Police shootings of unarmed civilians leave a trail of victims. Atatiana Jefferson’s older sister Amber Carr recently described the feelings that result from the loss of a loved one due to police violence. The African-American Jefferson was shot and killed in her mother’s home by Aaron Dean, a white Fort Worth police officer, just over a year ago.
“I’m really numb,” Carr said. “It’s like sitting still, and the world is moving around you, but you are stuck. That’s where I’ve been.”
Dean has been indicted for murder, but his trial will probably not take place for another year. Or longer. Without justice, Carr said, her family will never know peace.
Kevin Tarver is seeking justice for the death of his 23-year-old son at the hands of police. Darius Tarver, who was completing a degree in criminal justice from UNT, had developed erratic but nonthreatening behaviors following a traumatic head injury during a car accident, Kevin said. Darius was praying out loud when Denton police tased then shot and killed him.
“The case still hasn’t gone to a grand jury,” Kevin said. “Right now, we’re still fighting.”
Because there has been no justice, Kevin said, the Tarver family cannot know peace.
Many families that experience the murder of a loved one rely on the criminal justice system for a semblance of closure, but victims of police violence too-frequently must fight a legal system that protects cops at every step of the prosecutorial process.
In a 2019 Time article, a policy analyst with Mapping Police Violence said police are charged with a crime in 1.7% cases of deadly police shootings. The crime-mapping nonprofit found that 6,800 civilians were unintentionally or intentionally killed by police between 2013 and 2018. If body camera footage exists, police departments initially maintain full control over that evidence.
Having the ability to review and create narratives that frame shootings favorably for police departments is an advantage that will hopefully one day be abolished through substantive criminal justice reform. Washington, D.C.’s city council recently passed a law requiring bodycam footage to be released within 72 hours of a serious-use-of-force incident. Forcing police to release bodycam footage within one hour would be better, but 72 hours is a start.
County-level district attorney offices handle prosecutions once an officer is indicted. Fort Worth police department members often state that they are not beholden to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, but that’s B.S. High-ranking police officers and DA leadership have a direct and chummy line of communication that everyday folks are not afforded.
At the recent memorial service for Atatiana Jefferson, which drew zero local elected officials, several guests spoke out against DA Sharen Wilson and Mayor Betsy Price for the mishandling of Dean’s criminal charges. Dean is free on bail, the speakers noted. Until there is justice for Jefferson, they said, there will be no peace.
Last week, Fort Worth city council voted to name a stretch of Allen and Maddox (near the scene of Jefferson’s killing) the Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway.
“Very much appreciated, but we ain’t settling!” Carr recently posted on Facebook. “This is not justice. This is honoring a life that should still be here.”
Victims of police shootings already deal with the trauma of losing a loved one. Add to that the burden of seeking justice from a well-entrenched and well-lawyered system that loses less than 2% of the time, and it’s no wonder Fort Worthians are increasingly calling out Price, Wilson, and other elected officials at city council meetings for a criminal justice system that cares more about protecting police officers than victims of police violence.
What is being asked for is justice. Because until there is justice, there will be no peace.
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