Atatiana Jefferson, Killed in Her Own Home, Deserves Justice

Share this with your friends

Atatiana Jefferson was a loving aunt, who at 28 was happy to spend her Friday night at home with her eight-year-old nephew, Zion, playing Call of Duty so enthusiastically that she totally lost track of time. It was so hot in Texas this last weekend, so Atatiana Jefferson left her doors open.

In a move inspired by concern and neighborly affection that will likely haunt him for the rest of his days, James Smith called the police out of concern because of the open doors. He knew that his young, female neighbor was in the home, likely with her young nephew. He worried about the potential for a break-in or something happening to the young woman.

Unfortunately, his call made out of concern put into motion events that would end with the death of Atatiana Jefferson. Police arrived, and rather than announcing themselves and entering the open door, they proceeded to stealthily walk around the outside of the home. From inside, Atatiana Jefferson and her nephew could hear them.

Fearing a potential criminal, it appears that Atatiana Jefferson refused to let her nephew go to the window out of concern for his safety. Instead, she picked up a handgun that she owned and approached the window in the living room where they were playing video games. All the legal requirements were in place for that firearm. She legally purchased it and had a license for the handgun. Atatiana probably hoped that she would never have to use it, but she did pick it up to defend her nephew.

She had every right to do so. Texas has very strong laws about the rights of individuals to protect their bodies and their homes. These laws are so strong that defense attorneys have even invoked the so-called castle doctrine in the attempt to defend a police officer who shot an unarmed black man in his own home. They alleged that the officer who fatally shot Botham Jean believed she was in her home, and therefore she had the right to defend herself with lethal force if she deemed it necessary without first retreating from the perceived threat.

In other words, Atatiana Jefferson had the right enshrined both under Texas legal code and precedent to defend herself and her nephew with a firearm when she suspected someone was outside her home intending them harm. Even if her nephew is mistaken in his description of the events that involved her picking up a firearm, there is no question that officer Aaron Dean absolutely violated basic safety protocol when he fired through the window of Jefferson’s home, fatally wounding her.

At no time during the interaction did he inform her that he was law enforcement. In fact, he gave her no time at all to respond to his demands for compliance. In mere seconds, the officer had taken the life of the young woman he was ostensibly there to protect. Now, he has quit his job and has been arrested. He faces criminal charges related to the shooting, as well he should.

Everything about this case was handled inappropriately, from the initial arrival at the property to Atatiana Jefferson’s appearance in the window. This case makes it abundantly clear that the culture of “shoot first and ask questions later” for law enforcement absolutely has to change. It is not reasonable to excuse the deadly or injurius shooting of other humans simply because an officer felt fear.

Moreover, in-depth and careful examination needs to occur across every community in the nation to root out any and all active-duty law enforcement officers with internalized racial biases. Someone simply appearing before you while being a person of color should never be justifiable grounds for homicide. Law enforcement training should focus more on non-lethal interventions. That way, officers reach for something else before they immediately jump to firing their service weapon.

No one should have to worry about getting gunned down in their own home because of the neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin. People should not have to worry about whether calling the cops when they feel legitimate concern for their neighbors will result in a murder.

James Smith has to live with the guilt of knowing that his well-intentioned phone call is the reason that Atatiana Jefferson died. 8-year-old Zion, who was present in the room for the entire encounter, including the moment his aunt was murdered in front of him, shouldn’t have to live with that trauma or with the large hole in his life that his aunt once filled.

Atatiana Jefferson screams out for justice. Her family, her community, and people across the nation are also mourning this completely unnecessary, horrific death and questioning how our country has reached a point where an officer can kill a woman in her own home and still receive the support of the local law enforcement union.

We, as a country, as a species, need to start sending a very important lesson to those who serve in law enforcement and in the military: your fear born of internalized racism NEVER justifies murder. Rest in power, Atatiana, and know that the world is watching. May justice be served for once.

Photo Credit: Original art by Nikkolas Smith via Facebook