Right on the heels of the guilty verdict and sentencing of Amber Guyger, the former police officer who killed Botham Jean in his apartment, the Dallas area is faced with another police shooting of a black person. Last weekend, Aaron Dean shot 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home, where she was babysitting her eight-year-old nephew.
The arrest warrant points out that Jefferson was holding a gun while she investigated sounds she heard outside her window. Her nephew told authorities that she took her weapon from her purse when she heard noises. But Texas law does not mandate that her action was illegal. Indeed, it would make sense that if Dean did not identify himself, and Jefferson heard noises outside, she would pull her firearm to defend herself from a potential intruder.
Naturally, the incident sparked an outpouring of grief and outrage across the nation. The officer was arrested on charges of murder shortly after resigning. But, as with similar incidents, Americans are asking: Will justice be done?
The incident occurred when Dean responded to a welfare check. One of Jefferson’s neighbors called the non-emergency police line when he noticed that her door was left open at around 2 a.m. Upon arriving, the former officer walked around the back of the home with his weapon drawn. According to the report, Jefferson heard the noise in her backyard and walked over to investigate. This is when Dean, seeing her through the window, ordered her to put her hands up and shot her a split second after making the request.
The Police Department made public an edited version of the officer’s body camera, which showed him approaching the window, yelling the command, and firing his weapon before Jefferson had a chance to respond. She later died at the scene.
One of the major points of contention is Dean’s handling of the situation. At no point did he identify himself. When he arrived on the scene, he did not attempt to knock on Jefferson’s front door or get her attention.
Police Officer Charged With Murder
On October 14, Dean was arrested on charges of murder and released on a $200,000 bond. Both Police Chief Ed Kraus and Mayor Betsy Price stated that the shooting was not justified. “We received many calls from the community expressing their concerns and demands,” Kraus said. “And I assure you as chief of this department, I share those concerns and I demand a thorough, transparent and speedy investigation.”
Price also made a statement: “The entire city is in pain. As a grandmother, a mother, a sister and an aunt, I can’t imagine anything worse and I’m so sorry. On behalf of the entire city of Fort Worth, I’m sorry.”
There have been nine shootings involving police officers in the Fort Worth area this year, so the mayor plans to create a panel of national experts to review the city’s police force. She will also meet with the family of the victim.
Jefferson’s family describes her as having a “kind heart” and pursuing a career in medicine. She had recently moved into the home to help her mother, who is having health issues. At the time of the shooting, Jefferson was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew, Zion, who witnessed the incident. The family states that the child is trying to remain strong.
Will There Be Justice?
Police shootings of black men and women have been the subject of numerous debates playing out on the national stage. Inevitably, charges of racism come up because incidents in which officers unjustly kill black people are prevalent in news reporting. But regardless of the race issue, it is clear that these multiple occurrences are a problem.
One of the public’s main complaints is that officers appear to get light treatment when they take a life unfairly. Indeed, it is rare that an officer is punished in these situations, and some argue that this contributes to the problem. Moreover, interpretations of the laws regarding such incidents make it easy for officers to escape sentencing if they claim that they feared for their lives, despite the details of the situation.
The verdict in the Guyger case shocked many who believed that she would not be convicted of murder for this reason. And while she will spend time in prison, some have argued that her ten-year sentence was light compared to what a black man who had shot and killed a white woman would have earned. In the case of Jefferson, it is unclear if justice will be done. But it seems obvious that a serious conversation about police accountability is ripe to take place.