Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Allison Kilkenny: Detroit and Missouri -- a tale of two police raids

Detroit and Missouri: a tale of two police raids
by Allison Kilkenny

Aiyana Jones is the 7-year-old girl who was recently killed during a raid on her home. Allegedly, the police launched a flashbang grenade through the window of the apartment where Jones was sleeping, and the device set Jones on fire. Her grandmother, quite understandably, got into an altercation with the armed men who stormed into their home, and during the struggle, the police claim an officer’s gun discharged accidentally, killing Jones.

This official narrative is being disputed by the family’s attorney, who claims video footage shows the police fired into the home at least once after lobbing the grenade through a window – before grandma and the officer ever had their interaction.

This terrible tragedy follows an incident that received considerably more (especially on-line) media attention — a Missouri SWAT raid.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t write this as a way to cast blame. After all, I covered the Missouri incident extensively. The Missouri raid is something that should attract a significant amount of media coverage. And there are several important differences between the story that might explain why one incident went viral, while the other remains in danger of being buried by the Next Big Thing to come along.

Unlike Detroit, the Missouri raid was videotaped, forever capturing the terrible drama of the event, while Jones’s last, awful moments will only be memorialized in the testimony of cops and her family. Additionally, the Missouri raid demonstrated the overzealous, destructive police response to the unwinnable War on Drugs, which 40 years after its implementation, has cost over $1 trillion, failed to meet any of its goals, while “drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.” Most Americans believe the War on Drugs is failing, so video proof of the militaristic behavior of the police during drug raids reinforces widely held, negative views about drug criminalization. Simply: people like to watch what they already know.

The Detroit raid is much more complex, and reveals a more sinister reality. A little poor, black girl dying during a police raid in Detroit is considered as a somewhat normal event in America. It’s terrible, yes. It’s something that makes Americans tisk and shake their heads over, but many view Detroit as a kind of third world country in which terrible things happen. The ghetto is a poor, dilapidated place under constant siege by the police so as to keep the undesirables in order.

To reject the idea that the ghetto should be a bad place entails rethinking much larger American issues: race, class, poverty, wealth disparity, social hierarchy, the two-tier justice system. It’s much easier to accept that bad things happen in the ghetto and move on.

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