Texas Communities Call for Police Reform

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By Shreya Desai, Staff Writer 

Over the past year, more than 700 hundred civilians have been fatally shot by police officers across the country.[1] To no surprise, this number continues to grow.

On October 12, 2019, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson of Fort Worth, Texas was fatally shot in her home by Officer Aaron Dean of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office (“the Department”).[2] One of Jefferson’s neighbors called the non-emergency hotline at approximately 2:23 am to report that Jefferson’s front door had been open for several hours, an unusual occurrence.[3]

Dean’s body camera footage reveals that he never identified himself as a police officer Dean waited less than a second after screaming for Jefferson to show her hands before he fired his weapon, shooting her through a window.[4]At the time, Jefferson was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew.[5]

Since then, investigators have interviewed Jefferson’s nephew, who told them Jefferson heard a noise coming from outside the house; she grabbed her handgun and had it pointed at the window at the time she was shot by Dean.[6]

Following the shooting, Dean resigned, leaving the Department without a chance to fire him.[7] Formal murder charges have since been brought against him.[8] However, the former officer has declined to answer any questions on the shooting.[9]

This shooting comes just weeks after Botham Jean was murdered in his home by former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, who mistook Jean’s apartment for her own.[10]Guyger has since been sentenced to ten years in prison for the murder. [11]

The increasing number of police shootings has raised alarm amongst the community, especially in Texas.[12] Residents are urging the majority white Fort Worth City Council to reform the police department.[13] Concerns are centered around police brutality rooted in racism.[14]

Outraged by the rapidly increasing number of shootings and the lack of attention given to them by the city council, several Fort Worth community members are beginning to voice these concerns at council meetings.[15] One resident brought up a study showing that black and Hispanic residents were more likely than white residents to be arrested.[16] Another reminded meeting attendees of racist Facebook posts shared by a city human rights commission member, demonstrating the deep-rooted, systemic racism that has long plagued those in positions of power.[17]

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is looking to convene an independent panel to review policies and procedures of the Department, complete with experts in bias and training of policing and officers by November 19, 2019.[18]

Despite these efforts, Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight (“the Coalition”) is not pleased, and instead insists that its list of demands be fulfilled.[19] Specifically, the Coalition seeks Dean’s full body camera footage from the night of Jefferson’s shooting along with the names of all officers involved, additional charges to be brought against Dean, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and child endangerment, and response teams to address non-emergent welfare checks by members that are not part of the police force.[20]

Although the City has declined to answer the demands, it is currently in the process of hiring a chief officer of diversity and inclusion to better address racial concerns within the Department. Furthermore, the City is planning to interview candidates for a police monitor, someone with either law enforcement or legal experience who would institute police review panels to be run by civilians.[21]

On the other hand, the NAACP and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus are looking to state legislators to make changes in the law.[22] Advocates of change are looking for more narrow, uniform hiring procedures, as well as clarification on when officers can employ deadly force.[23] The NAACP is in pursuit of legislation that would award consistent compensation to the families who lose relatives in these unjustifiable shootings and funding for peace officers to receive proper training.[24] The organization is also hoping for officers to be certified in the handling of high-stress situations.[25]

A number of reformatory tools have been suggested by citizens, city leaders, and large-scale organizations alike; however, it will remain to be seen whether any of these changes are implemented before more any more innocent lives are taken.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/us/aaron-dean-atatiana-jefferson.html

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fort-worth-news-conference-police-chief-ed-kraus-update-investigation-officer-aaron-dean-live-stream-2019-10-15/

[10] https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/02/us/amber-guyger-trial-sentencing/index.html

[11] Id.

[12] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article236526018.html

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article236526018.html

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article236526018.html

[22] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article236243318.html

[23] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article236526018.html

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

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