Even in the blistering heat, people turned out in Reverchon Park on Saturday for the 16th day of protests in Dallas against police brutality. The event, organized by local nonprofit Next Generation Action Network, was dubbed a Black State of Emergency.
Organizers urged attendees to vote, discussed defunding the police and called for the resignation of Dallas police Chief U. Chief Renee Hall and Mayor Eric Johnson.
“We’re not playing with this country. We’re not playing with this state. We want change,” said Dominique Alexander, the founder of Next Generation Action Network.
With the exception of one incident, in which a man wearing a shirt reading "White lives matter too" was escorted out by the organization's security team, the gathering in Reverchon Park and the march that followed were peaceful.
The name of the event comes from former McKinney City Council member La'Shadion Shemwell, who proposed calling North Texas a “Black State of Emergency” after several high-profile police shootings in 2019. The organizers played audio of Shemwell reading the proclamation. The proclamation came after the shooting of Fort Worth resident Atatiana Jefferson.
“It is incumbent upon all elected officials, staff, clergy, organizations and citizens to fight to protect our rights and to make and maintain the safety of our cities,” Shemwell said. “It is not just our duty to fight. It is our duty to win.”
In the proclamation, Shemwell called on police departs to update use-of-force laws, require additional training for law enforcement officers, establish an identity and racial profiling board, require law enforcement to create an annual report detailing use of force and establish an external investigation process exclusive of the Texas Rangers.
Shemwell reminded the crowd at Reverchon Park that he issued the proclamation before the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota, both unarmed, black and killed by police officers.
“Had my counterparts, had other black elected officials, had other white elected officials, had other Texas lawmakers heard that plea, had stood with me, maybe Atatiana Jefferson, maybe Darius Tarver (killed by police in Denton early this year) and countless others would be alive today,” Shemwell said.
Jefferson’s sister, Amber Carr, and local activist Pamela Grayson took the stage.
“Say her name,” Carr told the crowd.
“Atatiana Jefferson!” the crowd yelled back.
“Please say her name and don’t forget it,” Carr said.
“Atatiana Jefferson!” the crowd shouted in reply.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t cry for her and wonder why,” Carr said. “I’m sick of the hashtags. My sister was more than a hashtag. I didn’t sign up to be an activist. I’m forced to be one now.”
Former Fort Worth former officer Aaron Dean was indicted on a charge of murder in December after killing Jefferson, a 28-year-old graduate student, as she babysat her nephew in October.
Carr announced the founding of The Atatiana Project, which will launch on June 19.
In May, the Jefferson family home was vandalized. Grayson and a few members of the community came together to clean up the mess. Besides the bullet hole in the window that Jefferson was shot through, Grayson said they got the house looking as good as new.
It was after the cleanup that Grayson was asked to serve on the board of The Atatiana Project. The goal of the project is to raise money for the creation of The Atatiana Jefferson Project Center, a facility where children of color can be provided a pathway into the STEM and gaming fields, Grayson said.
“We have to find our own movement,” Grayson said.
Before they set out to march, Alexander said that Next Generation Action Network secured a facility to be opened on the sixth anniversary of the organization.
"In sunny South Dallas, we will be unveiling our new NGAN Social Justice Center," Alexander said. "It's important that we have facilities that are dedicated to just social change in Dallas. This will be an area where activists, organizers — not just people who are members or staff of NGAN, but a center dedicated to humanity and justice for all."