Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Inherent Danger

Aiyana Jones, 7-years old. Shot dead at home, in her sleep by police. This story saddens me. And of course enrages me. And was definitely a trigger for my musings, both emotional & rational and objective.

I don’t have children yet but I envision myself charging the police to protect my child and ending up dead myself or imprisoned for assault on a police officer in a situation like that. I understand the training police undergo; if they feel threatened they defend themselves. After identifying themselves as police, and if the suspect is armed or poses a threat, and if the decision is made to discharge their weapons, they aim for center mass. This was clearly not the case in this situation. They were searching for a murder suspect. They obtained a no-knock warrant. Detroit police wanted to surprise and ambush the suspect so he wouldn’t be able to flee. That much is understandable. Only that.

My first thought after learning they were filming The First 48 while this atrocity took place was, “Let’s pray the unaltered footage ends up in the right hands.” The public doesn’t need to view what in essence is a snuff film, but the truth needs to come out. Reality TV was bound to kill someone sooner or later.

I haven’t watched Cops since I got rid of cable. I’ve never watched The First 48. But from what I gather it’s a faster-paced version of Cops. And that may have fueled the Detroit police officers into throwing a flash grenade into a home and firing shots.

Police have this image of us (Blacks) as violent aggressors. We view cops as aggressive oppressors. Both parties enter any interaction in a heightened state of “ready”. Countless episodes of Cops show a suspect fleeing the police over something as minor as a blown taillight or even going hand-to-hand with the police out of fear, sometimes guilt, but oftentimes, fear. That triggers a more aggressive response from police which triggers an aggressive response from the Black community. It’s a vicious cycle.

So we have police viewing us as dangerous, ready to shoot or fight our way out of any situation. Add the video cameras and there’s probably a superhero switch that goes off in their heads – We’re here to catch the bad guy, to save the day, to get rid of these violent (insert adjective here)…And we’ll do it in grand fashion (past incidents of police brutality have trained me to be quick to whip out my camera phone to take video, just in case something goes down, but that may be fueling the fire). Coming from someone who’s wanted to go on an NYPD ride-along for years, give me the mundane any day. I’m fine watching episodes of Cops where there’s a snake loose in someone’s closet or a cross dresser soliciting in an empty parking lot.

The whole scenario surrounding Aiyana Jones’ murder reminds me of a sketch on The Chappelle Show where he addressed the apparently two separate legal systems white (collar) criminals and Blacks go through and what would happen if we switched places in a Law and Order-style spoof. The sketch begins with police throwing a flash grenade into the white suspect’s home, them crashing through the door, shooting the dog and forcefully arresting the suspect. It’s funny because the amount of force they used is excessive and unnecessary; their actions are exaggerated for the situation. And therein lies the problem with the Aiyana Jones’ murder case. Do I think the police set out to kill a 7-year old girl for ratings? No. But I do believe the cameras escalated a situation – Let’s show the world that police work is exciting, like in the movies!

Why did they enter that home like there was an armed suspect holding hostages and exchanging fire with them? Did they even see the toys on the front lawn, a clue that there was a child or children in the home? Did the toys set-off another superhero response to save the child? Either way, their actions were excessive, like in the movies. And once the adrenaline’s pumping, there’s no time to think, to blink. Malcolm Gladwell discussed this in his book, “Blink”, referring to the police car chases and their aftermath and the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. In that split second where we read each other’s minds, read facial cues, everything stops. We can’t think, we act.

This is yet another case of racism and bad police work. The death of Aiyana Jones is in that area between deliberate and accidental. As a result of their actions a child is dead. A child they killed. They have to be punished. Yes, they were looking for a murder suspect. But they killed a child. No more acquittals for the police. Aiyana’s murder needs more coverage. Aiyana’s murder must affect change. Aiyana’s murder must not be forgotten. Aiyana’s murder must not be repeated.

This will take work from both sides.

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