Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Use of Deadly Force

Not two weeks after the conclusion of the Botham Jean trial, there is another fatal shooting by the police of an innocent bystander in their home.  Atatiana Jefferson was killed by a Fort Worth police officer over the weekend by a Fort Worth police officer.

It started with a non-emergency call to the police by a concerned neighbor.  Jefferson's lights were on and the door was open.  The neighbor was requesting a welfare check.

When the police arrived, instead of knocking on the door, they searched around outside first.  While in the back yard, an officer saw someone standing near a window.  The officer gave a short verbal warning "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" seconds before opening fire.  "Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence."

Jefferson was pronounced dead at the scene.  From the family attorney, we have learned that Jefferson was inside playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew.  When she thought she heard a prowler outside, she went to the bedroom window to see what was happening and was then shot by the officer.

The officer, Aaron Dean, resigned from the Fort Worth police department and has been charged with the murder of Jefferson.

This second case in two years time where unsuspecting civilians have been fatally shot in their own homes by the police raises serious questions regarding police training and the use of deadly force.

For starters, in the Jefferson case, why on a non-emergency call for a welfare check was the first step not just to knock on the door, announce police presence, and ask if everything was ok?

Why did the officer never announce that he represented the police?

Why would the police go around inspecting the outside of the place without first trying to establish contact on a welfare check?

Most importantly, why was the use of deadly force even considered as an option when the period between warning and firing gave no time for response?

Are our police so afraid of the people that everything is perceived as an immediate threat of harm?

When armed with a gun, does every situation look like it could be resolved by a bullet?

Are we training our officers to go use the gun to resolve conflicts in more instances than they should?

I know all of these questions and more are going to be dragged through the court over the coming months and year.  And they well should be.  But we should be raising them in our civil discourse as well.  These should be in the front of our conversations, requiring us to take a good hard look at our expectations for police officers and the training they are receiving.  They should be informing our local political process as we start to demand more of the community and its representative leadership.

We haven't got here by accident.  And we won't get out of here accidentally either.  It will be through persistent dedication to change.  To investigation.  To accountability.  And to action.

I pray we have the stamina for it.  I pray we can start to question the use of deadly force and the limitations that should be in place.

So we can all feel safe at home.

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