Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aiyana Jones: Dare We Blame Her Family for Her Death? Were the Police at the Wrong House?

Aiyana JonesSince Aiyana Jones was shot and killed Sunday by Detroit police and despite revelations that law enforcement officers may have been showing off because they were being filmed for A&E's First 48, a reality TV crime show, I have been disturbed by some tweets and commentary that seek to shift the blame from the police to the family for not providing a crime-free environment for Aiyana.

Take it from someone who lives in the city of the Danziger Seven, who's heard the insult that the people on the bridge would not have been shot if they had evacuated when ordered, that argument is a mistake.

Put yourself in the place of Aiyana's family. While you rage against the police, more than likely you would also rage against yourself: Why didn't I keep Joe, or whatever the suspect's name is, out of my house? Would you need others to send you on that guilt trip?

I wonder: Was the man the police sought the owner of the home or the lessee of record? Even scarier, while some are busy blaming the grandmother and family, the family's attorney says the police were at the wrong house. The suspect lived in a flat attached to the house, he says. (See video below.)

Still, how many times have we let cousins or friends sleep in our homes and are unaware that they may be involved in drugs or something else that can get them or us killed? In some cases, we may know a relative is associated with crime, but be as afraid of the person as would be strangers?

So, why are some of us so willing to blame the family's human frailties rather than the immense ego of police and their misguided quest for reality TV stardom?

The police officer whose gun went off appears to blame the grandmother.
Weekley made his way to his sergeant and reported what had just happened. A woman inside grabbed my gun, Weekley said, according to police sources. It fired. The bullet hit a child.
Again, consider the Danziger Seven cover-up. Why do some people consistently believe the police officers' versions of events?

Nevertheless, what if Sunday night's raid went down exactly as the police officer said it did? I know we have some who declare black people should not confront the police. They declare such actions are stupid and will get you killed. I agree with that common sense.

But what if you were in your home at 12:40 a.m. on a Sunday morning, asleep or drowsy, and your granddaughter or child were asleep nearby. After a pop and banging flash of light, men in dark clothing storm through the door. Maybe they say they're the police, maybe they don't. Maybe you don't know what they're saying because you are disoriented. After all, it is 12:40 in the morning, and you didn't expect anyone to charge into your home with a gun. Are you positive your first instinct would not be to rush at the intruders to protect the sleeping child?

What if the family's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, is correct when he alleges via the family's story that the flash bang hit and injured Aiyana before the grandmother did anything at all?

While I think we should all protest against our people who kill our people--including in that protest a willingness to work with law enforcement by being vigilant and reporting crime--the death of this child is not the proper venue to make statements that appear to excuse the police. You can call for a calm response without making concessions to the police for abominable deeds. Therefore, the blame for this child's death may not be shifted to the alleged murder suspect the police sought when they raided Aiyana's home in the wee hours of Sunday morning nor may we nudge blame toward her family.

The police acted reprehensibly. When one considers that they were more than likely showing off because the raid was being filmed for A&E's TV reality show, First 48, then one must ask under other circumstances "Did it take all that action for them to get their man?"

Why this suspect at that time in that house with toys on the lawn? It's not like it was the first time they sought someone who'd allegedly murdered a black teen in Detroit.

I want justice for Je'Rean, the son of Rochelle Riley, the young man murdered by the suspect the police sought in Aiyana's home, just as I want justice for Aiyana. But what happens to seeking justice for Je'Rean when we succumb to victim blaming?

While he was cleaning up his life, according to his mother, Je'Rean used to be involved with a gang. If he had been shot by police instead of the suspect, if he had been wrestled to the ground due to a misunderstanding in which the police claimed he had resisted arrest or they thought his cell phone was a gun and during the incident was killed, you know that there would be black and white people stepping forward to say, "Yeah, the police were wrong but his death is on his mom for not keeping him out of that gang."

I suspect there are some who would even say callously that Je'Rean and his mother must bear some responsibility in his actual death at the hands of a criminal because he hung around with gang members at one point in his young life. Such acknowledgments may serve us well when telling cautionary tales in Sunday School and barber shops, but how do observations of lifestyle, former or otherwise, help achieve justice?

Would victim blamers--who claim their logic is about demanding black accountability--condone part of the murderer's sentence being shaved off because Je'Rean once ran with a bad crowd? Would they say that to the face of his grieving mother?

Can't we respond to crime in our communities without setting up false paradigms that blame victims instead of perpetrators?

Folks, both black and white, when Oakland Bart Police shot Oscar Grant in the back, wanted to know whether he had a criminal record. How is that information relevant in a case where a man was shot in the back by one officer while being held face down on the ground by others? Like Je'Rean's mom, Grant's mother also said he was turning his life around. True or not, should the officer who shot him not be held accountable for shooting a downed man in the back if he did so intentionally? Should we be blind to police brutality and misconduct if the victim has a record?

When we have clear cases of wrongdoing by the state or government agencies, we put our own future safety at risk by muddying the waters of justice, blaming the lifestyle or environments of victims for their suffering while a person walks away with a smoking gun. There's a right way and a wrong way to do law enforcement in this country. Let us not inadvertently shift our anger to an alleged criminal individual in the Aiyana case with "if only the suspect had not been there" supposition.

We can separate the two, and should. We must talk about about the suspect and denounce his alleged murder of the 17-year-old. But any statements that sound like the alleged murder suspect may be blamed for Aiyana's death along with her family while we seek police accountability are ill-advised.

For a moment, imagine Aiyana's house in Detroit is a metaphor for the African-American community, the black village in which we live. In it you have a matriarch, a father, an innocent child, and a criminal. Is it okay for agents of the state to storm the village without warning, risking the life of the innocent, to capture the wrong-doer? Are you willing to accept open season on black communities as though the police are the military and we are Iraq?

Addressing crime in the black community need not negate addressing police overkill and misconduct. The Detroit police wanted a to be stars in a reality TV show. For the sake of high drama, they ignored "intelligence," as they call it, that not only was the suspect in the home but also a grandmother and a child. Consequently, they now star as villains in a spectacle of tragic reality. Let that stand. Let justice on all sides be served.

Please read part one, Black Anger and the Death of Aiyana Jones and also, new: "Dear Black Village: Did You Kill Le'Rean Riley and Aiyana Jones?"

1 comment:

Max Reddick said...

Let me repeat something I've said and written earlier. Whenever a television camera crew shows up, people's behaviors change. And to add this to the already volatile cocktail of adrenaline and good intentions, and you have an accident waiting to happen.

But I think there is an opportunity for worthwhile discussion here. We will be discussing this case and the police and our community on FTSR this Sunday. Would you like to be a guest? Email me at and let me know. Peace