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Fort Worth Activists Gave City, Police 11 Demands. Officials Say No To Most, But Are Open To Talking

Steven Martin via flickr
Fort Worth City Hall

Community activists in Fort Worth have issued a list of demands to the city’s leadership in the wake of Atatiana Jefferson’s killing in her home by a Fort Worth police officer. City officials responded Friday by saying some of the demands aren’t possible and others aren’t practical, but on some others, they're open to a conversation.

Some of the 11 demands issued by the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight were directly related to the killing of Jefferson, a black woman who was shot through a window by a white police officer last weekend. Others were borne out of long-standing concerns about policing in Fort Worth’s communities of color and a general mistrust of the police department. 

“We don’t just want to speak to this current situation, this current tragedy,” said Pamela Young, who spoke on behalf of the six community groups that make up the coalition. “We want to make sure that in this moment that we secure justice and that we put some things in place that this doesn’t happen again.”

Young spoke to KERA before city leaders responded to the demands. 

Plan is ineffective and 'has no teeth,' activist says

For months, the coalition has raised concerns that the city’s plan to hire a police monitor and set up a community police oversight board will prove insufficient to hold the police department accountable and respond to allegations of police misconduct. 

“The plan that they are proposing is inadequate. It is not effective, it has no teeth,” Young said. “The plan that the city of Fort Worth is proposing is a lie. They call it an independent oversight program. It is nothing of the sort.”

Last year, the Fort Worth City Council adopted 22 recommendations that came from a task force on race and culture convened in the wake of a violent arrest of a black woman, Jackie Craig, by a white officer. Those recommendations included a resident-led board that would provide some oversight of the police.

At City Manager David Cooke’s suggestion, the council moved to first hire a police monitor and set up a police oversight program within the city manager’s office. The new police monitor, once hired, will be charged with making recommendations for the oversight board’s authority and purview.

An issue that's 'difficult and very tangled'

Young says one problem with this plan is that the police monitor would report to the same assistant city manager who oversees the police department. She thinks that’s a conflict, and wants to see a different, more independent arrangement. She’s also pointed to concerns about whether the oversight office is adequately funded, and says the city needs to move faster.

Jay Chapa, the assistant city manager who will oversee the police monitor, says all of that is up to the council to decide, and not the coalition. Many of the decisions about the way the oversight board will operate have yet to be decided, and he says community members -- including the coalition -- should be part of those discussions.

“When you’re dealing with an issue that is difficult and very tangled, you can’t do it in a vacuum and not one group can get it solved,” Chapa said.

The coalition has also laid out specific demands relating to the Jefferson case. They include an independent, third-party investigation into her death, a release of all body camera footage related to the shooting, additional charges against Aaron Dean, the former police officer who killed Jefferson, and other requests. 

City officials told reporters on Friday that those demands won’t be met for legal and practical reasons. For example, it’s up to Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson to decide if Dean should face additional charges. And interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said the department released all of the body camera evidence that it’s legally allowed to.

'We're not closing the door,' official says

The coalition also wants to see Cooke and Chapa fired from their positions, which city leaders appear to have no plans to do.

But Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said the city is open to discussing some of the other ideas from the coalition.

“We’re not closing the door to discussions with the coalition or any other community group that’s interested in advancing police community relations, diversity and inclusion, or any other common objective,” Costa said.

One idea for advancing police-community relations, the coalition says, is to think more broadly about whether police officers are the right response to community problems in the first place. Young says they want the city to create alternative, non-police response teams to deal with calls for welfare checks or deal with mental health crises.

“If people are continually not getting the help they need when they call for help from the police, maybe we shouldn’t be calling the police in these situations,” she said. 

Kraus, the interim police chief, says a lot of cops would agree that they’re doing jobs that go beyond those tasks typically considered police responsibilities, like dealing with mental health issues. He says the department has started pairing county mental health professionals with police officers when responding to people experiencing mental health crises, and thinks that’s the right approach. 

But he says he’s open to exploring non-police responses to other calls for assistance from city residents. Other cities, both Kraus and the coalition’s Young point out, have also been looking at finding alternatives to deploying police officers for welfare checks and other non-critical calls.

“We are certainly not averse to looking at that,” Kraus said. “We would want to determine what calls those were and make sure that people who do respond are trained to handle those types of calls.”  

The coalition’s demands also included more community investment outside of policing on issues like affordable housing, living wages and better public transportation systems. 

Costa, the assistant city manager, said that Fort Worth is in the process of hiring a diversity and inclusion officer who would be charged with making sure the recommendations from the city’s race and culture task force are fully implemented, and look at ways to make the city more equitable.

The coalition gave the city a deadline of 5 p.m. Friday to complete or commit to completing their demands, but declined to specify what might happen if the city doesn’t do what they want. At that time, it was not clear that any of the coalition’s demands were met.

The list of demands

Here’s the full list of demands from the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight:

TCCOC Press Release 10-17-19 by Christopher Connelly on Scribd