Another Black woman has been killed by the police. Her crime? Occupying her own bedroom while Black.
Atatiana Jefferson and her eight-year-old nephew were playing video games in her Fort Worth home in the early morning of October 11th. A twenty-eight-year-old pre-med graduate, Jefferson went to the window of her bedroom to investigate noises coming from outside the house. Her decision — made in what should have been the security of her own home—would be her last. Outside her window was a man, wearing blue, empowered to take her life on the grounds that he felt threatened by a shadow in the window.
Minutes earlier, her neighbor James Smith had noticed that the front door of Jefferson’s house was open. On an otherwise placid Saturday night, Smith was concerned about the safety of the Jefferson household so he decided to call the non-emergency line of his local police station to request a wellness check: “[There was no] domestic violence, no arguing, nothing that they should have been concerned about as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor’s house,” said Smith.
The Fort Worth police that arrived on-scene concealed their presence and entered Jefferson’s property without warning, as if they were investigating a crime-in-progress.
The officer shouted, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Almost immediately, he fired a single shot into Jefferson’s window. The video cuts. Minutes later, Atatiana Jefferson was pronounced dead.
In a statement released Saturday, the Fort Worth police department (a department that is 75% white in a city that is just 40% white) claimed that the white officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson “perceived a threat” as he approached the window. Perhaps it was the dark silhouette that scared him. Perhaps his fear was heightened by his own discomfort with the neighborhood he was entrusted to serve.
Regardless, his choice was an aggressive one: he reflexively chose to take an innocent life rather than retreating in the face of uncertainty. The story thus concludes far from the mundanity with which it started—it is a story that begins with a playful evening, and ends with the senseless theft of Atatiana Jefferson’s life and the scarring of her beloved nephew’s.
This is not a singular or unprecedented tragedy. In the past several years, police officers have killed dozens of Black women—many in their own homes—yet these slayings are functionally erased and systemically unaddressed in a society that has yet to denounce the persistent violence heaped upon Black women since their arrival in 1619.
This begs the question: what would have to happen for many Americans — especially those on the right of the political spectrum — to bat an eye about the senseless death of another Black woman at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve? What would have to happen to sufficiently shock the conscience of America that something might actually change?
We now know more definitively than ever that for law-and-order Americans to care about an innocent Black women losing her life to a trigger-happy cop, the story would have to be something more violative than a woman being killed in her own bedroom. It would have to be something more shocking than a child witnessing his beloved aunt snuffed out in the prime of her life. It would have to involve a Black woman with a more admirable career aspiration to help others. She’d have to be read as a better daughter, sister, aunty, and granddaughter.
In effect, for the nation to care about Atatiana Jefferson, Atatiana Jefferson would have had to be something other than a Black woman.
This is intolerable. A line must be drawn; a message must be sent. Black women’s lives matter, and we cannot allow another loss of life to pass without pause, without accountability, and without justice.
The #SayHerName campaign, catalyzed by the mothers of slain Black women in partnership with AAPF, is committed to bearing witness to the tragedies of Black women and girls killed by police. Another tragic story has been added to that heart-wrenching collection.
AAPF and the mothers of #SayHerName join the family of Atatiana Jefferson in demanding an independent investigation of her slaying, and the end of police practices that put so many innocent lives at risk.
Join us in contributing to the family’s GoFundMe page, and holding her family in our thoughts, prayers, and actions.
Her name was Atatiana Jefferson. She was killed in her own home. Say Her Name.