Things That Matter

The Police Officer Who Shot Atatiana Jefferson In Her Own Home Will Be Put On Trial For Murder

Of the numerous ways we lost friends, neighbors and members of the community this past year, the most frustratingly avoidable one was through police brutality. Unfortunately, the statistics for police brutality in the United States — specifically against Black and brown citizens — is staggering. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population. If you’re Black, you are 3 times more likely to be killed by the police than a white person. What’s even more unjust, of all these crimes and murders, those involving police officers usually don’t receive punishment. For example, in 2015, 99% of the cases involving defendants who were police officers saw no convictions. 

Despite these appalling statistics, the family of Atatiana Jefferson beat the odds and got one step closer to the justice they seek for her death this week when it was announced that former officer Aaron Dean was indicted for the crime of her murder. 

On December 20th, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in Fort Worth confirmed that a Texas Grand Jury voted to indict the 35 year-old former officer for the October shooting death of Jefferson, a 28-year-old pre-med graduate student. 

In the early morning hours of October 12, Jefferson was babysitting her 8 year-old nephew at her mother’s home. The two were playing video games together when the harmless family fun turned deadly. The pair heard something outside the house so Jefferson grabbed her licensed handgun and aimed it out the window. Almost instantly, the young grad student was shot and killed by Dean who — along with another officer — had entered the home.

The two cops were responding to a welfare check Jefferson’s neighbor had requested because they noticed the home’s front door was slightly open. According to the body-cam footage that was released after the incident, Dean did not identify himself as a police officer before discharging his weapon. Instead, the former officer simply stated the commands, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before a single shot is fired seconds later.

The decision to seek a grand jury indictment came a week after Jefferson’s death.

Public outcry demanded that the Tarrant County prosecutors take the case seriously. In a statement to the press, prosecutors revealed they had enough evidence to ask for this indictment, and intended to “prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.” Less than two days after the incident that resulted in Jefferson’s death, Dean had submitted his resignation to the force. Within hours of resignation, he was booked at Tarrant County Corrections Center for the murder to Jefferson and was later released on a $200,000 bond.

Police Chief Ed Kraus expressed frustration and anger at the former officer, promising, “Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct.”

Still, this is a rare case. Murder charges don’t often stick to police officers so Jefferson’s family and people who support justice for her life are taking it step by step. 

One of the attorney’s for the Jefferson Family, Lee Merritt took to Twitter to share the news of Dean’s substantial indictment. Still, this is a far step away from a conviction and even further from a sentencing. With all these steps still ahead for the Jefferson Family, the justice process is sure to be exhausting. Still, as Merritt tweeted, they must “keep pushing” until they get to the end and remain cautiously optimistic that the fairness of the law will prevail for Atatiana. 

The outrage that helped this case get this far was sparked by another act of police injustice in Texas. 

In 2018, Botham Jean was killed in his own home by neighbor police Officer Amber Guyger. She claimed that she thought Jean was an intruder in her apartment but mishandling of the case by the Dallas P.D. suggested a cover up and the story made national news. Guyger eventually resigned from the force and was found guilty of first degree murder. However, the former police officer was only given 10 years for her crime. A judge also recently dismissed the civil suit that the Jean family had against the City of Dallas and the Dallas P.D. for mishandling Botham’s murder investigation. If nothing else, hopefully the anger that’s felt for these unaddressed acts of police brutality will motivate the Jefferson case and find the justice Atatiana deserves.

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After Being Kneeled On By Police, People Are Comparing This Latino Man’s Death to George Floyd

Things That Matter

After Being Kneeled On By Police, People Are Comparing This Latino Man’s Death to George Floyd

Photo via GoFundMe

Mario Gonzalez’s family is asking for answers after the 26-year-old Latino man died after a “scuffle” with the police. Because of the circumstances surrounding Gonzalez’s death, people are comparing his death to George Floyd’s.

Three Bay Area police officers kneeled on Gonzalez’s back and shoulders for five minutes before he became unresponsive and died. In a statement, the police said his death was caused by a “medical emergency.”

“Officers attempted to detain [Mario Gonzalez], and a physical altercation ensued,” the statement read. “At that time, the man had a medical emergency. Officers immediately began lifesaving measures and requested the Alameda Fire Department to the scene. The Alameda Fire Department transported the male to a local area hospital, where he later died.”

Mario Gonzalez was wandering around in a park, appearing disoriented and mumbling to himself when some bystanders called the police. “He seems like he’s tweaking, but he’s not doing anything wrong,” said the 911 caller. “He’s just scaring my wife.”

Gonzalez was unable to answer basic questions when police arrived at the scene. The interaction quickly escalated physically, with multiple officers wrestling him to the ground.

The Alameda Police Department released body cam footage that showed the entire interaction. “I’ve got to identify you, so I know who I’m talking to [and] make sure you don’t have any warrants or anything like that,” says one of the cops. “You come up with a plan, let me know you’re not going to be drinking in our parks over here, and then we can be on our merry way.”  

But Gonzalez could not–or would not–respond, at which point the cops attempted to handcuff him and wrestle him to the ground. Gonzalez resisted arrest, asking the police officers to stop while repeatedly and profusely apologizing. “I’m sorry,” Gonzalez says at one point, to which an officer responds: “It’s OK, alright? I forgive you.” Minutes later, he was dead.

“Everything we saw in that video was unnecessary and unprofessional,” said Mario’s brother, Gerardo Gonzalez, in a news conference. “The police killed my brother in the same manner that they killed George Floyd.”

“His death was completely avoidable and unnecessary,” said the Gonzalez’s attorney, Julia Sherwin, to The New York Times. “Drunk guy in a park doesn’t equal a capital sentence.” The three police officers involved in Gonzalez’s death are now on paid leave, according to AP News.

Police originally told the Gonzalez family that Mario died due to a “medical emergency” while in the custody of police. But after his family saw the video of his death, they realized the police had been stretching the truth. Mario Gonzalez was the father of a 4-year-old boy as well as the sole caretaker of his 23-year-old autistic brother.

The family has since set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to provide care and living expenses to Mario’s brother and son.

“Mario was not a violent person. Mario was kind. He helped my mom take care of our brother. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. Our family needs answers,” reads the campaign.

To many, Mario Gonzalez’s death further illustrates their belief that police officers should not be the ones responding to calls about people struggling with mental health or addiction crises.

“What happened to Mario Gonzalez should be a wake-up call to the city of Alameda,” said former Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell to KPIX 5 News. “You can’t have officers responding to people who are not aggressive, not threatening who are going through a mental health crisis.”

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At Least 17 Dead And Hundreds Injured Following Massive Protests Across Colombia

Things That Matter

At Least 17 Dead And Hundreds Injured Following Massive Protests Across Colombia

A massive protest movement that swept across Colombia seems to have paid off – at least in the short term – as President Ivan Duque says that he will withdrawal the controversial tax plan that sent angry protesters into the streets. However, the protests claimed at least 17 victims who died during the unrest and hundreds more were injured.

Now that the president has withdrawn the controverial bill, many are wondering what’s next and will they have to take to the streets once again.

Massive protests claimed the lives of at least 17 people and hundreds more were injured across Colombia.

Unions and other groups kicked off marches on Wednesday to demand the government of President Ivan Duque withdraw a controversial tax plan that they say unfairly targets the most vulnerable Colombians.

Isolated vandalism, clashes between police and protesters and road blockades occurred in several cities on Saturday, and riot police were deployed in the capital.

Rights organization Human Rights Watch said it had received reports of possible police abuse in Cali, and local human rights groups alleged up to 17 deaths occurred.

After a week of protests, the government has shelved the controversial plan.

Faced with the unrest, the government of President Ivan Duque on Sunday ordered the proposal be withdrawn from Congress where it was being debated. In a televised statement, he said his government would work to produce new proposals and seek consensus with other parties and organizations.

President Duque, in his statement, acknowledged “it is a moment for the protection of the most vulnerable, an invitation to build and not to hate and destroy”.

“It is a moment for all of us to work together without paltriness,” he added. “A path of consensus, of clear perceptions. And it gives us the opportunity to say clearly that there will be no increase in VAT for goods and services.”

The tax reform had been heavily criticized for punishing the middle classes at a time of economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The government introduced the bill on April 15 as a means of financing public spending. The aim was to generate $6.3 billion between 2022 and 2031 to reignite the fourth largest economy in Latin America.

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