefferson himself. “The gross thing is that I guarantee he feels way more guilt than her murderer,” Twitter user @rexfoex wrote.
This gentleman is heavy on my mind + heart this morning. He called the police concerned about his neighbor. The police murdered her. If you believe in a Power Higher than yourself, join me in prayer + peaceful meditation for James Smith. #AtatianaJefferson pic.twitter.com/0iDjm0uhwT— Ava DuVernay (@ava) October 13, 2019
He has to live with this for the rest of his life... 😥 that's not fair to place that guilt on him!— ty (@simply_tyy) October 13, 2019
The gross thing is that I guarantee he feels way more guilt than her murderer.— Rex (@rexfoex) October 13, 2019
Jefferson was a pre-med graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and enjoyed spending time with her family. She was having fun with her nephew on Friday night before she was killed, Merritt told the Star-Telegram.
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H/T BuzzFeed News
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque