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'Atatiana Could Have Been Me': How Fort Worth Is Remembering Atatiana Jefferson, One Year Later

A woman kneels on the trunk of her car to write messages in support of Atatiana Jefferson on her back windshield.
Miranda Suarez
Octavia Woodard covers her car in messages demanding justice for Atatiana Jefferson while preparing for the car parade in her honor, one year after a Fort Worth police officer shot and killed her in her home.

On Sunday, dozens of people gathered in a Family Dollar parking lot in Fort Worth, decking out their cars with blue streamers and signs in honor of Atatiana Jefferson.

They were preparing for a parade to Jefferson’s house. One year ago on Monday, a white Fort Worth police officer shot and killed her through her window.

Since her death, Jefferson’s name has joined the long list of Black Americans killed by police and whose cases have become rallying points for racial justice.

Jefferson’s case resonates with Octavia Woodard, who used blue and white markers to cover her car windows with phrases like "Protect Black Women" and “Say Her Name.”

“Atatiana could have been me,” Woodard said. “Atatiana was 28 years old when she was murdered. I’m 28 years old. Atatiana goes by the nickname of Tay. My name is Tay.”

Woodard got emotional as she listed the names of other Black people either killed or injured by police in the last year.

“I know we scream Breonna Taylor, we scream George Floyd, we scream Jacob Blake, we scream Jonathan Price, and my eyes are getting watery by the number of names that we're screaming, but here in Fort Worth, we have Atatiana,” she said.

Fort Worth was already grappling with the relationship between the Black community and police for years before Jefferson’s killing. In 2016, Jacqueline Craig, a Black woman, called the police for help and ended up getting arrested herself.

A video of the arrest went viral, and the city formed a race and culture task force, which came out with a series of 22 recommendations to make the city more equitable.

Among them was adopting some form of independent police oversight. The city established the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor this year.

Following Jefferson’s death, the city commissioned an outside panel of policing experts to review how the Fort Worth Police Department functions.

Marilyn Davis, who also attended the car parade, said she wants police officers to hold each other accountable for what they do in the field, and for the city to do a better job of reaching out to residents.

"It's a matter of cultural change, and it's like, if you want to do it, then do it. There's only so much talk that can be done,” she said.

City officials and activists gathered last week for a roundtable to reflect on Jefferson’s killing and the progress the city has made since then.

City Council member Kelly Allen Gray said Black people had already been talking about race long before Jefferson was killed, but her death made white people start paying attention, too.

"It was the current that has just been building and building and building, from economic injustices, racial injustices, social injustices, and her death is what erupted the volcano,” she said.

Katrina Arrington, who came to the car parade from Forney, said she has hope that things will change, especially with the continued pressure from the public.

"Me and my husband, we've been to a couple of these before, and just showing my face and talking to people and just seeing how they feel, that helps,” she said. "That gets it out there and it keeps it out there."

Aaron Dean, the former Fort Worth police officer who shot Jefferson, has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial. COVID-19 has delayed court proceedings.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.