“It was my gun that shot and killed a 7-year-old girl,” insists Detroit resident Joseph Weekley, who took part in a fatal home invasion on May 17, 2010. This apparent admission is actually an evasion, in that it assigns blame to an inanimate instrument, rather than the individual who wielded it. Weekley also insists that he didn’t intend to pull the trigger, and has no knowledge of doing so, and that he didn’t realize the child was dead until he heard a “high-pitched moan” coming from beneath a pile of clothes.
The only other eyewitness to the killing of Aiyana Stanley-Jones is Mertila Jones, the slain child’s grandmother. Weekley has claimed that Jones was to blame for the killing of her granddaughter, because the woman supposedly tried to swipe the MP-5 sub-machine gun from the hands of the assailant who had just burst into her home at midnight. That claim was contradicted by fellow home invader Shawn Stallard, who was right behind Weekley when the shooting took place and didn’t see a struggle between Weekley and Jones.
Weekley has also said that he initially thought that the shot had been fired by one of his comrades. Oh, sure, he grudgingly admits, it may have been his finger that pulled the trigger – but someone or something else is at fault. In any case, he insists that he’s not to blame – that despite the fact that Aiyana was left to die in a pool of blood, that he, the shooter, is the real victim.
“I just feel devastated and just depressed,” Weekley sobbed from the witness stand during his involuntary manslaughter trial. “Every day this replays in my head. There’s nothing else I could have done differently.”
If it weren’t for the fact that Weekley’s home invasion crew bore the insignia of the criminal syndicate claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within Detroit, he would have quickly been found guilty. In fact, he most likely would have faced a charge of aggravated murder, rather than involuntary manslaughter.
The trial ended in a hung jury – not because the facts were in serious dispute, but because Weekley belongs to that sanctified caste that exercises the state-conferred power of discretionary killing. He was, and remains, a member of the Detroit Police Department’s Special Reaction Team (SRT), which staged – I’m using the word in its theatrical sense – a midnight raid on the home where Aiyana was sleeping.
The police were searching for a man named Chauncey Owens who was a suspect in a murder two days prior to the raid. They knew where the suspect could be found and had the advantage of time and superior numbers. If they had been peace officers, they would have staked out the home and waited for the suspect to emerge, then taken him into custody in a relatively low-key conventional arrest. But this wouldn’t have done anything to boost the Department’s “Q” rating.
Although the midnight raid served no legitimate law enforcement purpose, it would have made for exceptional “reality” television. Embedded with Weekley and his comrades on that evening was a camera crew from a cable TV program called “The First 48″ – which meant that PR, rather than public safety, was the defining priority of the mission.
This fact simply cannot be over-emphasized: The point of his mission was not to arrest a murder suspect; it was to turn that arrest into a propaganda film. Weekley, a veteran of more than one hundred previous raids, was already a featured performer in the agitprop series “Detroit SWAT,” which might explain why he was given the lead role in the May 17, 2010 production. That description is not an exercise in snarkiness: The A&E Network’s guide to that program lists Weekley as an “actor” and a “cast member.”
Neighbors who saw the Berserkers assemble outside the home warned that there were children inside. The presence of toys scattered in the front yardshould have made that fact obvious enough that a cop could understand it, especially in light of the fact that several testified that they had scoped out the house repeatedly in the hours prior to the operation.
Even if the yard had been barren of evidence that children lived inside the home, rational people would have understood that a full-force raid was both unnecessary and needlessly dangerous to anyone who resided therein. But anything less than a Fallujah-style “dynamic entry” would have meant missing an agitprop opportunity, and left the jacked-up adolescents in paramilitary gear with an unbearable case of blue balls. So Weekly and his fellow sociopaths attacked the living room where Aiyana was sleeping by flinging a flash-bang grenade through a closed window, kicking down the door, and storming in with guns drawn.
A few months after Weekley killed Aiyana, the officer’s taxpayer-funded defense team sketched out a legal strategy in which the girl’s family was to blame for her death. Weekley’s attorney filed a “Notice of Non-Party Fault” claiming, without providing evidence, that family members were involved in “drug dealing, vehicle theft and illegal utility hook-ups,” and that Aiyana’s grandmother was at fault for the child’s death because she “interfered in the execution of the search by unlawfully touching the defendant and causing his weapon to accidentally discharge.”
The same strategy was followed during the trial: More attention was focused on perceived contradictions in Jones’s account, and on her supposedly irresponsible statement that the police “came to kill” the night of the raid.
We are invited to believe that the anguished reaction of a traumatized grandmother to the needless death of her seven-year-old granddaughter is a more significant outrage than the act of carrying a paramilitary midnight raid on a residence for the benefit of television cameras.
The Detroit Police Department’s institutional reaction to the killing of Aiyana brings to mind the behavior of U.S. helicopter pilots involved in the massacre documented in the notorious “Collateral Murder” video. After two helicopter gunship crews annihilated more than a dozen unarmed Iraqis, troops on the ground reported that two children had been injured in the attack.
“Well, it’s their fault for bring their kids into a battle,” sneered one of the assailants.
For those who belong to the state-privileged criminal fraternity that includes Weekly, “officer safety” is at all times and in all places the highest and most important consideration. The same limitless self-preoccupation that typifies the state’s enforcement caste is also manifest in an acute sense of self-pity on the part of police officers who murder innocent people.
During his testimony, Weekly invited the public to pity him.
“I’ll never be the same,” blubbered Aiyana’s killer, who recalled playing at the park with his daughters before being called to play a part in the paramilitary assault that led to the state-sanctioned murder of someone else’s 7-year-old child.
The human type Weekly represents was described very well by Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Referring to members of the Nazi regime’s “special action squads” – which they called Einsatzgruppen, and we call SWAT teams, or SRTs – Arendt noted that the problem they faced was “how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler – who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself – was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!”
Weekley is a museum-quality specimen of the self-pitying Stormtrooper – and the jurors who were willing to let him escape mortal accountability for his crime would likely have done the same for Weekley’s German antecedents in the 1930s.