The Death of Aiyana Jones: 'Showtime Syndrome' Claims a Child

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In physics, the term “observer effect” describes how examining a phenomenon can change it, because of the influence of the instruments used to make the observation. Something similar happens to human interactions when cameras are present. The irresistible impulse to play to the lens makes human behavior mannered and self-aware. Every statement becomes a performance, every gesture a pose.

The steady onslaught of police propaganda shows of the “COPS” genre constitutes the worst and most dangerous form of “reality” television.

A couple of years ago I coined the term “COPS Effect” to describe how pseudo-documentary programs glorifying the police abet irresponsible (but highly telegenic) use of paramilitary tactics. The presence of cameras during law enforcement operations often triggers a condition I call “Showtime Syndrome,” a frequently lethal tendency toward self-dramatization on the part of police.

Conflict and danger, whether genuine or contrived, make for high-impact television; de-escalation and sober, careful police work do not. Thus embedding camera crews with the police — only officially vetted personnel from State-aligned media are suitable; Mundanes with cameras are subject to summary arrest — creates a perverse incentive for “peace” officers to choose an approach more likely to result in avoidable death, injury, and property destruction.

Aiyana Jones, the 7-year-old girl shot to death early Sunday (May 17) during a SWAT raid on her Detroit home, was almost certainly a victim of the “COPS Effect.”

Troops from the Detroit Police Department’s Special Reaction Team (“troops” is a more appropriate description than “officers”) seeking a murder suspect executed a no-knock warrant on the home where Aiyana was sleeping on the couch.

Despite warnings from neighbors that there were children present in the home — a fact attested by the toys scattered in the front yard — the SRT paramilitaries chose a Fallujah-style “dynamic entry,” hurling a flash-bang grenade through a closed window and storming through the front door with guns drawn.

The incendiary grenade landed on the couch where Aiyana was sleeping. Her father claims that the child suffered burns as a result. Seconds later, she was dead.

One of the SRT troopers engaged in what was called a “tussle” with Mertilla Jones, Aiyana’s grandmother. In the antiseptic and completely dishonest language favored by the state-aligned media, the officer’s gun “went off.”

This means, apparently, that the inanimate object simply discharged sua sponte, independent of intentional or negligent action on the part of its owner, a fully credentialed member of the exalted “Only Ones” — as in “law enforcement and the military are the Only Ones who should be permitted to own and carry firearms.”

Firearms in the hands of the hoi polloi, we are told, have a way of spontaneously firing and killing innocent children. Oddly enough, that’s what supposedly happened to a beautiful 7-year-old girl named Aiyana Jones.

The raid took place at about 12:30 a.m. The individual being sought at the multi-family dwelling was a suspect in a murder that took place at about 3:00 p.m. the previous Friday. Police report that they arrested the suspect at the duplex where the raid occurred. However, they pointedly refuse to say whether the shooting death of Aiyana Jones took place in the same unit where the suspect was found.

This was not a hostage situation. The proverbial clock wasn’t ticking. Why didn’t the police quietly set up a perimeter at the targeted address, and wait until the suspect left the building? Why stage a post-midnight paramilitary raid against a home where children were present?

A paragraph found toward the end of a Detroit Free Press account provides a likely answer:

“Outside the home, the department’s special response team was prepared to go in. Film crews with A&E’s `The First 48′ reality show, which follows police departments nationwide during the crucial 48 hours after a homicide is committed, were taping the team for a documentary. Police spokesman John Roach said the tapes will be reviewed as part of the investigation.”

In other words, the decision-making process in this investigation was being distorted by the “COPS Effect.” The department insists that this was a high-risk warrant enforcement operation, but it wasn’t too dangerous to bring a camera crew along. Had the intent been simply to capture a murder suspect, the police could have sent a team of street officers and homicide detectives, rather than the paramilitary goon squad and their archivists.

Detroit is an economic moonscape in which the police — through the institutionalized larceny called “asset forfeiture” — have become the single largest source of property crime. The SRT and the Narcotics Enforcement Division (which is trained by the SRT) average two full-force raids each day, most of them conducted against single- and multi-family dwellings.

A few years ago, the SRT was featured in an A&E “reality” program entitled “SWAT.” Viewers learned, among other things, that each member of the 21-officer SRT is given a GI Joe-style “codename” that is “based upon a specific action, or character trait that the officer has. These codenames are used as tactical call signs, similarly to how pilots in the military refer to one another.”

If the member of this little club who shot Aiyana hasn’t been assigned a codename, I think “Fumbles” would make the best match for his skill-set.

According to attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing the family of Aiyana Jones, the child’s death was not cause by a maladroit SWAT operator. Fieger claims that “video footage shows police fired into the home at least once after lobbying a flash grenade through the window," reports the Washington Post. If this is true, the death of Aiyana Jones would be murder by depraved indifference, rather than negligent homicide.

Before being killed, Aiyana was burned by the incendiary flash-bang grenade hurled through the window of her home. A retired police officer and veteran of "hundreds of high-risk raids" criticized this piece of theatrical escalation in an interview with the Detroit News. "In my entire career, we’ve only used these [incendiary devices] in barricaded-gunmen situations as a diversionary tactic," commented the officer.

This wasn’t a "barricaded-gunman" situation. Flinging a grenade into the home did nothing to unbalance the suspect, enhance the SWAT team’s tactical advantage, or — most importantly — protect innocent citizens. But it must have looked really good on camera.

The SRT, described as “one of the nation’s most elite SWAT teams,” was also featured on Attack of the Show in a segment heavy on hardware porn and loaded with preening and posturing by overgrown adolescents who get to wear bitchin’ black outfits and carry great big guns.

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