The murder of Atatiana Jefferson, cut me through the core. It was the most recent killing of an African American by a white police officer while relaxing in her Forth Worth, Texas home playing video games with her 8 year- old nephew. I had hardly recovered from the trial of Amber Guyger murdering Botham Jean in his Dallas home when this incident occurred. In the early morning hours on October 5, a police officer, now fired, went to Jefferson’s home to do a wellness check at the bequest of her neighbor. Instead of checking on her well-being, the officer shot her to death. If the officer had been a drug dealer or a burglar peering through her window and firing at her, it would be considered an assassination. I consider the cowardly act of this police officer to be an assassination of an innocent young woman, not yet 30 years old.
We can’t continue to have black lives taken at the hands of trigger- happy police who fear African Americans. There must be accountability both before an incident occurs and in the aftermath. We must find solutions to either fire, train or convict those cops who fear and deem African Americans to be less than worthy of life, when encountered. In my recent op ed in The Hill, I discuss legislative and other punitive means to address the insanity of cops killing innocent blacks.
What remains to be seen is whether Ms. Jefferson will receive justice. While the case may seem open and shut to some, it is never an open and shut matter when it comes to white cops killing black folks. First, the officer will likely, if not already, state that he feared for his life when he peered through the window seeing the shadowy figure of Atatiana Jefferson. As many officers who have avoid conviction, this officer will present the same defense—that Jefferson posed a threat to his life. It begs the question of how she could be considered the aggressor when the officer never identified himself as a police officer; the police officer was peeping through her window at almost 3:00 a.m. in the wee hours; that the officer shot and killed Jefferson within 3-4 seconds of announcing his arrival.
The police officer will likely flip the switch and state that Jefferson was holding a gun at the time of his shooting her—hence his fear of being shot. The inherent irony and hopefully fallacy in this argument is she should be legally allowed to possess and hold a gun in her home, if she suspected an attempted burglary of her home. She would be protecting herself and her nephew under the circumstances. Under other circumstances, this would be a no-brainer. But where race is involved, nothing is a no-brainer.
And so, we start the wait to see if this case ends up with justice for Atatiana Jefferson. Even if convicted, there’s no guarantee if the officer will receive an appropriate prison term for taking the life of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, a college graduate, a sister, an aunt and a friend to many.
Debbie Hines, J.D. is a former Baltimore prosecutor who maintains a boutique law practice in Washington, D.C.