Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was at home in Fort Worth, Texas playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew on the night of Oct. 12 when police officer Aaron Dean shot and killed her through her window. Dean, a white man, who has since quit his job at the department and is facing murder charges, was called to the residence for a wellness check after a concerned neighbor noticed the young black woman’s door ajar.
Just over a year earlier on Sept. 6, 2018 in Dallas, Botham Jean, 26, was killed as he sat on his couch eating ice cream when off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot him, later claiming she mistook his apartment for her own.
“They were at home, the one place in the world that is supposed to be your sanctuary,” community activist Tamika D. Mallory said as she stood with the siblings of Jefferson and Jean by her side at Foley Square in Manhattan on Monday. “Both these individuals — Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson — were doing the right thing. And they were shot and killed in cold blood in their homes. If we don’t stand up for this, then what in the hell will we ever stand up for.”
Mallory, along with Linda Sarsour and others, is among the founders of Until Freedom, a new organization that held a National Day of Outrage on Oct. 28, calling upon people across the country to stand in unity against the injustices faced by black women and black people in general in the United States. In New York, they were joined by Justice League NYC, Arc of Justice, Gangsta’s Making Astronomical Community Changes (G.M.A.C.C), religious leaders and artists as they honored the lives of Jefferson, Jean and others who have died due to police brutality.
“This is a day of outrage. This is a month of outrage. This is a year of outrage,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “And if you have any sense of what is going on at all, this is a lifetime of outrage.” .
Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr joined protesters in New York, where she stood side by side with organizers.
“I get scared at home,” Carr said. “When people come knocking at your door, that frightens me. My nephew is scared at home.
“I used to be an educator,” Carr continued. “And I would tell my students in high school you don’t have to go to every party, you can stay home and make memories with your family. When I got the call [that my sister was dead] all I kept thinking was, ‘That’s what my sister was doing.’ She was at home making memories with my nephew. And she got killed in the process.”
“[The police] do not know how to approach our communities the way that they approach their own,” said Mallory. “They were wilding. They were thugs.” Referencing one of two incidents of police brutality captured on video and shared widely online over the weekend, she added, “The same kind of thugs that punched young boys in the face on a train platform here in New York City just the other day.”
Footage taken on Friday afternoon at the Jay Street Metrotech station in Brooklyn shows police attempting to break up a fight between two groups of black youths. White officers are seen violently punching two young black males in the face as onlookers shout, “He did nothing wrong.” Several teens were arrested for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer.
On the same day, at the Franklin Avenue station in Brooklyn, commuters captured the moment when several police officers pointed their weapons into a crowded train, targeting a black 19-year-old fare evader. The young man sat with both hands raised in the air while asking the police through the window whether he should stay seated or lay down. He asked a fellow passenger to call his mother before dozens of officers poured into the train car and tackled him to the ground.
The NYPD later released a statement saying that they had erroneously believed the teen had a weapon.
“You and I both know that there is no way on God’s green earth that the police on the Upper West Side are shooting first and asking questions later,” said state Senator Brian Benjamin at Monday night’s rally.
Angelo Pinto, a cofounder of Until Freedom, spoke to the protesters gathered in Foley Square about the importance of voting and, crucially, voting for candidates focused on repealing “50-a,” a section of the New York Civil Rights Law used to safeguard police misconduct from public view. Repealing 50-ait, will provide families like Eric Garners and other victims of police brutality with more transparency and officers will be held accountable publicly for misconduct.
As night fell in Foley Square, it became apparent that the public park lamps would not be turned on. Mallory encouraged onlookers to turn on their cell phone flashlights. Mysonne Linen, a self-proclaimed “raptivist” who is also among the cofounders of Until Freedom took to the podium and read an emotional spoken word under the small glimmering lights:
Until freedom, we will speak for the voiceless,
We will choose equality for those who don’t think they have choices.
Until freedom, we will not go to sleep,
Until the land of the free, includes you and me.
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