Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Our Confused, Grieving Hearts

Dueling Facebook pages reveal the conflicted emotions stirred when Detroit police shot a 7-year-old girl while investigating a 17-year-old boy's murder.

By Akiba Solomon May 25, 2010

I’m a member of two Facebook pages that wouldn’t exist in a society that truly valued its children. On these pages, people from around the country are posting angry and defeated "SMHs," Jesus-filled diatribes about the nature of karma, blunt critiques of Black family conduct and enraged calls for community action against police abuse.

The first Facebook page, "Remembering Aiyana Jones," tells the story of a pretty brown 7-year-old who was killed by a policeman’s bullet on May 16, during an early-morning police raid of her family’s Detroit duplex. As one of its members posted, "This lil’ angel will never have a chance to go to high school, prom, homecoming…college, all because this police officer killed her. If he [gets] off, then that will be another reason for them to kill again."

If you follow the press links, you’ll find out how the city’s SWAT-like Special Response Team went to the Jones home to arrest Chauncey Louis Owens, a 34-year-old murder suspect who was staying in the apartment upstairs. You’ll learn that the officers–who were being filmed for one of A&E’s morbid real-crime shows–tossed a stun grenade into the front room of the first floor where Aiyana was sleeping, on the couch with her grandmother. You’ll gag as you read about how the explosive allegedly burned little Aiyana, tear up at how a 14-year police veteran named Joseph Weekley fatally shot her in the neck in the ensuing chaos. 

Aiyana’s Facebook page doesn’t much dwell on the alleged police cover-up of her killing. The day after the incident, police claimed that Weekley’s gun went off as he struggled or collided with the child’s 46-year-old grandmother, Mertilla Jones. But at a press conference the following day, Jones family attorney Geoffrey Fieger claimed that he had video footage showing police shooting into the ground floor before entering it. (The family has filed lawsuits in state and federal courts.)

Now it’s open season for accusations. Detroit’s apparently tone-deaf mayor, Dave Bing, took time out of "leading" his broken city to accuse Fieger of "taking advantage of a terrible situation" in the name of getting money. State attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Cox advanced Aiyana’s funeral Saturday by Tweeting that he’s "disgusted but not surprised" that Rev. Al Sharpton would deliver the eulogy.  

The second Facebook page now haunting my days is called "He Has a Name Too: Jerean Blake RIP Don’t Forget Him!" This one’s not much concerned with the back and forth between the city and the Joneses. Instead, it tells us about the 17-year-old Detroiter whose murder precipitated the Jones raid. It’s a page of emotional and moral conflict–classmates and neighbors take great pains to honor "the 7-year-old girl," while simultaneously venting about her family. They accuse the Joneses of abetting Owens, who is charged with Je’Rean’s murder. 

According to press reports on Je’Rean’s shooting–which aren’t as plentiful as those on Aiyana’s–and a radio interview with his mother, Lyvonne Cargill, the teen had gone to a strip-mall party store for a cool drink after school. There, he reportedly exchanged salty looks or words with Owens, who was riding through the teen hangout on a moped. The adult Owens allegedly told the child Je’Rean that he was going to get his gun, returned to the scene in a car moments later and blasted the young man in his chest.

Cargill’s conflicted reaction is gut wrenching. "I’m sorry what happened to the 7-year-old child, you know my sympathy [goes] out for 7-year-old. But they knew the guy killed my son," Cargill charges about the Jones family’s relationship with Owens. "Everything got started because that guy killed my son. That girl would have been living right now and my son would have been living too. … They don’t think about my son. They talk all about the 7-year-old girl. What about my son?""

This situation is too much, too sad, too unfair, too senseless to intellectualize about the moral equivalency this grieving mother is expressing. Too much, too sad, too unfair, too senseless to harp on how excessive police force–not her child’s murder by a civilian–led to the death of Aiyana. Who am I to question her anger at the lack of public focus on Je’Rean? After all, his killing should be just as aberrant as Aiyana’s–not just business as usual in the poor, Black neighborhood both children called home.

So here we all are, a week later. Facebook pages with thousands strong, hearts reaching out to families of two brown children who died at the hands of foolish predators, sloppy police work and reality-show preening. Aiyana’s in the ground, buried in a pink suit. Je’Rean laid to rest Monday.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers has "requested" that the Justice Department explore the kinds of televised raids that killed Aiyana. I’m certainly left wondering why TV viewers get off on watching real police storm into real people’s houses in the first place. I also wonder why Mayor Bing, who says he’s banned reality TV crews from riding with police on raids, claims he didn’t find out about the show until after Aiyana was killed. The basic-cable-viewing public certainly knew about it.  

But what of the violence that claimed Je’Rean? Mayor Bing says that’s what Detroit ought to focus on. "Our community has got to stand up and say, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ Guns are a problem," he told the Detroit News early last week.  

Does that violence justify the level of force police routinely deploy in neighborhoods like Aiyana’s? If not, what do we tell Je’Rean’s mother and loved ones? 

I don’t have answers. I know only that I will never be free of their images. For Aiyana, it’s the irony of the portrait circulating the Web: The smiling 7-year-old in her freshest plaits and multicolored barrettes, literally surrounded by a trifecta of white Disney princesses–blonde Cinderella, brunette Snow White and redhead Ariel, the Little Mermaid. For Je’Rean, it’s how young he looks, with adolescent acne decorating his also smiling face.  

Those images have touched something deep in me. They’ve touched something deep in a lot of folks, something we all still struggle to explain–and to face. All of the Facebooking and reading and yapping Aiyana’s murder has spawned has not changed the grim fact that, in too many of our neighborhoods, suspected murderers can live upstairs from babies and police can roll through like they’re dropping bombs in an Afghan desert. 

So now what?