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Family of Slain 7-Year-Old Aiyana Jones Files Lawsuit Against Detroit Police

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In Detroit, a funeral will be held on Saturday for Aiyana Jones, the seven-year-old girl who was shot dead by police while she was sleeping in her own home. On Tuesday, a lawyer for the Jones family filed a pair of lawsuits against the Detroit police for the killing that has sparked outrage in the Motor City. The attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, says video of the incident shows police opened fire before they had entered the house. We speak to Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Detroit, a funeral will be held Saturday for Aiyana Jones, the seven-year-old girl who was shot dead by police while she was sleeping in her own home. On Tuesday, a lawyer for Jones’ family filed a pair of lawsuits against the Detroit police for the killing that’s sparked outrage in the Motor City.

Shortly after midnight Sunday, police raided the family’s home, looking for a murder suspect, they said. The raid began when police threw an incendiary device known as a flash-bang grenade through a front window of the home. The device reportedly burned the little seven-year-old. She was sleeping on the couch.

What happened next is in dispute. Detroit police say the police then entered the home and the girl was shot after Officer Joseph Weekley’s gun accidentally went off following a tussle with Aiyana’s grandmother. But the family’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, says he’s seen video contradicting the police account of the killing. Fieger says video of the incident shows police opened fire before they had entered the house. A bullet from the gun pierced Aiyana’s head and neck.

On the night of the raid the Detroit police officers were accompanied by a film crew from the reality TV show The First 48. The show’s network, A&E, has yet to publicly release the video shot of the raid.

Meanwhile, the Detroit News has revealed the officer involved in the shooting, Joseph Weekley, was accused in a 2009 federal lawsuit of being part of a team that broke into a home, shot two dogs, and pointed a pistol at children, including an infant.

On Tuesday, Aiyana’s grandmother Mertilla Jones described the night of the shooting.

    MERTILLA JONES: As soon as they hit the window, I hit the floor, and I went to reach for my granddaughter. I call her Malia — her name is Aiyana — because she’s my Mini-Me. My Mini-Me. I seen the light leave out her eyes. I knew she was dead. She had blood coming out of her mouth. Lord Jesus, I ain’t never seen nothing like that in my life. And my seven-year-old grandbaby! My beautiful, beautiful, gorgeous granddaughter! My goodness! What type of people? What type of people?

    You can’t trust the police. You can’t trust Detroit police. You can’t trust them. You can’t trust them. They wouldn’t even let us go check on the other babies. They wouldn’t even let us go check on the other kids. They were so rude to us. And when I see y’all done killed my grandbaby on an effed-up [inaudible], then one of them said, “Oh, [bleep],” and grabbed her up and ran out the house.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mertilla Jones talking about the Detroit police shooting that killed her seven-year-old granddaughter Aiyana. The grandmother was speaking at a news conference organized by the family’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, who called on the Detroit police to acknowledge how the tragedy unfolded.

    GEOFFREY FIEGER: For five to fifteen officers who know what happened, I’m asking that some of them have the ounce of the milk of human kindness to go forward to Chief Evans, go forward to your assistant chief, go forward to your internal affairs, and admit and tell them the truth about what happened.

    There is a videotape that will show the truth. I’m asking Chief Evans and Mayor Bing to acknowledge that there was never an altercation with Aiyana’s grandmother and that the shot was fired from outside and that a bomb was thrown onto or next to Aiyana, burning her before she was shot.

    And I’m asking the powers that be within the administration to apologize to Mertilla, because Mertilla was taken into custody afterwards. When the officers attempted to come up with some type of explanation or cover-up or alibi for the shooting, they decided to blame Mertilla. And they claimed that Mertilla was involved falsely in a dispute with them, and so they arrested Mertilla. They handcuffed this grandmother. They took her to the Detroit lockup. They transported her in chains to the Detroit Receiving Hospital to have her drug-tested. They brought her back to the Detroit lockup and had her tested for the existence of gunpowder. And then they inexplicably and just quietly let her go. That type of — and then, subsequently, had a press conference where it was suggested that what the assistant police chief, Godbee, believed was that there was an altercation with Mertilla and the gun went off. And that is totally false.

    Mayor Bing, Chief Evans, I’m asking you, on behalf of this family, I’m asking the officers who were present at the scene, come forward now and tell the truth. I saw the videotape. You all know what happened at this scene. Please don’t let this child have died in vain. This is an opportunity to come together, not to tear us apart. And I believe, ultimately, that’s what has to happen, that this city not be torn apart, but this city be brought together, by an admission by the powers that be that this was wrong, this is what happened. Apologize to this father and this mother and this grandmother. Apologize now, and we can start the road to healing.

AMY GOODMAN: That was attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

To talk more about the shooting, we’re joined in Detroit right now by Ron Scott, founder of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Still with us here in New York is Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Ron Scott, thanks for joining us. Talk about what happened and what you’re demanding now.

RON SCOTT: Well, basically, we — and I’m glad Reverend Jackson is with you, because he knows the work that we’ve been doing over the last, oh, fifteen years in this, and longer, in terms of police brutality in this city. This has been going on for a long time.

And what we’re speaking to is the policy that was enacted. This policy, we saw an uptick in this in the beginning of this current administration, where, in effect, a zero-tolerance framework was established. And essentially these special response teams, fugitive apprehension teams, multi-jurisdictional task forces, with the aid of federal money, have been conducting military-style raids. And there’s even a group here called a “gang squad,” which has been essentially just terrorizing a number of people. So this was sort of bound to happen.

We had tried to raise the cry, raise the question, point out that these kinds of things were over the top, and we were vilified for raising that. At this particular point, it is unfortunate that we’ve been deemed correct by virtue of such a tragic situation.

So we’re saying Detroit is under two federal consent decrees. For the last seven years, there’ve been under federal consent decrees for issues of force and for issues of confinement, both which affected Mrs. Jones and her family and so forth. And so, we’re saying that the policy in this situation needs to be changed. We’re asking for Judge Cook and the federal court that is overseeing the consent decrees to essentially demand and make sure that the city of Detroit live up to and change rapidly its policies. We’re asking that the situation involving these special response teams and the team that did this, with this television program following them, that they essentially be disbanded and/or controlled, so that they don’t throw incendiary devices, like they’re in Iraq or Afghanistan, into homes of people in the city of Detroit. So those are some of the basic things.

But essentially, this department needs a whole revamping, because it’s gotten to the point where — and I can say this to you, Amy, with no uncertainty — that people were demanding that the mayor, the police chief come there. The people were angry. I don’t want to see any civil disturbance or any other issues like that occur. So it’s really time for the department to be transformed and to do what the federal government has outlined for it to do, very quickly, instead of denying that these issues exist. This policy preceded this tragedy. And we need a change in a policy, because if that doesn’t happen, then we’re going to have more tragedies like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, you know Mayor Bing?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Yeah, and I tell you, this is what Ron is saying, and I thank him for his continued work. This is a calamity, a policy and a pattern. I mean, this was the young man in Rockford this year, shot in the church in the back four times, and they let him walk away. It’s a policeman in Philadelphia who shot himself and said a black man shot him; people went looking for the black man who didn’t exist. So there’s a racial dimension to this, which is volatile and ugly. In the '60s, when these rebellions took place — Detroit was one of those cities — whenever there was always this kind of police out-of-control behavior, which humiliated people — I mean, there must be something done real quick to stop this. And I might add, there were seven other killings within a very short period of time in Detroit during the same time. This is really not just this incident or this case, but is a state of emergency. Chicago, twenty-five people shot within twelve hours, seven killed. This is a genuine state of emergency across urban America.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to be broadcasting for a week from Detroit in June, and I do hope people tune in. I don’t know if you can in any way relate this to this anniversary that you’ve been writing about, Brown v Board of Education, fifty-six years ago, but can you talk about Detroit to 1954 and the significance of this, especially for young people who don’t even know what Brown v. Board of Education is?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, fifty years ago, or sixty years, we could not sit side-by-side in restaurants or in movies or in the hospitals or in graveyards. Well, we tore the wall down. We can now sit side-by-side. The gap now is not so much horizontal as it is a vertical gap between have and have-nots. And there is a racial component. For example, the housing crisis, where banks were able to target, steer and foreclose on blacks and browns. A black making $100,000 may have gotten a subprime, high-price loan; a white making $50,000 may have gotten a prime, low-cost loan. The problem is that if I’m in foreclosure, your house is underwater, so neither of us can pay taxes, so we’re all in the situation together. So we lose police, teachers, firemen.

Chicago, where 3,200 blacks die a year from healthcare disparity alone. An article out in today’s USA Today about the radical resegregation of our schools, whether it was the — whether it was the privatizing schools or voucher system or charter systems. The dream of learning to live together, the dream of the Great Society, the dream of model cities, the war on poverty, that dream must be restored.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. Ron Scott, thank you for joining us from Detroit, founder of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. We’ll certainly continue to follow the story. In ten seconds, Ron, what are you calling for right now?

RON SCOTT: We’re calling for, actually, the prosecution of the officer. We’re calling for a revamping of the policy. We’re calling for the mayor and the chief to step out and, I agree, offer an apology, at the very least, for this and to honor the framework of the federal consent decree. It’s within the hands of the mayor and all of us to come together and make a joint statement about resolving this matter.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.

RON SCOTT: OK, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, I want to thank you for being with us, as well.


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