Other Voices

After Atatiana Jefferson shooting, Fort Worth must confront institutional racism

The shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson in her mother’s home by a police officer has sent shock waves through Fort Worth and made national news.

We commend Mayor Betsy Price and interim police Chief Ed Kraus for their swift response to this outrage. But this tragedy indicates that, despite repeated incidents and promises of change, minority communities in Fort Worth are justified to be afraid of their own police force.

The vast majority of officers approach their jobs with, as Kraus said, hearts of servants rather than those of warriors. We are grateful for their work. But this situation illustrates a much larger crisis in our Fort Worth community.

The Race and Culture Task Force, formed in 2017 as a response to another incident involving an officer and a black family, made many important recommendations. The City Council is implementing some of them. But members remain divided over having a Civilian Review Board and whether it should have independent authority to investigate police incidents or serve only an advisory capacity.

We need look no farther than Dallas to see that an “advisory” board is not enough. The council is morally remiss if it does not follow the task force recommendation of an empowered review board.

The task force’s recommendation to form a citizen’s redistricting committee is also critical. It will help ensure that minority communities are properly represented when policing policies are developed and implemented.

We have yet to honestly and fearlessly examine how institutionalized racism and sexism — unconscious biases and assumptions — influence policing policies and practices. Until this is addressed, we fear tensions between the African American community and the Fort Worth Police Department will remain high.

Approaching an honest examination of institutional racism with the heart of a servant will go a long way toward improving relations between police and the community.

Rev. Fritz Ritsch is pastor at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth. His co-authors are:
  • Rev. Warner Bailey, associate pastor, St. Stephen Presbyterian Church
  • Rev. Terry Boggs
  • Tim Bruster, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth
  • Rev. Karen A. Calafat, rector, St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church
  • Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg, Northern-Texas Northern Louisiana Synod/Mission Area, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Rev. Charles F. Johnson, executive director, Pastors for Texas Children
  • Ralph Mecklenburger, rabbi emeritus, Beth-El Congregation
  • Rev. Kendra Mohn, lead pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
  • Rev. Ryon Price, pastor, Broadway Baptist Church
  • Rev. Craig Roshaven
  • Rev. Jorene Taylor Swift, pastor, Celebration Community Church
  • Rev. Canon Janet Woodbury, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
  • Rev. Shari Woodbury, minister, Westside Unitarian Universalist Church
  • Brian Zimmerman, senior rabbi, Beth-El Congregation
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