Inside of Greater Saint Stephen First Church there was anger, frustration and the feeling this is all too familiar.
More than 10 African-American community leaders and pastors gathered in the chapel around noon Saturday, visibly processing their emotions in the wake of the news that a white Fort Worth officer fatally shot a black woman in her home on East Allen Avenue a little after 2 a.m. A neighbor, James Smith, had noticed her doors were open and lights were on, so he called police to conduct a welfare check.
The woman who was killed was Atatiana Jefferson, 28, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The shooting marked the seventh time since June 1 a Fort Worth police officer had shot a civilian. Six of those people died.
The community leaders, who stood behind a podium and took turns addressing those in attendance, spoke about what the series of shootings means to black residents — the fear they represent. How a black person could feel nervous to pick up the phone to call police.
The Rev. Michael Bell of Greater Saint Stephen said the shooting evokes the killing of Botham Jean, the black 26-year-old man who was killed in his apartment by Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer who entered his apartment last year thinking it was her own.
Bell said he wants people to call the shooting in Fort Worth what it is — murder — and to see the officer who fired the shot held accountable. He also said Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Ed Kraus need to address systemic racism within the police department.
“The Fort Worth police murdered this woman. They murdered this woman in her own house,” Bell said. “And now, African-Americans, we have no recourse. If we call the police, they will come and kill us. And we know that.”
On Saturday evening, Price released a statement about the shooting.
“Writing a statement like this is tragic and something that should never be necessary. A young woman has lost her life, leaving her family in unbelievable grief. All of Fort Worth must surround Atatiana Jefferson’s family with prayers, love and support,” Price said in the statement. “Chief Kraus and his command staff are acting with immediacy and transparency to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”
Price said more details on the shooting are forthcoming, and the Tarrant County District Attorney Law Enforcement Incident Team will ultimately receive the case.
The leaders of the black religious community were echoing a wider response, as Fort Worth residents were reeling from the death of Jefferson, who lived in the home with her 8-year-old nephew, according to neighbors.
They said many people have reached a tipping point and they’re going to be less passive in their response, demanding answers from the city of Fort Worth.
Smith, the man who called police to check on Jefferson, said he was left feeling like shouldn’t have called, and he might not in the future.
Bell spoke to him Saturday morning, and shared details of their conversation at the press conference, which was attended by a few people and media outlets. Among his many concerns was that, according to body camera video, officers appeared to not clearly identify themselves as police and Jefferson might not have known they were there.
The police, he said, parked around the corner and approached the home in “tactical fashion.”
The Rev. Rodney McIntosh of Christ The Risen King Church said he was sad to be speaking about another police shooting, about four months after police shot JaQuavion Slaton, an assault suspect who was hiding inside a parked truck. Slaton also suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right side of his head in addition to multiple shots fired by police, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.
It was troubling to him, McIntosh said, the officer responding to the welfare call was willing to shoot into the house at someone he didn’t clearly identify.
“What bothers me with us as a community is (for) two or three weeks we’ll be upset, we’ll be angry and then we’ll go on with life,” he said. “But what we’re finding out is if we stop for two or three weeks, two or three weeks later, somebody else may be killed. So we’ve got to stand up as a community and let them know that we’re sick and tired of our young ladies being killed. We’re sick and tired of our sons being killed.”
He asked for the officer to be terminated and for police to not twist any facts in the case to make Jefferson seem like a criminal.
The Rev. B.R. Daniels Jr. of Beth Eden Baptist Church said Fort Worth police, and departments across the country, need to get rid of a “paramilitary” mindset and be public servants of the city.
How did a welfare call, he wondered, “turn into the murder of this African-American young lady?”
“We’re tired of this and it’s going to stop,” Daniels Jr. said. “And we’re going to be here every step of the way to make sure this case is handled well.”
Star-Telegram staff writers Kaley Johnson, Luke Ranker and Emerson Clarridge contributed to this report.