In Iraq, the news that families were having the doors to their houses kicked in by heavily armed US forces who then proceeded to awaken everybody in the house, overturn their bedding and other belongings and arrest the household’s menfolk became commonplace for several years following the US invasion of that country. All too often, women and children were killed by US troops during these raids.
In Afghanistan, a similar scenario continues with daily raids of houses and businesses being conducted by US forces in that country. The scene usually unfolds with a kicked in door and several uniformed soldiers entering the house with their weaponry ready to fire. Occasionally, a concussion grenade is thrown first while helicopter gunships hover noisily overhead. Sometimes the soldiers’ guns are already blazing when they enter. All too often children end up dead or wounded.
Sometimes, as they were in in a December 27, 2009 raid in the village of Ghazi, they are taken from their residence and executed. Every once in a while, the raids are followed by denial and then an apology. US military spokespeople tell the media that a mistake was made and the incident retreats into the shadows of war.
On May 16, a scenario all too similar to the aforementioned raids by Washington’s police forces overseas took place in Detroit, Michigan. A Detroit Police SWAT team with a “no-knock” warrant in attacked the wrong home. The police threw a concussion grenade through the front window. It landed on a 7-year old girl–Aiyana Stanley-Jones– who was sleeping on the living room couch inside and severely burned her. Within seconds, a Detroit cop opened fire from the porch and killed Aiyana with one shot. Then the stormtroopers invaded the house and beat Aiyana’s grandmother. They grabbed Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, and threw him to the floor while he pleaded with the cops to stop shooting since children were in the house.
Like the raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, the police in Detroit were supposedly looking for a wanted man. Also like US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the police in Detroit have issued public denials and are essentially blaming the Jones family for the incident. Detroit police spokespeople have denied shooting from the porch and have refused to apologize for murdering Aiyana. At first, police insisted that the suspect they were looking for was in the house. Yet, he was not found there or anywhere nearby. According to the Detroit Police department, the officer’s gun went off accidentally while he struggled with Aiyana’s grandmother (who was asleep on the couch). If one recalls the police murder of Oscar Grant on New Year’s 2009-2010 by BART police in Oakland, California, they will remember that his murder was also the result of a police “accident.”
As many readers know, the city of Detroit is economically depressed. There are few jobs and even fewer opportunities for its poor and working-class residents to improve their lot. Crime is rampant in some neighborhoods. Indeed, over 300 people have died in crime-related violence. Like many other urban areas (and some rural ones, too), certain residential areas in Detroit are approached by authorities in much the same way Kandahar is approached by US-led forces in Afghanistan. That is, with great caution. This means that police have little regard for the human lives in those areas. It is as if the system that the police work for blames these residents for the dismal economic and social situation they live in. Just like the politicians in DC and their backers on Wall Street, the public and private movers and shakers in Detroit not only refuse to accept responsibility for the destruction of their city, but spend the monies they have to insure their own safety and well-being while they let the rest of the city’s residents struggle in the wreckage that remains.
Police murders are not a new phenomenon, especially in the United States. Yet, the circumstances of this one cries out for justice. A 7-year-old girl should not be dead because police treat the residents of their city like they are the enemy. It is not a crime to sleep with your grandmother; not in Detroit and not in Afghanistan. A system that excuses these murders is a system that needs reconsidering, to say the least.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org