As A Black Woman, I Am Very Aware I Could Be The Next Atatiana Jefferson

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
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Whenever I hear of yet another black woman being murdered by the police, I feel numb. Not because I’m insensitive, but because I’m rocked to my core. Seeing my fellow black women reduced to nothing but a hashtag, over and over and over again, breaks my heart. But it’s also more than that. The latest black woman to die at the hands of the police, Atatiana Jefferson, was murdered in her home. She was up late playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when a white police officer, who was supposed to be performing a welfare check, shot her through her bedroom window. After hearing this story, all I can think is, “That could be me.”

Atatiana Jefferson’s neighbor, after seeing the front door open and the lights on, called the police. But he didn’t call 911, instead calling the non-emergency number to perform a welfare check. The police arrived, saw her moving around in their bedroom, the police officer shot. According to reports, he didn’t even identify himself as a police officer, only demanding they put their hands up. He shot through the window less than 30 seconds after making the demand.

She never stood a chance.

Although the officer was arrested and charged with murder on Monday night, that does nothing to change the fact that Jefferson is still dead.

I’m a single, black mother who lives alone with her young son. Because I spend most of my day working and taking care of him, I’m usually up late. Jefferson was up with her nephew at 2:30 in the morning playing video games. My son is definitely asleep by that time, but sometimes I’m still awake working or listening to music. Knowing that a cop could just storm my apartment and shoot me point blank, with my son at home, while I’m playing a game on my laptop is fucking terrifying.

But that’s the reality of being black in America.

Thinking about Jefferson makes me think of Bontham Jean too. He was in his apartment minding his business when he was murdered by a white female police officer. Her claim is that she believed the apartment to be hers. And even if that was the case, her first instinct was to just shoot the man to death instead of trying to diffuse the situation, which is something she was supposed to be professionally trained to do.

Both cases only drive home the fact that black people aren’t safe anywhere.

And, oftentimes, we cannot trust the police.

Living in an apartment building, I feel it’s safer to isolate myself from my neighbors. I smile and nod when I see them in the hall or the laundry room, but that’s it. And those are just the people immediately surrounding me. I live in a three-story building and have no idea about the people who live above me. Part of that is just normal apartment living in a big city, but it’s also for safety reasons. Because sometimes you just never know what’s going through people’s minds and I do not want to open my son and I up to be harassed or worse.

Whoever my upstairs neighbors are, they’re very loud. I know this is a normal part of apartment living, and I am lenient because I know how rambunctious my son can be, but sometimes it’s just too much. Especially when it’s late at night and I’m trying to relax, concentrate on my work, or my son is asleep. There’s banging, crashing and lots of loud thuds well beyond the normal ‘quiet hours’. Sometimes beyond it being a serious pain in the ass (I’m trying to enjoy Schitt’s Creek in peace here) it’s concerning. I don’t know if there’s a fight happening or what. And sometimes the disturbance is enough to make me want to do something about it, like call the police to investigate. But I never do.

So why don’t I? The safety of my family has to come first.

As a single black woman, I’m well aware that I could somehow end up dead. Yes, even if I’m the one one who’s calling the cops on someone else. Even if I’m the one at home, minding my own business, while my child sleeps. They could show up at my front door, take one look at me and for whatever reason they see fit, shoot me dead without hesitation. Even though I’m the person they’re supposed to be helping. Even though I’m the person trying to be a good samaritan.

And you don’t have to accuse me of being paranoid, because I’m here to tell you that you’re damn right I am. I have no reason to trust police officers when these senseless acts of violence spurred by racism continue to happen. I’d rather suffer in silence than end up dead. I’ll take my chances. I’m not calling the cops.

If Atatiana Jefferson’s murder teaches me anything, it confirms that black women aren’t safe in America. She was in her bedroom trying to have a good time with her nephew. All the police saw was a black woman through a window and that was enough to shoot. Nevermind that she was a premed graduate, and was working in pharmaceutical sales. She obviously cares about her family — she was taking care of the house for her mother who is ill. She was right where she was supposed to be and doing nothing wrong. But all the police saw is the color of her skin. And with that, they made all the judgments they needed to.

Those judgments resulted in her murder.

Black women are far too often victims of the system without justice. We’re murdered, often without consequence to our murderers. Especially if that murderer is a white police officer. Thinking about Atatiana Jefferson also has me thinking of Sandra Bland. Even though her death was ruled a suicide, it’s still suspicious. There are many reasons for us to questions these investigations. It only goes to show just how far white police officers will go to protect themselves. And how little regard they have for black people.

What I simply can’t get over is that Atatiana Jefferson was murdered in her home. The police shot her through a window. They didn’t even wait 30 seconds to allow her to identify herself.

Seeing her face, I realize just how easily something like that could happen to any black woman. What happens if I’m at home making dinner and the police show up? I could be dead in only a matter of seconds. They might even have the wrong house, but it wouldn’t matter. Would I even have time to tell them that? When you think about life in that way, it really messes with your mind. It’s a heavy weight to carry everyday.

Her 8-year-old nephew now has to live with seeing his aunt, his innocent aunt, murdered in front of him by law enforcement officials. Can you even imagine what that’s like? I have a 6-year-old son. If he was in the house and I was shot, that would traumatize him for ever. He would never be the same again. And there would be nothing I could do to make it better.

My son seeing me die at the hands of a police officer is one of my biggest fears.

As much as I want it to, I don’t think Atatiana Jefferson’s death will lead to systemic change. It’s apparent that the murder of black people by cops is not going to stop anytime soon, but I hope the circumstances of her murder help people understand why we are scared, why we are angry, and why we cannot trust the cops. Black women are up against this kind of violence every single day. The threat never escapes us, not even in the safety of our own homes.

I’m not the praying type, but I pray every day that I don’t become a hashtag.

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