Amber Carr died of congestive heart failure at 33 years old on January 30. It’s the fourth death in this family, proof that police brutality leaves a trail of victims.
We leave justice up to the court system, but the unimaginable pain of losing their loved one never left the family of Atatiana Jefferson. Police brutality has a long history in America, affecting generations within a single family.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’” Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963. His response: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro [sic] is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
That was almost 60 years ago. The problems of King and his Silent generation have been the problems of the Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (or Generation Y) and Generation Z. Still, there is talk of change and progress.
Carr’s sister, Atatiana Jefferson, was shot and killed by a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer on October 12, 2019, while playing video games in the family home with her nephew Zion. He was only eight years old at the time.
During the trial he testified, “She started crying.” “I was thinking, is it a dream?” Zion said.
Police officer Aaron Dean fired once outside of a bedroom window, striking and killing Jefferson after a report of an “open structure.” The neighbor who called police had asked law enforcement to perform a wellness check. But Dean was told to treat it as a potential burglary.
Dean was later fired from the police department and convicted of manslaughter on December 15, 2022. But despite the officer losing his job, being charged and convicted, Jefferson’s family would never be the same.
One by one, her family members started dying. First, it was her father Marquis Jefferson, who died of a heart attack on November 9, 2019, at the age of 58 and only weeks after her death.
“It’s just sad because of grief. I don’t know what else to say. Less than a month ago, he was working at El Centro, mentoring kids twice a week. He just couldn’t get back from what happened with his daughter,” spokesman Bruce Carter said.
The following year, Yolanda Carr, Jefferson’s mother died at the age of 55 after being hospitalized with congestive heart failure, which she had been battling before Jefferson’s death. By December 3, 2020, Zion had lost two grandparents and his “Aunt Tay.”
“We hoped she would pull through,” said the family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, “It cannot be underplayed the role Atatiana’s death had on Yolanda’s health.”
This year, Zion lost his mother and my heart hurts for him. What justice, what change, what progress is there for him?
This news set the mood for Langston Hughes’s poem “Tired”:
I’m so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two—
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
While my faith encourages me to be hopeful, I don’t have any to offer Zion. I see the worms, and I fear that no amount of protest will stop police brutality from continuing to strike at heart of who we are as Americans.
Jefferson’s family is not the only example of the impact of police brutality.
Eric Garner was choked to death in July 2014 by New York City police officers. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry but it did not lead to federal charges.
In 2017, Erica Garner, his oldest daughter, who advocated for police reform after his death, also died due to cardiac arrest. She was only 27 years old.
“She was a fighter, she was a warrior, and she lost the battle,” her mother Esaw Snipes said. “She never recovered from when her father died. She is in a better place.”
But America is in no better place, as its citizens are protesting in the streets yet again after the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers.
What are we going to tell Zion? He’s only 11 years old. How long is he supposed to wait on the world to have a change of heart when it comes to police brutality? He doesn’t have much else to lose.