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After the 9th police shooting in their city this year, Fort Worth residents tell leaders they don’t feel safe

Most of the residents who lined the outside and packed the inside of a Fort Worth, Texas, city council meeting Tuesday night had little interest in discussing re-zoning laws or new buildings.

“We don’t feel safe,” angry crowds yelled to the city council members, including Mayor Betsy Price, just days after another shooting by Fort Worth police this year.

Atatiana Jefferson was in her home Saturday night playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she was killed by Officer Aaron Dean. Responding to a wellbeing check put in by a concerned neighbor who saw Jefferson’s door open, the officer walked around the home and shot once through a window after “perceiving a threat,” authorities said.

Jefferson resigned from the police department and has been charged with murder. He is not cooperating in the investigation.

Saturday’s fatal shooting was the ninth police-involved shooting this year by Fort Worth police. Seven of those were fatal, according to Lt. Brandon O’Neil, a department spokesman.

“These people don’t feel safe. None of this matters,” one woman said, interrupting the city council meeting. “You haven’t acknowledged what’s going on right now.”

The woman was just one of dozens of people — some of whom were escorted out by officers — who spoke out during the meeting. Dozens more testified before council members, all echoing the same message.

“Stop killing us,” one man said. “The wild wild West is back and out of control here in Fort Worth. Bad police officers are not going by policy to deescalate the situation. Instead they are notching their belts with killings.”

He urged an FBI investigation into the fatal police shootings.

“If you, officers, are afraid, get another profession,” the man added.

Attendees also held signs and called for the firing of Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke and Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa, saying they were corrupt and incompetent.

On Monday, Mayor Price tasked Cooke, in a statement, with hiring an independent body of experts to review the police department.

“Our community is in mourning, and everyone is expecting justice,” the mayor said in the statement. “This council, this city, and this police department will walk humbly as we work to pick up the pieces.”

What residents want

Speakers at the meeting Tuesday offered suggestions on what the city should do going forward and criticized leaders for not doing enough to prevent the shooting.

“Mayor Price, this is an emergency that will require much more than a letter that says all the right things,” one woman who took the stand said. “We demand non-police response teams for welfare checks and mental health calls.”

She also suggested a “community-driven police oversight program.”

“You mention that we need to provide (Jefferson’s) nephew with anything he needs,” the woman said, addressing the mayor. “He needs his aunt alive.”

The Fort Worth police department was already under scrutiny before Jefferson’s killing.

Last year, the city created the Fort Worth Task Force on Race and Culture to address race and cultural equity. The task force unveiled 22 recommendations in areas such as housing, education and criminal justice.

The criminal justice recommendations focused on providing more civilian oversight of the police department through an independent monitor and increasing the number of minority officers on the force. City officials say they had been moving forward with those recommendations when Jefferson was shot.

Officials plan to interview candidates for the independent police monitor position in November, Cooke told reporters after interim Police Chief Ed Kraus announced Dean’s resignation.

A police monitor and community oversight board or a citizen review board would let officials know “how well the police department has been following its own policies and procedures,” Fort Worth Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa previously told CNN.

“You are behind the times,” a resident said in Tuesday’s meeting. “We need an advisory board that is going to be non-racist.”

The shooting

Jefferson, 28, graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said.

She had recently moved back to the home to care for her ailing mother, who was in the hospital.

Early Saturday morning, Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, called the non-emergency police number to ask officers to check on her after he saw her doors had been open for a while and knew she was with her nephew, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Officers arrived around 2:28 a.m., O’Neil, the police spokesman, said Sunday.

Police released heavily edited footage of that night, which showed lights were on in the home but no one inside was visible to the officers as they approached the home.

As they walked around the home, one officer approached a window quickly with a flashlight and his weapon drawn, yelling “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”

He then fired through the window, killing Jefferson. She had pulled a handgun from her purse at the time, after hearing noises from outside the home, her nephew told police. She was pointing it toward the window when she was shot and fell to the ground, according to the arrest affidavit.

It makes sense why Jefferson would have a gun “if she felt that she was being threatened, or if there was someone in the backyard,” Kraus said.

“I feel guilty, because had I not called the Fort Worth police department, my neighbor would still be alive today,” James, the neighbor, told CNN affiliate KTVT.

Getting justice

The shooting sparked comparisons to the shooting death of Botham Jean in neighboring Dallas. Jean was killed by off-duty Dallas officer Amber Guyger in September 2018.

Guyger said she thought she was entering into her own apartment and thought Jean was an intruder. Earlier this month, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But in Fort Worth, few are optimistic that Dean will be punished for Jefferson’s death.

“There’s nothing in Fort Worth’s history that indicates Dean is going to receive any sort of penalty to fit the crime,” Greater St. Stephen First Church pastor Michael Bell told CNN.

He called Guyger’s sentence a “slap on the wrist.”

“When you have that kind of environment,” he said, “you’re not going to have people genuinely optimistic about any outcome that even looks like justice.”

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