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Fort Worth Police Have More Violence to Answer For, Residents Say

FORT WORTH — Before there was Atatiana Jefferson, there was Jackie Craig, a black woman who called the police to report that her white neighbor had grabbed her son — and found herself pinned to the ground by the officer who responded.

There was Henry Newson, a black man who had just been discharged from the hospital and was waiting for a ride home when two officers working security questioned why he was there. He refused to leave, and a white officer punched him in the face.

There was Craigory Adams, also black, who knocked on his neighbor’s door late one night carrying a barbecue fork — to keep stray dogs away, he said — and the neighbor called the police. A white officer pointed a shotgun at Mr. Adams but said he wasn’t meaning to fire it. He did, striking Mr. Adams in the arm.

These names and others have all been brought up again in the days since Ms. Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, was shot and killed in her bedroom this month by a white police officer who was standing outside her window. In the largely black and Hispanic neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth where Ms. Jefferson lived, and in others nearby, many residents recalled times when they had tried calling the police — and ended up sorry that they did.

“This is not an isolated incident,” said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, who is part of a coalition asking the Justice Department to investigate “over-aggressive policing” in Fort Worth’s communities of color. “This is historic and it is systemic, and we understand that racism is at the heart of this.”

The latest turmoil began after midnight on Oct. 12, when Ms. Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. Two officers responded to a neighbor’s report that her doors were open. As Ms. Jefferson grabbed a gun from her purse, one of the officers fired the fatal shot through a bedroom window without identifying himself, the police said. The officer, Aaron Y. Dean, who quickly resigned, now faces a murder charge.

From the beginning, city officials knew the case was going to be unlike any of the previous police shootings. The mayor, Betsy Price, said the interim police chief, Ed Kraus, called her at about 6:30 a.m., and told her the essence of what had occurred overnight.

He just said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be pretty,’” Mayor Price recalled. “‘It’s too early. I don’t have the details yet, but it looks like the wheels fell off.’”

Public resentment had been building for years. In interviews, many residents said they knew people who had been shot, shocked by stun guns or wrestled by the police. At least four highly publicized encounters have been documented in video footage and lawsuits. Some of those officers have faced criminal charges and left the department; others remain on the force.

One of the first cases to incite outrage was Ms. Craig’s arrest in December 2016.

It started with flavored raisins. Ms. Craig’s 8-year-old son dropped some raisins onto the street outside her white neighbor’s house. The man grabbed her son by the back of the neck and pushed him down to pick up the raisins, she said.

Ms. Craig called 911 and a white officer, William Martin, responded. As seen in body-camera footage and cellphone videos, one of the first questions Officer Martin asked was, “So why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” After Ms. Craig told him that her neighbor did not have the right to put his hands on her son, whether or not he had littered, the officer asked, “Why not?”

As Ms. Craig grew agitated, he added, “I’m just asking.”

Officer Martin told her that if she did not stop yelling at him, “you’re going to piss me off, and I’m going to take you to jail.”

Moments later, the officer pushed aside one of her daughters, Jacques Hymond, who was 15 at the time, pulled out his Taser and pointed it at Ms. Craig as he forced her to the pavement. He later handcuffed and arrested Ms. Craig, along with Jacques and Ms. Craig’s other daughter, Brea Hymond, who was 19 at the time.

Ms. Craig said she had hoped her arrest would serve as a warning of the need to make changes in the police department. A task force appointed by the City Council examined issues of race and culture in the police force, but major reforms never happened. The officer was suspended for 10 days but remains with the department.

“I believe it will continue, because I’m not seeing any consequences behind the actions that these police officers are taking,” Ms. Craig said. “If there’s no punishment behind it, why not keep doing it?”

The mayor and police officials have apologized for the killing of Ms. Jefferson, which they condemned as inexcusable. City leaders said that they planned to bring in an outside team of experts to review the police department, and that they were working on other changes to improve diversity and accountability.

“Please, do not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700,” Chief Kraus, who has been on the job since May, said during an emotional news conference. “There’s absolutely no excuse for this incident, and the person responsible will be held accountable.”

In an interview, Mayor Price said she had heard from some black residents who said they feared the police so much that they would no longer call them for help. She was deeply worried by that sentiment. But she flatly rejected the idea that the city’s white leadership was not engaged with black residents.

“I am in the minority community more than anywhere else,” the mayor said.

The tensions gripping the city were on full display on Oct. 15 when residents poured into City Hall for the City Council’s first meeting after the shooting — so many that a large, frustrated crowd was forced to wait for hours outside.

Many residents demanded to know not only what the city was going to do for the family of Ms. Jefferson — who many call “Tay” — but for everyone else.

“You mentioned that we need to provide Tay’s nephew with anything he needs,” Jen Sarduy, a black Fort Worth resident, told the council. “He needs his aunt alive. He needs to not have witnessed her murder. He needs the city to be equitable and just and safe.”

Manny Fernandez reported from Fort Worth, and Sarah Mervosh and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. Ilana Panich-Linsman and Marina Trahan Martinez contributed reporting from Fort Worth. Kitty Bennett and Susan Beachy contributed research from New York.


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