James Smith called the police to request a wellness check of the home where Atatiana Jefferson was living with her mother.
He never expected the 28-year-old woman would die.
“If I had not called the police to do a welfare check, my neighbor would still be alive,” Smith told Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean shot through a window and killed Jefferson, who died in a bedroom, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Dean resigned from the police department. He was arrested and charged with the murder of the aspiring doctor and is currently out on bond.
Smith said when we called the non-emergency number early Saturday, it was simply to inform police that he was worried about the welfare of his neighbor and her nephew Zion.
"When I saw the doors open, I thought about [the child], I thought about his grandma, I thought about his aunt,” Smith told the Telegram. “And I wanted to make sure they were safe. That’s all I wanted to do.”
Atatiana was the youngest of four children in a loving family and was known in the close-knit community. In fact, her nephew Zion often played with Smith’s grandchildren.
“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” Smith said. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.
“It makes me not want to call the police department,” he added. “If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with? Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right?”
Now, people of color are suggesting the need for an alternative emergency response system.
“Black people need another phone number to call other than 911 during emergencies,” activist Shaun King wrote on Instagram.
“Over the past 10 years American police have shot and killed TWICE as many people as the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq & Afghanistan combined,” he added. “11,000+ and counting.”
“This might be what we need,” one user wrote in response to King. “But would this government even allow it?”
Another wrote, “We really do! What can we do? We need some brothers to gather and make a hot line that’s local! For mental health checks and for even DV and violence. Or we need (to) Pack our sh** and move back home to Africa.”
“Cops are assassins with badges nowadays calling 911 is basically a death sentence,” another person expressed, while someone else labeled it “THE BLACK AMERICAN GENOCIDE.”
“I’m going to go out on a limb and ask that if you ever think that I am in peril -- event if you see me being attacked by animated corpses -- there is one thing I beg of you: Do not call the police. Ever,” Michael Harriot wrote in an opinion piece for The Root.
“If you think someone might be burglarizing my home, do not call the police,” he continued. “Because they might shoot me like they did 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson. Or 23-year-old Brendon Hester. Or 22-year-old Stephon Clark. My television isn’t worth dying over.”
Harriot added, “As a black man, there is no imaginable scenario where the presence of law enforcement officers will make me safer. … I do not want to die. … So, if you are at all concerned about my safety in any way or you ever get the sense that I am in danger, call my mama. Call my cousins. Call Ghostbusters. Call on Jesus. But please, for the love of God...Do not call the police.”
Ava DuVernay wrote a message for James Smith, “This gentleman is heavy on my mind + heart this morning. He called the police concerned about his neighbor. The police murdered her. If you believe in a Power Higher than yourself, join me in prayer + peaceful meditation for James Smith. #AtatianaJefferson”