On Sunday, a Fort Worth pastor reflected on a neighbor’s words from the pulpit of his church, just blocks from where a woman was killed by police a day earlier.
“He made a statement that today will haunt our city for years to come,” the Rev. Kyev Tatum said at New Mt Rose Baptist Church. “He said, ‘If I had not called the police for a welfare check, my neighbor would still be alive.’”
James Smith called for a welfare check on his neighbor’s house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. Within 15 minutes, Smith heard a bang from the house; Atatiana Jefferson had been fatally shot inside the home.
Jefferson was a premed graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and working on pharmaceutical equipment sales, said S. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney retained by Jefferson’s family. She was considering going back to medical school.
Merritt said Jefferson’s death is another example of excessive use of police force in Fort Worth. Since June, Fort Worth officers have shot seven people, six of them fatally.
Merritt said he has been involved in civil rights work in Fort Worth since 2016, when the arrest of Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters, captured on video, brought complaints of excessive force. Since then, he said, Fort Worth police have failed to reform unnecessary use of force practices, especially toward the black community.
“They’ve gone backward since 2016. This is the natural result,” he said. “This increase in body count from the Fort Worth police department is a direct result of the policies and procedures they have instituted in the department.”
Merritt questioned why police did not announce themselves to Jefferson and why a special response team responded to a welfare call. He said police were dressed in black and parked around the corner of the house.
Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when police went into the backyard. Jefferson and her nephew heard noises in the bushes, and Jefferson went into the bedroom to look out the window. When she did, a Fort Worth officer yelled, “Put your hands up!” and shot her, Merritt said.
“She was the cool aunt who stayed up at night playing video games with her nephew,” Merritt said.
In a statement Saturday, Fort Worth police said the officer, “perceiving a threat,” drew his gun and “fired one shot striking the person inside the residence.”
On Sunday, Fort Worth police said they were still investigating the shooting.
“Our Major Case and Internal Affairs Units are working around the clock and we will provide additional information once verified,” Public Information Officer Buddy Calzada said.
Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray posted a statement about the shooting to her Facebook Saturday.
“Early this morning a police shooting occurred in the Hillside neighborhood. As details continue to unfold, again I am reminded of the negative impact gun violence inflicts upon our community,” the post said. “It is my sincere prayer that FWPD nor the media victimize the victim, who was in her home when a neighbor called for a welfare check. The Jefferson Family and our community are in my prayers. We can’t continue to have police or gun violence harm our community. We’ve got to change this narrative! #TransparencyNotVictimization#WelfareCheckNotDeath.”
Gray clarified with the Star-Telegram that in her statement, the word “victimize” should be “villianize.”
A vigil for Jefferson was planned for 7 p.m. Sunday near the house where she was killed. At the vigil, community leaders “will share up-to-date information about the incident and make specific demands for accountability of FWPD and City officials,” according to the event press release. The vigil was being coordinated by Emancipate Fort Worth and Tarrant County Local Organizing committee.
Xavier University also released a statement about Jefferson’s death Saturday:
“Tonight we received distressing news that a member of our Xavier family died as a result of a police shooting in Forth Worth Texas,” said the statement. “Our prayers and thoughts are with her family and friends as we gather as a community in prayer. As we wait for the details of this incident to unfold, let us cling to our mission of justice and humanity and seek answers to our tragedy.”