Monday, May 17, 2010

Police Kill Aiyana Jones, 7: Is This What We Expect From Detroit?

Aiyana Jones was asleep on the sofa of her Detroit home early Sunday morning when police executed a warrant and came looking for her aunt's fiance, who was wanted for a murder earlier in the weekend.  Accounts differ about what, exactly, happened when officers entered the home.  Everyone agrees that, within seconds, Aiyana Jones was dead, shot by a police bullet.  She was 7 years old.

You might imagine that there's a fair amount of crime and trauma discussed in my family.  My tween daughter has heard it all -- probably much more than she should.  As a result, some things that would horrify other kids don't really faze her.  She knows that bad stuff happens, and she also knows, for the most part, that it doesn't happen to her.  My husband and I try, when we can, to make sure that we are the ones to tell her scary news so we have the opportunity to put it in some context, be reassuring, and answer any questions.  That's not always possible, of course, because sometimes we're getting the news at the same time she is.

That's what happened this morning.  News of Aiyana's death came on the radio, and my daughter and I heard it at exactly the same time.  My first thought was, "Ugh, that's going to be messy."  Then I looked over at my daughter, whose mouth was hanging open.  She finally said, "That's -- that's -- that's so sad!!" 

Instantly, I knew that her reaction was the right one, not mine.  Yes, this is going to be messy.  No matter whose version of events you believe -- did the grandmother tussle with a police officer whose gun went off?  Did police fire from outside the house?  Was the girl burned by a flash grenade before she was shot?  Had neighbors warned officers that there were children in the house? -- this is not a good situation.  Police, in the course of their jobs, killed a little girl.  That has the potential to ignite huge problems between police and residents and certainly will trigger a big investigation, as it should.

But whether it's messy or not is really not the main issue.  A little girl died.  Her father and grandmother have just lost an important member of their family, a child.  Whatever anyone inside the house did or did not do, they didn't intend for this to happen.  No parent tucks their child in at night and contemplates the possibility they won't be alive in the morning, at least not due to this kind of incident.

Why did my daughter and I have such radically different reactions?  To some extent, it has to do with age and experience.  I look at things from a crisis point of view, and she looks from a human point of view.  Still, you'd think I would have keyed into the trauma the family experienced a little better than I did.  I've also heard stories like this before, while she hasn't.  Thankfully they aren't common, but they do happen and probably don't shock me the way they shock my daughter.

If I'm honest, though, I have to say that, because of my age and experience and the society in which we live, I have an expectation that "things like this" happen in Detroit.  I would be shocked if it happened in Ann Arbor, but not in Detroit.  My daughter, either because her mother does a better job of teaching compassion than of living it or because she just hasn't been steeped in the negative expectations of Detroit and its citizens the way I have, knows that a child is a child, no matter where you live.  It's one of those moments in parenting when you realize your kid embodies your values better than you do.  I'm very proud.  I'm also a little ashamed.


Colleen said...

Are first reactions really meaningful? Or are what we feel after we think for a minute meaningful, too?

Brad said...

"...No parent tucks their child in at night and contemplates the possibility they won't be alive in the morning..." And no police officer imagines for a moment that the most vulnerable of those he tries to protect might somehow become his unwitting victim.

Anonymous said...

The headline of this post ("Police Kill Aiyana Jones") is rather judgmental, despite your conciliatory language in the post itself that nobody knows what happened -- just the tragic result. The news stories you cite are also being quite circumspect.

Perhaps "Aiyana Jones Killed by Police Bullet" might be both more accurate and fairer to the Detroit police?

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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