We don’t have all of the details on the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in her home by a Fort Worth police officer, and much of what we don’t know might have to wait for the trial of the officer. But what we do know supports a robust defense of the Second Amendment — we all have a right to be safe and secure in our own homes.
We know that a neighbor called the Fort Worth police to request a well-being check after noticing Jefferson’s lights on and doors open, which was unusual for that time of night.
Neighbors should look out for one another. Summoning the police, an integral part of every community, is part of looking out for a neighbor. This time it was tragic. It shouldn’t be. So what went wrong?
While we wait for more facts, we should start the discussion on the broader issue of preventing this sort of incident in the future. From the police perspective, a neighbor requesting a well-being check for open doors on a home at 2:30 a.m. means that the situation is outside the norm; if it were not, the neighbor wouldn’t have noticed it, let alone summon police officers.
An officer’s mind might jump ahead of what is known and assume the worst. An officer might even assume it is a home invasion. This assumption might lead an officer to sneak around the house and try to see what is going on inside. It’s what might have led the Fort Worth officer to the back yard, where he saw Jefferson in her window. He yelled a command to “show me your hands,” and fired a fatal shot an instant later.
The video released by Fort Worth police shows a frame with a firearm in it, but it is still unclear where Jefferson’s (legal) handgun was, or whether she was holding it when the officer saw her.
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume she was holding the gun. She is a young woman alone in her home with her 8-year-old nephew, and she sees a flashlight in her backyard. From inside her home, the flashlight is all she would likely have been able to see outside in the dark. If she were to pick up her gun in that situation, would anyone blame her? Of course not.
This scenario is the strongest argument in favor of a robust defense of the Second Amendment — but sadly this time instead of a prowler the person in the back yard was a police officer. Still, the ability to defend herself, her nephew, and her property must include her right to own and use a firearm.
Once confronted with an armed subject, an officer has very limited time to respond. But the alternative is also true. A homeowner has minimal time to respond to a threat, and determining whether that threat is a police officer should never have to be a part of the calculus. When a homeowner must worry that it might be the police prowling around the property, the delay could be fatal. There is no protection to be found in the Second Amendment if homeowners must second-guess their defensive efforts in such a scenario.
It is easy for an officer to forget that a resident might not recognize him or her as the police, but a dark uniform, a dark backyard, and interior lighting that does not allow the homeowner to see out with any clarity creates that very possibility. A homeowner might easily mistake a police officer for a prowler, and this should never happen.
Consider the call for what it was: a request to check on the well-being of a young woman by a neighbor. Taking a position of cover and trying to make contact by phone or calling out to the home could have avoided the need to sneak around the house. Going up to the door, knocking, and announcing “police” in a loud voice to let her know who was knocking might also have been an option.
A police officer who is sneaking around a home at 2:30 a.m. needs to recognize the threat he might appear to be to a homeowner. In this case, the officer should have assumed that his flashlight in the backyard might draw the attention of the homeowner, and that the homeowner might arm herself against the perceived threat.
No homeowner should have to worry that an unannounced intruder might be the police. The identity of responding officers should never be in question. Proper tactics and proper identification, where feasible, can keep the officers and the communities they protect safe.