It is an all too familiar story, but when tragedy strikes, many refuse to connect with a key realization—it could have happened to me.
Oklahoma Christian University’s Black Student Union met Monday, Nov. 4 in Cail Auditorium to honor the life and discuss the death of Atatiana Jefferson.
Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, was killed by police officer Aaron Dean on Saturday, Oct. 12 in the comfort of her Fort Worth, TX home. Around 2 a.m., officers were called to Jefferson’s home after a neighbor reported her front door was suspiciously open. Jefferson was awake and in the residence, playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew.
Dean fired his gun seconds after entering the home without identifying himself. The Black Student Union sent an open invitation to all students and faculty to engage in a discussion regarding this calamity.
The panel, hosted by the Assistant Dean of Students Gary Jones, addressed the way black individuals feel when being pulled over by police officers. Junior York Benjamin answered by recounting his own personal interactions.
“I’ve been there quite a few times, where my heart drops and I just pray first of all,” Benjamin said. “I’m not trying to exaggerate, but I really do pray because it could be the last time. Automatically, I get out my drivers license, my registration, I roll my window down first and I put my hands on the steering wheel.”
Visiting professor of American Studies in Racial Diversity Robert Edison elaborated on police brutality, the root core of this ethical dilemma, and why individuals like Benjamin feel the way they do.
“White people are innocent until proven guilty,” Edison said. “Black people are guilty until proven innocent.”
Jones then addressed the relationship between the church and the community and asked panelists to give their congregation a letter grade based on the job their church has done in bringing up race relations and racial injustice.
Chief Communications Officer Risa Forrester answered by highlighting the lack of recognition these instances receive and how episodes of police brutality are often overlooked.
“I’d have to give us an F,” Forrester said. “What grieves me is for a lot of the people that I know, this doesn’t even register in their thoughts. They don’t even think about it. They see a headline, and then they move on.”
Edison followed by shedding light on the political situation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area underlying the precautionary actions made by the residing police force.
“Dallas has a black mayor that’s a member of the Church of Christ,” Edison said. “The police chief is black. The district attorney is black. The fire chief is black. Basically, they called the church leaders together because if [Officer Dean] got exonerated, there may be some violence taking place in the city. So there were meetings taking place behind the scenes.”
Benjamin went on to document the sensitivity of the issues connected to racial injustice and the need for them to be discussed, noting ignorance is no reason to excuse both action or reaction.
“I think we can do more in talking about contentious subjects,” Benjamin said. “Real touchy, real sensitive subjects that not a lot of people will engage in. I think we have to tackle that first because that’s the elephant in the room. You can’t turn a deaf ear on it.
“A lot of people use their ignorance as an excuse. You have forced ignorance. But if the majority is wrong, it’s wrong. Your Christian morals have to come in. Jesus was not in the majority. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.”
Sophomore Trinity Carpenter concluded by delivering a call to action to the student body and corresponding representatives, stating their need to have more individuals involved.
“I look around this room, and it’s the size of a class,” Carpenter said. “I know there were multiple emails sent out, many announcements made. I feel like, first, we have to—if it’s possible—convince people to care and get that this is actually important.”