Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dear Black Village: Did You Kill Je'Rean Blake and Aiyana Jones?

That headline has a question mark because I'm not sure what's going on in Detroit. I've already written the piece "Dare We Blame Aiyana's Family for Her Death?" because I think we're on a slippery slope to adopting a premise of excusing the police for misconduct and unnecessary deaths when we start to discuss what was wrong with a victim's family.

Regardless of what the family was doing or its possible links to crime, blaming Aiyana's family for her death is no different than blaming a woman in a short skirt for her own rape. "Yeah. She was asking for it!" is what some folks think, but rapists get acquitted when the jury has that attitude, and police officers get off the hook when public sympathy swings in its favor on bad shoots. Consider that's what they want, not to be challenged.

Detroit mayor Dave Bing is blasting the family's lawyer, Greg Fieger, saying he's only after money, and that's probably true. But Fieger is asking legitimate questions, which is more than I can say for the media and some people in the black community.

I'm on this subject again because The Root has an exclusive from Black Voices posted today, a story that says the Jones family was not very neighborly, the home had the air of criminal activity, and was no place for a child.
Neighbors said the residents of Aiyana's house were all relatives living in the two-family flat. They say the family has lived there for about two years and Chauncey Owens, the man police were looking for when the stray bullet hit Jones, was known for terrorizing the neighborhood. "Soon as they moved over here, you didn't even want to sit outside anymore," said one neighbor, who chose not to give his name to Black Voices. "If he [Owens] said something to you, you just let it go, because you already know how he is." . . . .
Perhaps I'm reading too much into the growing scrutiny of the Jones family, but these are the kinds of comments that leap out at me: "And regarding the precious #aiyanajones, when will we look at her parents who put her in an unsafe environment? -->," posted at The Root.

So, to Max Reddick to whom I commented in an earlier post at his website, Soul Brother V.2, saying that the black community was like a dog on a nail when it comes to crime, not in enough pain yet to move and change, I take it back. Maybe black people in crime-ridden neighborhoods are fed up. Maybe they are "ready to take a bite out of crime," even it means not questioning a family's background more than how police conduct a raid. Maybe the black community is ready to ignore whether police were showing off for reality a TV show, such as A&E's First 48, or the possibility that police were at the wrong address. Maybe the black community is ready to sacrifice children in the village to police raids in the name of stopping crime and for the sake of the whole. But is that the way we want to address crime in our communities?

Nobody listens to me, but I wrote elsewhere today that:
My only peeve (in this scrutiny of the family binge) is that with all the crimes we see daily in the black community, why is it that people interject a need to address that crime in the midst of cases where the police should be held culpable. Some did the same thing with the Oscar Grant shooting. (Surely there are other cases to examine where you can challenge the family's lifestyle and not appear to give police a pass.)

The question is why don't we separate the two--stay on the cases where no police mishandling is obvious and it's clearly black people hurting black people, and when it's a case of a police overkill and misconduct, address that? When we mix the two for the sake of argument and to protest criminals in our midst, it gives the police the opportunity to deflect from their bad deeds.

Humans are not good at multitasking and this applies to sorting through discourse with too many pieces. Separate and simplify for the sake of political action on both fronts. I think mixing the two is a tactical error.
But you know, I'm an older woman, not long for this world. It's not my concern, is it? If the people controlling media today want to divert attention to the environments of victims of questionable police strategies and a family's criminal behavior rather than focus on police misconduct, and then the black community wants to play along, who am I to warn that we may be signing our own death warrants.

Nevertheless, let me ask this: All these neighbors who are now saying their block is calmer now that police have shaken up the Jones family and little Aiyana is dead, why don't we question your neighborliness and ask how did you help Aiyana before this tragedy? Perhaps if you had the courage to speak sooner, then the 17-year-old Chauncey Owens shot, Je'Rean Blake, and Aiyana Jones would still be alive. Thank you for clearing this up. I think my old poem "Why You Have Roaches" applies on some level.

I'd bet money that nobody reported the conditions at the home because they clung to the old adage, "It's none of my business" or "I might be in danger too" or the philosophy that ratting someone out is worse than being a criminal. But a child is dead and now everybody's talking.


msladydeborah said...


We both know that it is easier to shift the burden of guilt off onto someone else than it is to carry it.

I have found myself not feeling a lot of Black people's attitudes about crime or criminals in their midst. I was pretty much fed up when the bodies of the women in Cleveland were discovered and suddenly all of the residents had something to say. I was especially put off by the woman who talked about her friend who had been missing for a long time. She said nothing about her disappearance or her suspicions. This sounded like the confessions of a mad woman. "If I had just said something..." After the fact does not count.

I am not going to let the cop responsible for this little girl's shooting off. But, dammit her folks and the community at large have a hand in her death. If people would stop harboring known criminals in their homes and within the community without considering the possible consequences-we would not be writing these type of stories.

Now everybody wants to speak up about the conditions that this child lived in. After the fact does not count in my mind. Ohio has anonymous reporting to protective services when a child is in a dangerous setting. It seems that no one had the mental testicles to do that. But everybody wants to have their say now. This should be fifteen minutes of fame that they should want to avoid. Because it makes them look equally as guilty as the shooter.

I grow angry when someone does something in my neighborhood and bring the police in mass. It is like we are under siege. It gives them a reason to mess with anyone and everyone.

As this situation continue to unfold, there is going to be some friction in the mix. I hold all the adults in this situation responsible. It is not going to be a popular stance, but I refuse to ignore the family's part in the situation. They were wrong and so was the officer.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

"They were wrong and so was the officer."

That's the piece that seems to be missing. While Max over at his spot addresses both, the police and crime in the community, I see too may comments that go either/or. It's not either/or. It's both.

But I still feel that we have WAAAY too many other cases we can use to address crime in the community than to make the family the focus of Aiyana's death. And that's what I think is happening. The family is becoming the focus MORE than police behavior. There is a greater principle here that effects us all and that is police actions that violate civil rights.

Let's remember that while it may have been a two-flat house and both flats may have had Jones folks in them, the police entered the WRONG flat?. I'm disturbed by the number of people who are willing to ignore that information.

If I lived next door to a junkie, even a relative who is a junkie, I may not even know that. If the police burst into my home to do a drug bust and knock one of my children out because they were after the junkie who lived next door, then I'm not going to waste my time telling the junkie it's his fault. On one level it is, but my first task will be to find out why the police can't read addresses or figure out which house is the junkie's house.

All black people may look alike to some members of law enforcement, but our houses at least have address numbers that helps them tell them apart, and claiming to be professionals, they should know enough about where they're going to not enter the wrong apartment.

The police keep talking about what "their intelligence" told them. Mighty sucky intelligence then, if they entered Aiyana's house looking for a suspect who didn't live there.

What I wish is that we'd revisit the issue of family AFTER the police stop hiding information and trying to cover up what they did wrong so they can get out of paying the family. Until then, we're helping bolster the police defense for its wrong reasons on this one.

RiPPa said...

I have to say that you knocked this one out of the park. I've wanted to address this on my blog this week upon hearing much of the talk. But I opted to leave it alone - I was too upset by what I was hearing.

I'm at the point where I think some people talk just to be talking - or hear themselves talk. And that said, they almost never offer a solution. And why are they this way? Because it is easy to look at people of color and dehumanize them.

For the most part people have adopted a mindset that "black folks will never do anything good," and that, "we're all criminals and as bad as 'they' say we are." This makes it easy for us to always almost scrutinize the victim(s) and their family members.

But the question still remains: Though we may be vigilant within our communities, just how do we police individual behaviors? I tend to think that the situation in impoverished communities goes way beyond individual behavior and personal responsibility. I think the larger issue for the most part is that of economics, and the lack of opportunities. Like my granny used to say, "the devil finds work for idle hands to do."