Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy for 7-year-old Aiyana Jones last Saturday. On the previous Sunday, May 16, 2010, Jones was killed by Detroit police officers during a raid of a home harboring a 34-year-old suspected of the murder of a 17-year-old high school student. While the police allege that Aiyana was killed when an officer’s weapon accidentally discharged during a struggle with her grandmother, members of the family allege police officers fired into the house before entering. An A&E film crew was present, shooting video for the show The First 48 (the police officer who allegedly fired the shot that killed Aiyana was a show regular) that will undoubtedly shed light on what really happened.
Sharpton’s eulogy excoriated black-on-black violence and police misconduct. ”I’d rather tell you to start looking at the man in the mirror,” Sharpton said. ”We’ve all done something that contributed to this.” ”This is it,” he added. ”This child is the breaking point.” Using this frame allows Sharpton to point the finger at black cultural dysfunction and police misconduct at the same time.
In as much as Aiyana’s death occurred while the police were trying to detain a murder suspect, I understand this. Common sense would suggest that there is blame to go around in this instance, right? If the police story is correct, then perhaps young Aiyana’s grandmother shouldn’t have struggled with police, perhaps she shouldn’t have allowed the murder suspect into the house in the first place. Even if the family of the victim is right, the family still bears some responsibility because the murder suspect was able to stay in the house in the first place.
Again, this is the common-sense narrative. It comes to mind without even thinking about it. But I suggest we broaden the perspective to ask another set of questions, a set of more critical questions. Why was a reality TV show on the premise? We now take real-life crime shows like The First 48 and Cops for granted. But these shows not only bring ”real life” into our homes, but they also sensationalize crime, arguably even more than shows like the recently canceled Law and Order, because they are real life.