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Jeneé Osterheldt

Julián Castro gets it: Police violence is gun violence

When Anderson Cooper asked presidential candidate Julián Castro about handgun violence, he included police in the conversation.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

“Police violence is also gun violence.”

It’s the Democratic debate moment we aren’t talking enough about. When Anderson Cooper asked presidential candidate Julián Castro about handgun violence, he included police in the conversation.

He doesn’t support mandatory buybacks.

“I’m not going to give these police officers another reason to go door-to-door in certain communities because police violence is also gun violence,” Castro said.

We don’t frame police brutality this way. We don’t include it in the national dialogue about gun violence. But we should.

When your home is no longer a safe place and those meant to protect you become your biggest fear, the system is broken. A welfare check should not end in death.


“And y’all saw a couple days ago what happened with Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth,” Castro said. “A cop showed up at 2 in the morning at her house, when she was playing video games with her nephew. He didn’t even announce himself, and within four seconds, he shot her and killed her through her home window.”

A white Fort Worth police officer shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson, 28, through a back window of her home last weekend. Jefferson's family via Associated Press

Castro said her name: Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old who was in her bedroom, the one place we should all feel free and safe.

A year ago, off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean in his home. Her excuse? She thought it was her home. When she was sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this month, the national focus was placed on the hug Jean’s brother gave Guyger, the grace.

We need more forgiveness, folks said. But no. We need a new system. We need more prosecution of officers like Guyger.

We cannot agree to disagree on matters of violence and oppression. That’s a death sentence.

Within four seconds, without the police ever announcing their presence on a non-emergency call that was meant to check on the safety of the people in that home, an officer killed Jefferson on Saturday morning. Just like an officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice within two seconds in Cleveland five years ago.


Do not look for our grace. Do not look for anyone to consider she had a gun in her hand.

In a news conference, Fort Worth’s interim police chief, Ed Kraus defended her, saying it “makes sense that she would have a gun if she felt that she was being threatened or there was someone in the backyard.”

If you hear two people prowling around your house at 2 a.m., you have the right to protect yourself. At least you should. But for black people, it’s not that simple — especially black women.

When Castro said her name, he didn’t just bring police brutality into the national conversation on gun violence. He made us remember the woman who lived. We readily remember Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Oscar Grant. We don’t talk enough about the criminalization of black girls and women.

Monday night, “Queen & Slim” director Melina Matsoukas dedicated her award at Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood event to black women killed by police, starting with Jefferson.

“She was killed in her own bedroom, which is meant to be a safe haven for a person. She was murdered by someone meant to protect and to serve her. She was murdered because she was black,” Matsoukas said.


“Today we stand here to honor her life. To honor Sandra Bland. To honor all the black and brown bodies whose lives were taken by law enforcement. Who could easily have been me or [fellow honorees] Lena [Waithe] or Jodie [Turner-Smith]. . . . To give these lives justice and to carry their legacy, because that is the reason we create art. To create change, to illuminate, and to disrupt.”

We must remember our sisters. Say their names.

Did even half of the women at the Women’s March lift Sandra Bland, who in 2015 was found dead in a Texas jail cell after a petty traffic stop gone way wrong? We cannot talk about women’s rights without also talking about police brutality against women.

We talk about the 15-year-old teen body slammed by an officer in McKinney, Texas. Do we say her name? Remember it: Dejerria Becton.

Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was asleep on a couch when she was shot in the head during a 2010 Detroit police raid. Charges were dismissed. Earlier this year, the city of Detroit reached an $8.25 million settlement with her family. It does not bring her back. It is not justice.

Last month, 6-year-old Kaia was arrested after having a tantrum at a Florida charter school. A kid cannot be a kid when they are black.

It is starting to look like you can’t do much without being considered dangerous when living in black skin.


Former police officer Dante Servin shot and killed Rekia Boyd in 2012, after recklessly firing five shots over his shoulder and driving away. He was acquitted. Earlier this week, he made headlines again for wanting his record expunged. He wants to erase what he did to Boyd.

The country tries to delete them, too. When we don’t say their names, we forget they were people who lived.

The officer who shot Jefferson, Aaron Dean, resigned and was charged with murder Monday. Dean isn’t cooperating with investigators, a warrant states.

A bodycam video shows him lurking around her house. He could have announced his arrival. He could have acted with concern. Instead, about a minute and a half into the video, he swings around toward her bedroom window, yelling, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”

He ends the second sentence with a gunshot. When we don’t talk about police violence as straight-up gun violence, we let it hide in a bubble racists can opt out of. We let folks who think race doesn’t concern them separate these killings from America’s violent crimes against humanity.

We cannot afford to keep editing the murderous parts out. Our lives are depending on it.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.