Still no justice for Aiyana

August 8, 2012

Aaron Petcoff reports from Detroit on the campaign for justice for Aiyana Jones.

MORE THAN two years have passed since Detroit police murdered 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones.

She was asleep on a sofa in her grandmother's living room when she was shot to death by officers of the Detroit Police Department (DPD), as a reality TV crew filmed the tragic incident. Today, the Jones family has still not seen justice and continues to be brutalized by the DPD.

Detroit police raided the Jones family's duplex around midnight on May 16, 2010. Police believed a suspect in a murder that happened a few days earlier was hiding in the home. Rather than wait for the suspect to leave the house, as police officers have since told the media is standard protocol, the cops chose to storm the house in a nighttime raid--bringing camera crews with them--despite the children's toys scattered across the lawn.

Cops approached the home and threw a flash grenade into the living room through a first floor window, temporarily blinding the occupants inside. According to attorneys for the Jones family, video evidence shows that at that point, Officer Joseph Weekley, a regular guest on reality television, shot inside the home, killing Aiyana. The film has still not been released to the public.

Aiyana Jones' parents hold up her picture at a press conference
Aiyana Jones' parents hold up her picture at a press conference

The cops' version of events has been inconsistent. First, they claimed that Weekley's gun went off when Aiyana's grandmother, Mertilla Jones, tried to grab it in a scuffle with Weekley. But Mertilla was arrested, drug tested and examined that night for gunpowder residue on her hands. All of the tests came back negative.

The police have since backed off that story, and now claim that Mertilla brushed against Weekly as she ran from the room, causing his gun to misfire. But there was "no contact with any cop," Mertilla told reporters. "None. They're lying."

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the incident, the media set out to cover for the police and blame the Jones family for the tragedy. The day after Aiyana's murder, Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote that Detroiters "need to stop harboring criminals and averting our eyes to thuggery."

The Free Press ran a profile of Officer Weekley the next day, saying that he "helmed several charitable endeavors...including one that raises money for children of domestic violence victims." The profile neglected to mention that a group of Detroit cops, including Weekley, were under federal investigation for a 2007 incident in which police raided a home, shot two dogs to death and pointed guns at children, including infants.

Weekley was arraigned in October 2011, 17 months after the fatal raid, and charged with involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The family is still waiting for the trial, which begins in late October.

Meanwhile, Charles Jones, Aiyana's father, has been accused of aiding in the murder that police were investigating. He has been charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

Detroit's millionaire Democratic Mayor Dave Bing released a statement following Weekley's arraignment, saying that the city "must use this difficult moment to continue bringing our community and police department together." But the Jones family has seen what it looks like when the police come together with--or rather, against--the community: terrorism.

In spite of the court system's foot-dragging, the Joneses have not given up hope for justice. In April 2012, Mertilla Jones made a statement to the press, saying, "I know it's people out there praying for us...While they're reaching out, I'm going to grab a hold of their hand. It's time for us to stand up and speak out for Aiyana."

Last June, the Jones family said that Detroit police came to their home and physically assaulted several family members. Weekley was in court for a motion hearing earlier in the day.

According to one family member, police pulled up to the house while the Joneses sat outside next to a small fire. Officers ordered the family to put the fire out, saying, "What are you niggers doing, trying to burn down the city?" The fire was extinguished, but the cops got out of their squad car and approached the house anyway, attacking several family members and striking Mertilla Jones in the face with a flashlight, while calling her a "slut" and a "whore."

IT'S CLEAR that neither the police nor the courts nor the politicians nor the press of the 1 percent have an interest in getting justice for Aiyana Jones and her family. If justice is to be won, it will have to be fought for.

Policies of legalized racial profiling like "stop-and-frisk" and police militarization have led to an intensification of racist police brutality across the country. A recent study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that one Black person has been killed by police security guards or racist vigilantes every 36 hours in the first six months of 2012.

Racism in the press and the media--on display in the Cops-style reality shows like the one that was filming on the night of Aiyana Jones' death--serve to justify these policies by creating a specter of Black "gangsters" and "thugs" from whom law-abiding citizens have to be protected.

It's no coincidence that police militarization and racist policies like stop-and-frisk are concentrated in Black communities, where neoliberal policies and the effects of the economic crisis have been the most devastating. Rather than pursue policies that alleviate poverty, Republicans and Democrats alike would rather use the nightstick, the gun and the prison cell to keep poor and working-class people in line.

Detroit, once the crown jewel of American industry, is an example of the effect of neoliberal policies on Black communities. Workers in Detroit in the 1960s earned half again as much as the average U.S. worker, according to Dan Georgakas, co-author of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. Today, while mainstream media outlets celebrate a so-called "rustbelt revival," nearly one-quarter of Detroit households had annual incomes of less than $25,000 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With an emergency manager unilaterally ruling over Detroit Public Schools and a "consent agreement" between the city and state governments essentially rendering the elected city council powerless to control Detroit's finances, the "New Jim Crow" system appears chillingly similar to the old one.

But around the country, people have taken to the streets to fight police harassment, brutality and murder. Last month, hundreds of people gathered in the Bronx for the last in a series of vigils for Ramarley Graham, killed in the bathroom of his own home by New York City police. Constance Malcolm, Ramarley's mother, brought the concluding rally in a Bronx church to its feet when she declared, "This is a fight I'm prepared for, because I'm not going to stop until we get justice for Ramarley!"

This resistance can be multiplied across the country into a national movement against police brutality and the New Jim Crow. Justice for the victims of police violence like Aiyana Jones cannot come from the courts or the politicians of the 1 percent. It will have to come from people organizing and building our power in the streets.

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