Could Police Have Prevented 7-Year-Old Jazmine Barnes’ Death?

It’s true of every case of white supremacist violence, every senseless and unprovoked shooting that causes the death of innocent people, and it may very well be the case here: We could have prevented this.

Prominent civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who has in the past represented slain innocents Jemel Roberson and Botham Jean, posted a Twitter thread detailing an unsolved 2017 crime that was horrifyingly similar to the Sunday shooting attack on LaPorsha Washington and her daughters, which resulted in the death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes.

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Merritt linked to an article about A’Vonta Williams, who was shot while driving in the exact same area in which Washington’s family was accosted, also by a white male in a pickup truck.

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Police could have taken Williams’ case seriously as a white supremacist threat to public safety, especially since, according to Merritt, local activists cited a similar incident before Williams’.

Of course, that’s not what the police did.

From the Houston Chronicle:

“The police got there and they were just asking: ‘Who got shot and who I was beefing with? What did I do? Who did I rob?’’ said Williams... “They just kept asking questions, like, making me feel like I had done something bad.”

On Thursday — after calls for answers from community activists Deric Muhammad and Gerry Monroe — Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez promised the family at their Aldine-area home that his agency would complete the investigation of the shooting…

Williams and his relatives said they reached out to the sheriff’s office on multiple occasions. His sister, Amber Williams, said she visited a substation twice but was told to bring her brother in person for information. When his mother, Kisshima Williams, called, she also was told to bring her son for an interview. She said she could not because he was in a wheelchair and in pain.

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White supremacists keep getting bolder, more dangerous. This is a fact. We also know that the police have always had ties to these supremacists, making justice for racist violence complicated at best and hopeless at worst.

It’s fully possible that neither of these horrific crimes was a result of these things. Unlikely, in my mind, but possible. And it’s also possible that—despite their dismissive and, frankly, racist insistence that Williams was responsible for the harm inflicted upon him—the sheriff’s office did everything they could last year to find the person who shot him, as they said they did.

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But at a certain point, we have to focus more on the bigger picture: Black people have always been in danger in this country, from our elders to our children, and we have to keep a running record of the ways we’ve been harmed and the way we handle those who harm us. Hopefully, the overwhelming public outcry to Jazmine Barnes’ death is a sign that we’re taking these crimes more seriously.

Even still, while there’s uncertainty, Muhammad hit the nail on the head:

“We believe this was race-related and if you don’t believe it was—this goes to law enforcement and everybody else—prove us wrong.”

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The reward offered by Merritt and Shaun King for turning in Jazmine Barnes’ killer has increased to $75,000. A community rally will be held Saturday, and a purple balloon release in Jazmine’s honor will be held after her funeral Tuesday.

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About the author

Natalie Degraffinried

Natalie Degraffinried is a staff editor for Kotaku.