Revolution #202, May 30, 2010
Reporter's Notebook from the Funeral of Aiyana Stanley-Jones
The Anger in Detroit
An unspeakable horror lay over an already devastated Detroit, reaching into the hearts and souls of Black people here. It is the horror of the Detroit pigs throwing a flash bang grenade and then gunning down, yes, a 7-year old Black girl as she lay sleeping on a couch. It has been a week since the brutal military commando style murder of 7-year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones as she lay sleeping on her couch in Detroit. A Detroit Police SWAT team with a "no-knock" warrant in search of an alleged murderer attacked the wrong flat on Detroit's east side on May 16. They threw a flash bang grenade through the front window. It landed on Aiyana who was sleeping on the living room couch and severely burned her. Within seconds, a Detroit cop opened fire from the porch, killing Aiyana with one shot. Then the stormtroopers invaded the house and brutalized Aiyana's grandmother. They grabbed Aiyana's father, Charles Jones, and threw him to the floor, his face down in shattered glass and the blood of his daughter, as he pleaded with the cops that there were children in the house and to please stop their violence.
There was an all-day public viewing of Aiyana's body at a funeral home on Friday May 21. From 10 in the morning to 9 at night, thousands of overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) Black Detroiters stopped to pay their respects. Communist revolutionaries were also present at the viewing, distributing the Message and Call from the RCP to all who came in and out of the funeral home.
The public viewing of Aiyana's body was a brave act by her family. It was plain to see she had been brutalized. There had to be reconstruction on her face and she hardly looked like the photos of the happy, smiling child displayed by the casket. People who had never met Aiyana or her family filed past the open casket, many openly weeping. People spoke out loud, saying "this didn't have to happen." It reminded many of the way Emmett Till's family brought his body back from Mississippi after he had been murdered by white racists and held an open-casket viewing so that all could see what had been done to him. And now in Detroit people are watching a 21st Century lynching unfold before their eyes, carried out by the forces that claim to protect the people.
People coming out of the viewing were shaken, but also full of anger. Anger is seething amongst the largely Black and poor population of Detroit. At the same time, the city's police officials and politicians have been working to try to contain the rage of the people and to blame the family for Aiyana's death.
The Detroit police deny that the cop shot into the house from the outside, and offer no apology for their brutal assault. They lied, saying the officer's gun discharged by accident as he struggled with Aiyana's grandmother. And they lied and spread confusion right after the murder, saying that the suspect they were looking for was in the house they raided.
There is a huge weight in this city where vast areas of what used to be residential homes now stand as empty land. The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality held a rally immediately after the murder right in the neighborhood, but since then there has been no protest from among the people. There have been over 300 people killed in the last year by violence among the people. The authorities are using this to spread fear and to justify the police murder of a 7-year-old child.
There is a lot of confusion among people about the causes of this violence. A widespread sentiment is that "we have to save our babies"—from the violence of both the police and the people. It was echoed by preachers at Aiyana's funeral on Saturday May 22. Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy in which he called on Black men to take care of their families, and to "put down the dope, and get the guns out of your houses." He claimed that "this is not about us vs. the police, but all of us against crime."
Geoffrey Fieger, attorney for Aiyana's family, spoke at the funeral about the meaning of Aiyana's death. "This was not an unavoidable accident," he said. "It is not just her death but the entire system that has allowed too many children to die unjustly…The goodbye [to Aiyana] today doesn't have the finality of peace until justice is achieved…There will be no justice until all are compelled to confess the truth…By her death Aiyana has paid the price for justice that will save many other youth. Each and everyone of us must pledge ourselves to get justice for her."
Communist revolutionaries have also been in the midst of this turmoil.
Here are some of the things people at the funeral home were saying:
A very basic general sentiment was expressed by one woman who said "Something has got to change. If it doesn't, I don't know what will happen."
A Black man exclaimed "The police are doing their job. They are keeping people down by shooting and terrorizing them."
A Black woman walked by, taking a flyer with "The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have" Message and Call from the RCP. She said as she reached for the flyer: "I saw you on TV. We do need a revolution in this country."
A Black woman sitting in her car in the funeral home parking lot said "They are sweeping this under the rug — but it cannot happen any more. This time they got caught in their lies. They are trying to cover it over because it is in the Black community where there is no accountability by the police force… A revolution is an option if we come together to make change. But my concern is that people won't stick together."
Another Black man sitting in his van had read the flyer and called over one of the revolutionaries to talk. "A revolution is needed — but you need leadership." The revolutionary directed him back to where the Message and Call speaks to the leadership we do have in Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP and he said he would go online to see Bob Avakian's Revolution Talk.
Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party was out at the funeral home talking with people and he invited people to view parts of Bob Avakian's Revolution Talk on a laptop on the spot. One woman who watched part of it came out to a rally and march called by the revolutionaries the next day. She brought all of her children with her to the march.
The next day, the funeral was held at a mega-church with a huge parking lot surrounded by fences in the middle of a devastated Detroit neighborhood. The church holds 3,500 people and several thousand people attended. Many had been at the funeral home the day before and the revolutionaries had summed up that there was a clear sentiment among the people for taking action to protest Aiyana's murder. People distributing the RCP's Message and Call in the huge church parking lot were threatened with arrest by sheriff's deputies. But the revolutionaries stood their ground, determined to get this crucial message to the people. As people drove out of the church lot after the funeral, a dozen people, including some who joined the effort on the spot, held up signs saying "Justice for Aiyana Jones" and "The Whole Damn System is Guilty" along with the time and place for a rally and march later that day.
The rally began at 4 pm at a major intersection in the neighborhood where Aiyana lived. Carl Dix was on the scene and he spoke sharply about the outrageous crime against the people by the system. He exposed the lie about the youth and their families being the ones to blame for violence in the community. "The youth didn't take the jobs out of Detroit, the youth didn't bring the drugs into Detroit, the youth didn't destroy the educational system." He called out the system of capitalism as the source of these problems and he declared that we don't need this system any longer, that the people taking power and building a socialist society could liberate everyone to have a meaningful life. He called on people to join the movement for revolution and that to do that, we need to fight the power and transform ourselves, for revolution. [see Carl's recent statement from Detroit on the murder of Aiyana on YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWFyeCASfZk]
Around 40 people had come to the rally off of the call issued only a couple of hours earlier at the funeral. Carl called on people to step up to the mic and talk about how they felt and their own experiences at the hands of the police. Several people stepped up, including the woman who had met the revolutionaries at the funeral home. She said that she is now determined to change things and that she had brought all her kids to the march because people need to stop this police violence for all the children's sake.
Juanita Young, the mother of Malcolm Ferguson who had been killed by the New York City police, had come to Detroit with Carl Dix and she spoke to the crowd about what difference it makes for people to stand up and fight against police brutality.
At the rally, one young girl saw the huge "Danger! Police in Area" placard with the stick-figure image of a cop shooting a person. She went up and put her hand in between the illustration of the bullet and the victim. She then put her hand over the image of the cop's nightstick.
The march soon formed up and went through Aiyana's neighborhood. One of the chants taken up by the people helped speak sharply to the lies of the system: "Aiyana Jones-she has a name! Her family is not to blame! It's the system that's doing wrong-we have to stand strong!" A contingent of young Black teenagers took up a huge enlargement of a centerfold from Revolution newspaper around the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality and that also features the quote from the RCP's Message and Call: "The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.”
Aiyana's neighborhood is one of the Detroit communities where vacant, boarded up and burned out houses exist among empty lots and even some newly built homes. People came out of the houses where folks are still living and were eager to hear the message of the marchers. Some joined in, and a half dozen cars of people who did not have the strength for hitting the pavement followed the march. When the march reached Aiyana's house (the family is not staying there now), it stopped to hold another rally in front of the huge memorial decorated with balloons and flowers. Carl Dix again called out the capitalist system as the source not only of the rampage by the police against the people, but also the violence among the people. More people took the mic and talked about how sick they are of the police murders and how important it is to have a protest like this. Two of Aiyana's young classmates, wearing T-shirts with her picture, stepped up as well, talking about what a great friend Aiyana was. One was so overcome with emotion she could not continue.
As the march ended, people felt they had begun something important, a fight to bring an end to the horrors of a system that will burn and gun down a 7-year old black girl.
One young woman said that she didn't want to leave because she didn't want this day to end. A mother said that she had felt sick to her stomach for days after the news of Aiyana's murder, but that this rally and march had helped her feel better for the first time in a long time. There was a feeling that some hope is in the air in Detroit. And some people are checking out the movement for revolution and Bob Avakian.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.