The Fort Worth Police slaying of Atatiana Koquice Jefferson stirred one horrendous personal memory and one increasingly horrendous fact about the never-ending threat of police violence to blacks.
I had just finished an early morning run on the streets near my house. It was raining and I had taken off my drenched running top and placed it in the driveway in front of the house. I dashed in out of the rain but inadvertently left my front door open. A neighbor saw the open door and called the police.
As I showered, I heard two sheriff’s deputies walking through my living room shouting to come out. When I opened the bathroom door, two officers were crouched with their guns drawn trained on me. I quickly identified myself as the resident and the officers relaxed and holstered their guns.
They apologized and said that they had gotten the call of an open door and the possibility of an intruder. The guns drawn told me they meant business and any suspicious move on my part could have been fatal.
For Jefferson, there was no such luck. In almost identical circumstances, she was shot in her home, by an officer who fired through her window after being called there by her neighbor who saw her door open.
The horror of the Jefferson slaying was not solely that she did not have to die in the hail of gunfire from police, but that Jefferson has joined the escalating parade of black women who have been killed in dubious police encounters in recent years.
A detailed analysis of the slaying of 15 black women in a span of two years through 2018 found a familiar infuriating pattern to the killings. The women were unarmed. They were young. There were stressful personal and family issues.
And in nearly all the cases they were not committing a crime, Jefferson being a prime example. They also had one other thing in common. In each case, there were endless and predictable efforts to dig up any and every bit of damaging information about their history or lifestyle to in effect virtually blame them for their own unjustified killing.
And most telling, there were no prosecutions of any of the officers involved in the killings.
The slayings of the women took many activists by surprise. It was a marked departure from the standard pattern of police violence and the protests over that violence. In almost all cases prior to the string of slaying of black women by police, the victims were young black or Hispanic males.
But with black women increasingly as targets of the violence, the scramble is now on to grapple with this new horrific norm.
There are two issues here; one is race and the other gender. There is the horrid history of racial stereotyping, profiling if you will, that indelibly link crime and violence with African Americans. This linkage isn’t just confined to black men.
There’s the feminization of racial stereotyping, too. While black men are routinely typed as violent, drug-dealing gangsters, black women are typed as sexually loose, conniving and untrustworthy. In effect, many believe that black women offenders are menaces to society, too.
Much of the public and many in law enforcement are deeply trapped in the damaging cycle of myths, misconceptions and crime fear hysteria about crime-on-the-loose women.
This has cost lives. The number of black women such as Jefferson who have been slain by police in several cities has at times drawn headlines and protests. This is separate from the endless tales of black women who have been beaten, Tasered and threatened during routine stops or street searches by police officers, often with no charges filed against them, or whatever charges were filed were soon dismissed.
Fort Worth police officials made the pro forma promise to conduct a prompt and through investigation. The officer, equally pro forma, was placed on administrative leave ad at least initially was unidentified.
The slight twist is that much attention was shifted to the neighbor who called the police. The implication being that the neighbor shared as much blame as the police in the killing.
That is a diversion. Jefferson is dead not because of a call and a report of an open door, but because an officer gunned down Jefferson, an innocent. And in doing ensured that Jefferson would become yet another in the mounting number of black women who are just as endangered as black men of becoming the targets of police bullets.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One Network and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.