Where is justice for Aiyana?

March 27, 2013

Katie Nolde reports on a development in the trial of a Detroit police officer accused of killing a 7-year-old girl in 2010.

THE FAMILY of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was murdered by Detroit police more than two years ago, saw a small legal victory recently, as a motion to dismiss charges of involuntary manslaughter against Officer Joseph Weekley was denied on March 8. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray-Hathaway, presiding over the pre-trial, determined that there was enough evidence to prove probable cause, a very "low threshold" in the process of criminal charges.

One such piece of evidence may be the recording from a reality TV crew that was following the police squad on the night of May 16, 2010, when they raided the home where Aiyana was sleeping. According to attorneys for the Jones family, video evidence shows that Weekley, a regular guest on reality television, shot inside the home at that point, killing Aiyana. This film has not been released to the public. After a public outcry, Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The reviewing judge said that she was bound by what is on the pages of evidence documents in her decision and that there are "versions of the incident and testimonies that deserve consideration." One of those testimonies is from Mertilla Jones, Aiyana's grandmother, who was sleeping on the couch next to the window where a flash grenade was thrown into the room before the Detroit Police Department busted inside. Mertilla Jones witnessed firsthand the death of her granddaughter.

Aiyana Jones' parents hold up her picture at a press conference
Aiyana Jones' parents hold up her picture at a press conference

The other testimony is that from the police, who initially said that Mertilla attacked the invading officer but then changed their story to say that she brushed against the cops as she was fleeing the room, causing Weekley's gun to misfire.

Judge Hathaway granted that a demonstration of the same kind of "diversionary device" or flash grenade used during the raid be observed as evidence for the trial. Meanwhile, Charles Jones, Aiyana's father, has been in police custody without trial on first-degree murder charges for a shooting two days prior to the raid. He has been accused of providing the weapon for the murder police were investigating the night of the raid--and remains held without bail despite the fact that the only evidence against him was ruled out as hearsay last May.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran is prosecuting both Weekley and Jones, representing a particularly foul attempt, in the eyes of many of those outside the courtroom, to justify the raid by Officer Weekley's police squad. The trial has been scheduled for May 29--three years since Aiyana's death.

This small victory for the family was immediately offset by the fact that, during pre-trial, some of the Jones' family members weren't allowed into the courtroom. Shouts could be heard by observers from within the courtroom, but it was only after the ruling when we discovered that the outraged family members, including Aiyana's grandfather, were being escorted out of the courthouse.

This was apparently not the first time the Jones family had been confronted by courthouse security. LaKrystal Sanders, Aiyana's aunt, commented, "We always get escorted out. They took our baby away from us."

YET, THIS is more than just another tragic episode in the drama that is Detroit, "America's Most Miserable City," according to Forbes magazine. The every day obstacles faced by Detroiters, whether unemployment, lack of efficient public transportation or access to quality education and health care, are the results of a system meant to benefit the wealthy and punish the working class.

The recent appointment of an emergency manager for the city by governor Rick Snyder--a move that effectively takes away voter rights--is one glaring example. The emergency manager promises to return city services, but is in reality pushing through an austerity plan meant to repay debt to the banks by selling off city assets and destroying collective-bargaining contracts.

One week before the pre-trial hearing, members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the International Socialist Organization organized a public meeting at which community members, activists, and victims of police brutality voiced their solidarity with the Jones family.

We planned to pack the courtroom on the morning of the next court date and rally on the courthouse steps afterwards. About 30 people came out in support of the Jones' family and showed to the judge, attorneys and press that Detroit has not forgotten about Aiyana or her family.

The trial of Officer Joseph Weekley must been seen as one part of the fight in a growing movement against the criminal injustice system. It is taking place alongside resistance to police brutality, mass incarceration and New Jim Crow policies like "stop-and-frisk."

Justice for the victims of racist policing and criminalization cannot be fought merely on a case-by-case basis or simply within the courtroom. We must mobilize in the streets to send the message that Black bodies are not expendable and demand justice for those responsible for the "miserable" conditions within our city.

The conviction of Weekley, and the release of Charles Jones, would be one victory in the struggle for real justice.

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