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Protesters march, demand justice as emotions flare in Fort Worth: 'We don't feel safe'



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A crowd gathers for a vigil outside the house where Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed by police Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

By Gordon Dickson and Luke Ranker
Fort Worth Star-Telegram


FORT WORTH, Texas — Some in Fort Worth, particularly those in the black community, believe their security is in peril.

That was clear in the City Council chambers Tuesday night as people demanding justice after the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson repeatedly interrupted with chants of "we don't feel safe." Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean shot Jefferson early Saturday morning through her window while investigating a call from a concerned neighbor. He resigned from the police department and is charged with murder.

The sentiment was much the same outside City Hall, where about 200 people who could not get into the meeting after the chambers reached its capacity bellowed criticisms of the police department and political leaders.

Speakers such as Jamaal Johnson said they could no longer take pride in Fort Worth. Johnson said he and his wife bought their first home in the city because they were confident this is where they wanted to raise a family. After the rash of police shootings — seven since June — he said they no longer feel comfortable.

"How can we feel safe if we die in our homes?" he asked the council.

Though Dean is out of the department and possibly headed to a murder trial, speakers Tuesday said he was merely a symptom of systemic racism in both Fort Worth and the nation. Echoing pleas from protests this week and a gathering of black Texas lawmakers earlier in the day, they called on city leaders to address what they see as patterns of racial bias and aggressive policing.

Many demanded the firing of City Manager David Cooke and Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa, who oversees the police department. They weren't specific as they accused city leaders of corruption, but many said a void in leadership had led to poor policing. Speakers criticized Dean's tactics of "prowling" through Jefferson's back yard with his gun drawn rather than approaching the front door. He never identified himself as an officer, according to body camera video.

"You have to think differently about the way you're running this city," Lee Muhammad said. "The Fort Worth way has not been working for us."

Muhammad said the city had long neglected the black community, which suffers from post traumatic stress.
Cooke and Chapa declined to comment after the meeting.

Pamela Young, a member of Tarrant Coalition for Community Oversight, demanded the city release the names of the other officers who responded to Jefferson's home and the footage from their body cameras. Young has been one of the most vocal advocates for an independent police review board. Tuesday she said Dean's actions warranted an independent criminal investigation.

Mayor Betsy Price has said she expects a third-party review of police policy and tactics. During a council work session Tuesday, she said she expected Cooke to have a panel convened by mid-November that could provide weekly updates.

Nearly 60 people signed up during the council's public comment period, but the calls for police reform began early in the meeting.

Lauren Ward signed up to speak on nearly a dozen agenda items. Council rules require speakers to discuss only the item at hand, but that didn't stop Ward, who more than once stood only to say "I don't feel safe in Fort Worth" or call for city officials to resign.

One woman sat quietly in the back of the council chambers in a seat usually reserved for city staff and media. As residents worried about a zoning change near Paschal High School waited to speak, she stood and yelled "none of this matters."

"Let these people speak," she called out, referring to those who came to speak about policing and Jefferson.
She was escorted away.

Some speakers, like Ward, who signed up for unrelated items, spoke slowly in an attempt to use up time before city marshals asked them to sit.

More than once Price admonished speakers and the crowd that outbursts would not be tolerated and she could have people removed or call the meeting off all together.

She told the crowd she and Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray spent more than 30 minutes earlier in the day with Jefferson's three siblings, who she referred to as the "A-Team." Through jeers from several boisterous crowd members, she said she wanted to honor Jefferson by closing the meeting in her name.

"My heart was touched," Price said.

By the time public comment began at 9:30 p.m., the crowd had grown restless.

That the City Council spent so much time on mundane business showed an indifference to black lives, said Elizabeth Maldonado. Torey Franklin agreed in a passionate speech accusing the council of filibustering to wear black speakers out. Other speakers were angered by what they interpreted as signs of disrespect. Council members and city staff were called out for glancing at their phones or not looking at speakers.

Outside, the line to get into to City Hall stretched around the building, and dozens were not allowed in, including some who had signed up to speak. This angered the crowd as many yelled out to the council each time a speaker was called who was not in the building.

"We know you knew this meeting would be large because of the number of officers that are here," attorney Estella Williams said. "You surround us with the very people we are here to complain about. We don't feel safe."

Though the majority of speakers were black, several white speakers, who said they live in affluent neighborhoods, said they too do not feel safe interacting with police or feared for black neighbors.

Courtney Miller, who lives in Arlington Heights, told the council about a time she spotted flash lights in her back yard and learned officers were on her property investigating her barking dog.

"I'm still alive, and Atatiana Jefferson is not," she said. "That's white privilege."

Staff writer Emerson Clarridge contributed to this report.

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