This weekend, Detroit police shot and killed a little girl named Aiyana Stanley Jones. At the little girl's home to execute a search warrant in a homicide investigation, they threw a flash bang — also known as a stun grenade — through the front window of the crowded apartment ... onto the couch where Aiyana was sleeping. Aiyana caught fire. As her grandmother tried to put out the flames, police entered, and a gun went off. Aiyana was shot in the neck and pronounced dead at the hospital. Her father, Charles Jones, told the AP that he had to wait several hours to find out what had happened to his daughter.And as it turns out, the policemen who committed this crime were being followed by a camera crew from an A&E show called "The First 48." They caught the entire crime on tape.
The day before, [Geoffrey] Fieger [the attorney representing Aiyana's family], who once represented Dr. Jack Kevorkian, claimed he had seen videotape of the incident filmed by a reality-TV crew that had accompanied the police. He alleged that police, moreover, may have raided the wrong side of the duplex, since the 34-year-old suspect was eventually arrested in another part of the building.Detroit mayor Dave Bing's reaction? Ban reality TV crews from following policemen.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is telling reality-show film crews to take five.Oh-- sorry. He's banning reality TV crews from following along on police raids.
He has announced that production teams will no longer be allowed on police raids, Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas said this morning.
Anyone who's watched reality shows knows that the participants play for the cameras. They have to be bigger, they have to exaggerate their personalities because that makes for better television.
Give those reality television participants guns and actual police authority, and what do you get? Something actually dangerous. Not in that vague "society-is-being-destroyed-by-the-televising-of-Flavor-Flav's-pursuit-of-romance" kind of way, but in a seven year-old child has lost her life kind of way.
Unfortunately, however, it's not just the presence of the reality TV cameras that caused this tragedy. It's the militarization of police forces in America. These SWAT raids are much more common -- and dangerous -- than people think. Just a couple of weeks ago, a video surfaced on YouTube showing such a raid in Missouri, from back in February of this year. The video is extremely disturbing, featuring as it does a family being attacked in their home, and two dogs being shot and killed by the armed invaders excuse me I mean the police:
All of this to catch someone accused of possibly violating laws against marijuana.
Over at a website called The Agitator, the author Radley Balko has been chronicling the militarization of America's police force. Back in 2006 he wrote a paper on the subject entitled Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. It's distressing stuff, and it shows that this type of dangerous behavior has been going on for years.
It's cost a lot of people their lives. In 2006, a woman called Kathryn Johnston was murdered in Atlanta by three undercover policemen attempting to "serve" a no-knock search warrant. In Delaware, a man named Sgt Derek Hale was murdered while sitting on the porch of a home where he was house sitting-- police had had him under surveillance because of his possible association with some people that police suspected might be doing something illegal. In Texas, Tony Martinez was murdered during a raid on the wrong house.
Goddam this is depressing. Anyway, the stories of the above victims can be found here, at a site called DrugWarRant's Drug War Victims Page.
And it isn't only the lives of civilians that are destroyed or even ended. Policemen also lose their lives. Consider the case of Cory Maye. Back to Radley Balko, who sets the scene:
Cory Maye had settled into a chair in front of the television and was drifting off to sleep. It was around 9 p.m. on the day after Christmas, 2001, and the 21-year-old father had put his 18-month-old daughter, Tacorriana, to bed an hour earlier. Her mother—Chenteal Longino, Maye’s girlfriend—had left for her job on the night shift at the Marshall Durbin chicken plant in Hattiesburg, more than an hour away. The three shared half of a small, bright yellow duplex on Mary Street in Prentiss, Mississippi, a depressed town of 1,000 people in Jefferson Davis County, about halfway between Jackson and the Gulf Coast.For trying to protect himself during this invasion of his home, Mr. Maye was sentenced to death. He's since been removed from death row, and been given a new trial. But the man is still is prison.
Later, in court, Maye would testify that he awoke to a violent pounding at his front door, as if someone was trying to kick it down. Frightened, he ran to his bedroom, where Tacorriana was sleeping. He retrieved the handgun he kept in a stand by the bed, loaded it, and chambered a bullet. He got down on the floor next to the bed, where he held the gun and waited in the dark next to his little girl, hoping the noises outside would subside.
They didn’t. They got worse. The commotion moved from the front of his home to the back, closer to Maye, and just outside the door to the room where he and his daughter were lying.
“Thought someone was trying to break in on me and my child,” Maye testified.
“And how were you feeling?” an attorney asked.
“Frightened,” Maye said. “Very frightened.”
One loud, last crash finally flung the rear door wide open, nearly separating it from its hinges. Seconds later, someone kicked open the bedroom door. A figure rushed up the steep, three-step entrance to the house and entered the room. Maye fired into the darkness, squeezing the trigger three times.
Maye says the next thing he remembers is hearing someone scream, “Police! Police! You just shot an officer!” He then dropped his gun, slid it away from his body, and surrendered.
Reason magazine put together a moving documentary on the case which can be viewed right here:
But back to Balko's story. The officer who was killed during the break-in at Maye's home, Officer Ron Jones, seems to have been a truly decent man:
Jefferson Davis County is about 60 percent black, while Prentiss is about 70 percent white. The town’s mayor, aldermen, and police chief are white, but Jefferson Davis County Sheriff Henry McCullum is black. There is palpable tension between the two police forces. White residents generally have good things to say about the Prentiss Police Department and sneer at the sheriff’s department. Black residents generally trust the sheriff’s deputies but fear the Prentiss officers. New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield—author of the aforementioned front-page story about Prentiss—told me in a phone interview that the town’s white police officers cautioned him not to consult McCullum for the story. McCullum was a black man, they told Butterfield, and he couldn’t be trusted.And yet, a good police officer-- and dammit, we need more of those-- is dead because of our country's militarization of its police force.
The saddest thing about Officer Ron Jones’ death is that Jones seems to have been an exception to all of this racial antagonism. Evans says Jones was “a good cop and a good guy.” Even black residents who feel nothing but ill will toward the Prentiss police speak highly of Jones. One black man recounts to me an incident in which police pulled him over for speeding, searched his car, and were preparing to take him to jail, despite the fact that they’d found nothing incriminating. Jones arrived at the scene, calmed everyone down, and told the officers to let the man go. “He was one of the good ones,” he says. Another woman summarizes the black community’s relationship with Jones by saying simply, “He was a friend.”
So, yes, Mayor Bing. Remove the reality tv camera crews from the equation. That shows just how serious you are about ensuring the safety of your constituents. Of course, the fact that you haven't fired your chief of police sends another message. A message that sort of runs counter to the first one.
Or does it.
Wait, are you saying that it's all the fault of reality TV cameras? If only they hadn't been there, the murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones wouldn't have happened? Or do you actually want police to continue using these military-style tactics, just without the benefit of cameras that might catch any incriminating evidence?
At least in the case of little Aiyana Stanley-Jones, there is that documentary evidence of the crime. Too often it's just the word of the police against the victims. And, yes, these people are victims. There is no justification for breaking into someone's home in the early morning hours and throwing a flash grenade inside, breaking down the door with automatic weapons and not even identifying yourself as a police officer (they work for us, remember?).
There is some small ray of hope in all this, in the fact that John Conyers, a democrat representative from Detroit, is requesting hearings on the rise of military tactics against US citizens.
Conyers also said “paramilitary-type police raids” are becoming more frequent and asked if [attorney general Erik] Holder would investigate their use nationwide and report back to the Judiciary Committee on “the effectiveness and appropriateness of these tactics.”Unfortunately, part of Mr. Conyers's statement included this:
In his letter, Conyers cited reports that the raid was filmed by a TV crew from the A&E Network for a program which has featured Detroit police in the past and openly wondered if that may have played a role in the girl’s tragic death during the raid.Maybe it did. As I've already said, reality show participants play for the cameras. But the "presence-of-reality-tv-crews-influenced-us" excuse doesn't work in the vast majority of cases.
“This raises the question whether police tactics may have been influenced by the presence of film cameras, and whether the SRT’s (Special Response Team) publicity efforts may have increased the risks associated with the raid,” Conyers said in the letter to Holder.
The problem is-- and I know some people are going to have a hard time believing this, because, you know, reality television is destroying our society-- nothing to do with reality tv. And everything to with politicians wanting to look "tough on crime" and police officers wanting to look "tough on crime" and private citizens rewarding their police and elected officials for looking "tough on crime."
Let's be tough on crime, by all means. But we don't have to be so goddam tough on each other.