wpid-Arrested-crime.jpgAfter three years, the white Detroit police officer who shot an African American 7-year-old girl is standing trial in Wayne County Circuit Court. Joseph Weekley was part of a so-called Special Response Team that entered the downstairs flat where Aiyana and her grandmother were sleeping in the front room.

Police were looking for a murder suspect who was living in the upstairs flat. A stun grenade was tossed through the window of the downstairs flat and seconds afterwards the door was kicked in and the fatal shot was fired into the head of the second-grader.

The grandmother of Aiyana, Mertilla Jones, was sleeping on the same couch with Aiyana. She was later taken to the police station where they attempted to hold her on non-existent spurious charges since she was the primary witness to the crime.

Weekley, who has had misconduct complaints filed against him prior to the killing of Jones, is facing trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter and the reckless discharge of a firearm. These charges are relatively light considering the fact that no shots were fired at the police who were in no danger by the occupants of the house located on Detroit?s eastside.

The entire incident was captured by the film crew of the ?First 48? television program aired on the A&E cable network. This program treats police operations against civilians as entertainment and the presence of the cameras may have influenced the character of the raid that was carried out in the early morning hours of May 16, 2010.

Jones? death sparked shock and outrage throughout the United States. Demonstrations were held in the city of Detroit in the aftermath of the killing.

A national demonstration was organized that coincided with the U.S. Social Forum that was held in Detroit the following month. In recent months, Mertilla Jones spoke at the Detroit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Rally & March on January 17, where Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, the keynote speaker from Baltimore?s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), called for justice for young Aiyana.

Detroit?s newly-appointed police chief at the time, Warren Evans, was out of the city during the shooting. He later resigned in the aftermath of the political fallout from the killing of Jones and his participation in another reality television program that was scheduled to air on a cable network.

Mayor Dave Bing later barred all police participation with entertainment television programs. The Detroit Police Department has been under two federal consent decrees since 2003 for their disproportionate use of force and the deplorable conditions existing in the city?s lock-ups.

Nonetheless, after a decade under U.S. Justice Department and judicial monitoring, the police have failed to come into total compliance with federal guidelines outlined in the consent decrees. Detroit residents are still subjected to police misconduct which represents a source of tension throughout the city.

Defense Attorney for Officer Weekley, Steve Fishman, said in opening arguments on June 3 that the killing of Aiyana Jones was an accident. The defense is attempting to impugn the credibility of Mertilla Jones saying that her story changed in the course of the investigation.

Weekley claims that Mertilla Jones grabbed his gun after he entered the front room where Aiyana and her grandmother were sleeping. Assistant Prosecutor Rob Moran argued on behalf of the state that “The flash grenade goes off: He stands there. This is called the fatal funnel. You never stand in a doorway. Three seconds after the flash grenade detonates, his gun goes off and that’s when the fatal shot is fired.”

Fishman argued on behalf of Weekley saying that “He pulls back and his hand hits the trigger. … It was an accident. It was not careless. It was not reckless,” the defense lawyer said.

Fige Bornu of the Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee based in Detroit issued a statement during the jury selection process in which he said that ?Aiyana?s untimely death at the hands of the state will forever be memorialized as a brute, unrelenting, and bastardly expression of the continued disregard of respect, dignity and longevity for America and the world?s most precious amongst us: Our Black Youth.?

Bornu continued by noting ?Sadly, there are far too many tragedies that snatch the vulnerable hearts, souls and spirits of our young people today. In fact, no matter the demographic, we all are under siege in this society which seems to glorify violence, and ignore the innocence of our essence.?

A History of Police Violence in Detroit

People in Detroit and around the world will be watching intently to see what verdict is reached by the jury in this case. It is a rare occurrence in such cases where the police are actually prosecuted and convicted for the deaths of African Americans and other oppressed peoples inside the U.S.

The conviction of two white police officers of second-degree murder in 1993 for the brutal murder of Malice Green on the city?s southwest side was unprecedented. Green, an unemployed steel worker, was bludgeoned to death with flash lights by cops as he sat in his automobile on a busy thoroughfare on the evening on November 5, 1992.

These convictions were met with disbelief by the state?s power structure, which under the-then conservative Gov. John Engler and the legislature in Lansing, subsequently passed measures that abolished the civil service residency rules for municipalities in Michigan and abolished Recorder?s Court, a city system which had been in existence since the mid-19th century.

Police violence in Detroit was the spark that led to the rebellion of July 1967, the largest in an urban area up until that time in U.S. history. The aftermath of the rebellion led to the radicalization of the city?s residents that spread into the schools and auto plants which became centers of political activity during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1973, the city?s first African American mayor, State Senator Coleman A. Young, was elected with a mandate to eliminate police brutality then exemplified through the law-enforcement decoy unit known as STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets).? STRESS was responsible for the deaths of 33 people, 31 of whom were African Americans between 1971 and 1973.

 

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