Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Increasing Repression and the Worsening Economic Crisis in Detroit: Police Kill 7-Year-Old Child While Federal Consent Decrees Go Unenforced

Increasing Repression and the Worsening Economic Crisis in Detroit

Police kill 7-year-old in bed while federal consent decrees go unenforced

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

At 12:35 a.m. on May 16, over 20 Detroit police officers staged a raid at a two-family dwelling on the east side where they said a warrant for a suspect in a recent murder case was to be served. The police threw a flash bomb through the front window of the frame house causing a fire in the bed where 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones was sleeping alongside her grandmother Mertilla Jones.

Then the cops kicked in the door of the downstairs flat and a few seconds later Aiyana Stanley Jones was shot by a police officer in the neck and head. Her grandmother Mertilla Jones said she “saw the light go out in her eyes.” Young Aiyana was dead.

The next few hours was a harrowing experience for the families living in the home on Lilliebridge Street. Charles Jones, the father of Aiyana, said that there was no warning and that the incendiary device thrown into the home was the first sign of a police presence.

Jones said later that sections of the couch where Mertilla and Aiyana Stanley Jones were sleeping were “cut up and taken to the police station as evidence.” For over three hours the police ransacked the house and held several of the residents in detention outside the home.

Charles Jones said that he was held face down for hours by the police. Aiyana’s aunt Krystal Sanders recalled how she was kept outside in the cold with no shoes for two hours by the police.

“Why didn’t the police come when it was daylight, why did you come at night?” Sanders also noted that “there was an unmarked vehicle that parked in front of the house.” Sanders said the police told her they were looking for her fiancĂ© as a suspect in the killing of a 17-year-old days before.

“They never knocked and I was coming to open the door when I heard an explosion and the police kicked in the door,” Sanders said. She pointed out as well that there was an unmarked police vehicle in front of the house for hours the day before the actual raid.

Mertilla Jones was taken into police custody for several hours after the raid and then released without being charged. Corporate media accounts reported that she was being held because the grandmother had purportedly reached for the officer’s gun prompting the shooting. Yet Jones denied the allegations by the police.

“I never did anything, they are lying. They killed my grandbaby,” Jones said. “I laid down and put the blanket over Aiyana and the window exploded.”

The raid was filmed by “The First 48” television show with the idea of showing it at a later date. In light of the killing of Aiyana, the videotape could prove to be quite revealing in reconstructing the events of the early morning police action.

Repression Escalates in the City

Although this is the most egregious act of police violence that has occurred in Detroit recently, it is part of a growing pattern of brutality and repression carried out by law-enforcement and other state structures.

In response to the killing of Aiyana Stanley Jones, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality (DCAPB) dedicated its entire radio program to exposing the incident over the “Fighting for Justice” show which airs every Sunday morning between 10:00-11:00 a.m. on AM 1310 WDTW. Later the DCAPB organized a press conference and candlelight vigil outside the home where the killing took place.

During the previous week, five Detroit police officers were shot, one fatally, inside a vacant home that was also located on the east side. A 25-year-old African-American suspect was wounded at the scene and taken into custody.

Ron Scott, the spokesperson for the DCAPB and co-host of the “Fighting for Justice” radio program, told the media in the aftermath of the shooting that the incident was a reflection of the increasing tension between the Detroit police and people in the city. Police Chief Warren Evans, in response to a question during a press conference on the shooting of the officers, said of Scott’s remarks that they were “insensitive and ignorant.”

There was a flood of attacks against Scott and the DCAPB in the corporate media from the police. At the Board of Police Commissioners meeting on May 6, an officer who was slightly wounded in the shooting earlier in the week, also criticized Scott for his comments. Scott contends that his words were taken out of context and refused to issue the apology demanded by law-enforcement and the corporate media.

On a local Fox 2 news program called “Let It Rip”, Scott debated the police chief and three other media and legal pundits for the network. The program was widely viewed and the station was inundated with calls asking for the segment to be re-aired. The program was put up in full on the station’s website a few days later.

Economic Crisis Worsens as Repression Escalates

The pattern of growing repression in Detroit has been illustrated with the actions of the state-appointed emergency financial manager Robert Bobb who has not resolved the budget deficit of the public school system. Since Bobb’s appointment in 2009, the Detroit Public Schools has sunk another $100 million into debt.

A court challenge on behalf of the elected school board, parents, teachers and community organizations won a preliminary injunction in Wayne County Circuit Court against the closing of 45 schools in the district and the halting of numerous policies proposed by the emergency financial manager which would further privatize the system and weaken local control.

However, this injunction was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals which ruled within several hours after the hearing that the Detroit Board of Education did not show any irreparable harm that would be done if the emergency financial manager implemented the school closings and downsizing plans. The appeal to overturn the injunction was litigated by the Republican Attorney General Mike Cox who was essentially arguing on behalf of the Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm who appointed the emergency financial manager to gut the public education system.

The political significance of this episode in the struggle over the future of public education in Detroit indicated that both the Democratic and Republican parties hold identical positions in relationship to the right of people in a majority African-American city to run their school system without interference from state and private interests. Private groups such as the Skillman Foundation are playing a significant role in drafting and promoting corporate-oriented plans to remold and liquidate public education in favor of charterization for profit.

In other issues related to the role of law-enforcement, the efforts by the Muslim community and other organizations to have an investigation into the assassination of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, has not received any response from the U.S. Justice Department. Imam Abdullah was shot 20 times by FBI agents on October 28, 2009 after he and several followers and family members were lured to a warehouse in neighboring Dearborn under the guise of unloading merchandise from a truck.

The Dearborn police refused to release the autopsy report and photographs for three months. An updated report on the finding of the police was scheduled to be released during the week of May 17.

On May 15, a group of inter-faith religious leaders held a press conference to announce that they were sending a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that he direct Attorney General Eric Holder to address the concerns of the Muslim community and others concerned about what many consider to be an unprovoked killing and subsequent prosecution of a number of the imam’s family members and followers.

On Monday May 17, Holder was an invited speaker and guest at the Wayne State University Law School for the opening of a center in honor of federal judge Damon Keith of Detroit. Members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) held a demonstration outside demanding an end to police terror against the people of Detroit.

This demonstration drew attention to the killing the day before of Aiyana Stanley Jones but also issues were raised concerning the lack of implementation of two federal consent decrees involving the use of lethal force and detention facilities within the Detroit Police Department. Even though the Detroit police have been under a federally-appointed monitor for nearly seven years, after a three year investigation by the Justice Department, the problems related to brutality and misconduct continue.

Plans were underway to do further outreach in the community where Aiyana Stanley Jones was killed. Brenda Cowans, who lives in the neighborhood where the police raid took place, attended the demonstration outside the WSU Law School and welcomed interest by MECAWI to work with the community to combat police brutality in the area.

“We must speak out and fight injustice because otherwise we will be misused by the system,” Cowans said at the demonstration.

The final speaker at the demonstration was Atty. Joyce Schon who represented the Detroit Board of Education in the recent legal challenge to the downsizing policies of the emergency financial manager. Schon said the decision of the State Appeals Court granting the emergency financial manager full powers to reshape the district was an act of “Jim Crow right out of the old segregated South.”

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