May 21, 2010
Her name was Aiyana Jones and she was only 7 years old.
The dimples in her chocolate cheeks and that hand on her hip tell a story. Maybe she was a little joker, all giggles and big on fun--inquisitive, energetic, and a bit of a smarty pants, with a tip of nutty thrown in for good measure. I can almost see those fancy twists flying in the wind--hear her colorful barrettes clacking and dancing to the rhythm of her little girl dance. She reminds me of my Lila, who, also age seven, is all of these things and then some.
Aiyana could have easily been my child.
This matters to me because Aiyana is dead.
Earlier this week, she was felled by a police officer's bullet during the execution of a no-knock warrant at her grandmother's home. The police, acting on a tip that a homicide suspect was staying there, ran in to the house, flash grenades and guns ablaze, with all of the bully tactics of a stealth marine troop storming a terrorist hideout in Fallujah. By the time the smoke and gunshots and chaos cleared, Aiyana lay on the couch where she had been peacefully sleeping under her favorite Disney blanket, bleeding to death from a gunshot wound to the neck--yet another senseless casualty of police aggression in urban (read: black) communities. Her daddy, forced to the ground by the cops and denied the request to see about his daughter, lay in his little girl's blood as he watched the light slowly, surely, fade from her eyes.
Aiyana joins a long line of black folk whose lives were cut short by aggressive police tactics that, pumped with adrenaline, heightened fear, and a laundry list of double standards reserved for communities of color, make for the lethal hail of bullets that claimed the lives of black folk across the land--Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Eleanor Bumpers, Katherine Johnston, the list goes on. When it comes to people of color and their communities, it never, ever seems to matter that this is a country that stakes its claim on the basic judicial tenet that citizens are innocent until proven guilty. It seems always to be shoot to kill now, sort it out later.
This philosophy never seems to apply in communities like Buckhead and Beverly Hills and Scarsdale and Gross Pointe, where, I assure you, police brass are not authorizing and encouraging their officers to use military tactics to apprehend suspects, thus putting entire communities--including 7-year-old babies--in extreme danger.
When will this madness stop? How many more times must innocent people die before someone decides that it is simply unacceptable to continue to give police departments carte blanche to run roughshod through black and brown communities, patting down and gunning down as many people as they see fit--no matter their involvement, no matter the danger, no matter the cost--in the name of "justice" and "law and order"?
Of course, the police officer who shot Aiyana would have rather his bullet didn't end that baby's life (though he and his fellow officers do get a serious side-eye for storming Aiyana's grandmother's house with TV cameras in tow, with the hopes that their dramatic apprehension of a murder suspect would make it into the Cops-styled TV show, 48 Hours. There have been claims, too, that before the officers stormed the house, they were told by neighbors that children were present, as evidenced by a cadre of toys strewn about the lawn). But the officer’s intentions aren’t the issue here. What does need to be questioned, challenged, and rallied against are the policies that allow police departments across the country--specifically in urban neighborhoods--to use military tactics against their own citizens, as if they are not a part of the fabric of this land--as if they are living in an occupied state where people in uniforms have the ultimate right to violate your home, run roughshod over your most precious possessions, and hurt fellow human beings, then hide behind reckless policies to justify such cruel, inhuman actions.
Stray dogs get rounded up with more humanity.
The bottom line is that kids don't pick their parents or their communities or their homes or the people who care for them. It is an accident of birth that put Aiyana in that Detroit neighborhood, and not in, say, the White House. And so it is incumbent upon the grown-ups--particularly the caretakers, and especially those who are charged with serving and protecting us--to, in all the things that we do, protect the babies first.
At all costs.
Because the baby on the couch might be the next Sasha Obama.
Or my Lila.
Or a child you know.
Maybe even your own.
Please, Lord, no more of this. Tonight, I say a prayer for Aiyana and her father and her grandmother and their family; pray that they'll find the strength to carry on after becoming the latest victims of the war being waged in black and brown communities the world over.
I pray, too, that Aiyana, the pretty little chocolate girl with the bouncing twists and the dimpled smile, did not die in vain.