Donald Trump, Atatiana Jefferson and the Devaluation of Human Life - Rolling Stone
Home Politics Political Commentary

The Lives That Won’t Ever Matter In Trump’s America

Atatiana Jefferson’s death is a symptom of an American culture, exploited by the president, that refuses to allow for the humanity of people like her.

Flowers are placed in front of the home of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 14, 2019. The former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Jefferson through her bedroom window this weekend was charged with murder on Monday and booked into jail, according to the Fort Worth Police Department.

Flowers are placed in front of the home of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 14, 2019. The former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Jefferson through her bedroom window this weekend was charged with murder on Monday and booked into jail, according to the Fort Worth Police Department.


The video is horrifying to watch. The casual disregard for human life, other than the shooter’s, is evident. The gunman, who is white, fires his weapon recklessly and certainly without warning, killing his target. 

I am not sure yet whether you can guess to which footage I am referring. The same recklessness and violence characterizes two videos that we have seen in the news of late. The description fits the doctored video shown at President Trump’s Miami resort last week during a conference held by the pro-Trump group American Priority. It also suits the bodycam images captured by the white Fort Worth, Texas cop who fired a fatal bullet at a black woman inside her home after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line with concern for her safety when he saw two of her house doors ajar. 

Aaron Dean, the killer cop, has since resigned from his job and been charged with murder after shooting Atatiana Jefferson, 28, through a window in the early hours of Saturday morning. (Jefferson’s home is located only about 30 miles west from where Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean in his apartment last year in Dallas.) This all happened while Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was in the house. She was the “cool auntie,” family members said, and the two had been up late playing video games.

They may seem unrelated: one a grotesque piece of manic fan service for a president who relies upon cultish popularity to weather the storms of his incompetence and, now, impeachment; the other, the latest police snuff film reminding us that cops are allowed, by law, to let their white fear take precedence over black existence because the system protects them. Even when there is tape. (See: Clark, Stephon; Castile, Philando; Rice, Tamir.)

The macabre video from the Trump Miami resort, depicting a Kingsman: The Secret Service character with Trump’s head superimposed murdering media entities and political enemies indiscriminately, isn’t in and of itself a death threat. But it displays the kind of sophomoric disregard for the lives of individuals, or those who work at the companies, whom their heroic president so ruthlessly eviscerates. It isn’t some movie-style shoot-em-up. It wishes for state violence against politicians, critics, and the media. 

This kind of garbage is Trumpian to the core. Dating back to his first days in public life, Trump has most often recognized strength through violence, notably from the state — the most conspicuous example being his call for the execution of the since-Exonerated Five after the Central Park jogger case hit the headlines. Since entering politics, he has consciously fed this culture of violence, 

By giving a pass to the gun lobby whenever actual shootings occur and encouraging police to be rougher with their suspects; by putting migrant children and their parents in pestilent concentration camps rife with abuse and creating circumstances that makes it more likely that others die while trying to crossthe border; by turning his back on foreign allies in war theaters and encouraging ISIS to metastasize once again, as he has done now in Syria — Trump exhibits and fosters a culture a neglect for human life that is unheard of from a United States leader since Ronald Reagan allowed the crack and AIDS epidemics to explode.

The people behind that corrosive video and those enjoying it are complicit in a Trumpian culture that encourages the devaluation of human life for the interest of both his political ends and the philosophies his policies advance. 

This is not an effort to blame the president for the death of police victims like Atatiana Jefferson; he didn’t pull the trigger. But the president’s power stems directly from white supremacy and the violence and the state power that supports it, including racist policing. When that is allowed to grow and fester, he grows stronger. 

I don’t know whether or not Dean is a Trump supporter, but the tragic actions of the former Fort Worth cop fit this sort of Trumpian indifference to life. He never identified himself as a police officer when he skulked around Jefferson’s house, rather than, I don’t know, knocking on the front door and asking if she was okay. Responding to a wellness check from neighbor James Smith, Dean instead made sure that Jefferson’s death fits snugly and eerily into the deaths in the doctored video, a trigger fired as readily and carelessly as one by the Trump-faced hero, who as the president does stands in for every white man who feels displaced by the Jeffersons of our society, intelligent and independent black women who are busy claiming part of this America that was always theirs.

Trump doesn’t care much for doing the job of President, but he enjoys the power that comes with it. He won’t back down unless his martyrdom is all but assured. So he is running for reelection, knowing that a key constituency will either willingly or casually sign off on his racist agenda. But he also knows that another constituency, specifically black people, must be suppressed and devalued. Those who are not directly disenfranchised must feel as though the system is not here to protect them, does not view their lives as equal or even valuable. 

You hear that in the voice of Smith, Jefferson’s distraught neighbor who made the fateful wellness-check call, when he said that “there was no reason for her to be dead, because there was nothing violent going on. There was no distress at this particular property. They had no reason to come here with guns drawn,” he added. “If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?”

I thought about that as I watched Jefferson’s siblings on CNN Monday morning, remaining hopeful and pleading for a federal intervention in the investigation. You can understand why they’re hesitant to trust the same Fort Worth Police Department whose officer was cleared in the killing of another man for a similar incident back in 2013. But why trust a United States government led by a president whose attorney general is in his pocket, who routinely trivializes death, and whose casual cruelty has become so simpatico with a culture already indifferent to the lives of black people? After all, not that far into that sick video’s mock shooting spree, the “Trump” character decapitates one guy who doesn’t have a media logo on his head. Instead, it reads “Black Lives Matter.”


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.