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The Killing of Aiyana Stanley Jones: How Can We Say Never Again?

May 20, 2010
Aiyana Stanley Jones

Aiyana Stanley Jones

By now most of you have probably heard about the way a 7-year old girl in Detroit, Aiyana Stanley Jones, was killed. You know that police officers seeking to arrest a man living in a different apartment in the house in which Aiyana’s family lived. She was asleep on a couch that that caught on fire when the police threw a flash grenade into the wrong apartment. And an officer shot her. They forced her father to lie down in her blood.

If you know all this, if you know that this is the way police break into a house surrounded by children’s toys, then you know that it has to stop. You know that the world that let this happen has to change.

For that to happen we have to understand the structures behind this horrific death. (And I owe this approach to this post by BFP on Flip Flopping Joy.) I am very far from having all the answers, so I hope that those of you reading can help to build an understanding, but here’s what I think so far:
The police raid was being filmed for a reality TV series broadcast on A&E called “The First 48“. According to Mara Gray of AOL News:

Some, including one former attorney for Aiyana’s family, believe the presence of the reality-TV show crew may have encouraged police officers to act with more bravado than necessary. Attorney Karri Mitchell, who was replaced by Fieger, said the police “were excited; they were on TV.”

This isn’t just about action making compelling television; of course if you’re going to be on TV, you want to be seen as one of the good guys. This is about the valorization of aggression, the celebration masculine violence and recklessness as if it were real heroism. This is what we see again and again in action films or video games, but I don’t think the media or other cultural influences on their own go far enough to explain the actions of these police officers.

They are, after all, supposed to be trained professionals who understand the consequences of using their weapons (which of course raises the question of whether they were properly trained and, if not, why not? Is it a resources issue? Why aren’t more resources made available if that is so?). The question then is why they didn’t stop and think. Why didn’t they take the step of considering what might happen to the people inside the house? Why didn’t they think about the children after seeing the toys outside? I don’t know the races of the officers involved, but a recent study showing that white people’s mirror neurons don’t react to watching People of Color the way they do to watching white people is certainly suggestive.

I know there’s still a lot of research to be done on mirror neurons, but even without that evidence, we could see that there is plenty of evidence that, in the US, society teaches white people that they do not need to consider People of Color. Collateral damage, right? There was plenty of outrage shared by the mainstream media when Timothy McVeigh called the children who died when he blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building by that term, but how many times was it used to describe deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan before the average CNN viewer would have heard that some people think that term is wrong? Callus, sanitizing terms for the deaths of brown people are tacitly accepted. You don’t have to stop and think that “hey, these are people we’re talking about”.

I know that what I’ve said here barely goes beyond the surface, and so I want to invite readers to build on what I’ve been able to say:

  • What other structural causes do you see behind this horror?
  • And what do we do about them?

We have to find a way to be able to say “never again” and know that it’s a promise rather than a baseless hope.

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2 Comments
  1. May 20, 2010 11:51 am

    i hadn’t heard about the film crew yet. i’m having a hard time believing that wasn’t THE primary reason for them acting so brashly. as a rule, people, all of us, are stupid when potential fame is involved. it may not be conscious, but we live in a society so saturate with the concept of fame that even the most humble (and, in my experience, police aren’t the most humble) of us can act like complete idiots in the presence of it.

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