Yesterday evening, I came across an article about little Aiyana Stanley-Jones who was tragically killed in 2010 during a police raid of her home while sleeping on the couch. Seeing her picture on the front page of a national news outlet signaled to me that it was possible her death had not gone completely unnoticed. I still recall hearing about little Aiyana on the news when the tragedy initially occurred. I was certain that, as more people learned of the circumstances of her death, national outrage would spark a movement that would leave an indelible mark on the consciousness of every American. Unfortunately, one to two weeks after her death, there was virtual radio silence regarding little Aiyana and those who killed her.
Still, as I continued to read the article on little Aiyana, I became unsettled by the content of the article. Primarily, I learned that the circumstances of her death are still being debated. Specifically, there is a legal debate taking place to determine if an alleged tussle between Aiyana’s grandmother and one of the police officers resulted in little Aiyana’s death. Admittedly, I am not a lawyer or an officer of the court of any kind, but I would think the killing of a little girl who was sleeping within her own home would be a simple open and shut case. Yet, as I continued to read the article, I realized that, like Michael Brown, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallou, and Trayvon Martin, a legal quagmire has been constructed that ultimately obscures the legitimacy of little Aiyana’s humanity.
Instead of seeing her as an innocent (yes, I said innocent) victim, her untimely death is being characterized as a byproduct of what society perceives as a culture of criminality and immorality. Like other children of minority and/or low-income communities whose lives are cut short due to gun violence, Aiyana’s death is attributed to the moral shortcomings of her community. Conversely, the range of structural and systemic forces that facilitate the deaths of young persons belonging to historically marginalized communities often goes overlooked (e.g., disparate approaches to addressing criminal activity in traditionally marginalized versus non-marginalized communities, generalized criminalization of minority and/or low-income communities, existing gun policies, militarization of the police, etc.). Consequently, after momentary media coverage, the deaths of minority and/or low-income children who fall victim to violent acts are ultimately treated as routine events.
However, it should never be forgotten that when little Aiyana was killed, she was not armed. She was a child. Sleeping. Vulnerable. In her home.