Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones, 7, died May 16, 2010 after being shot by an officer during a police raid in Detroit. The sleeping 7-year-old girl was shot in the head during a no-knock police raid– on the wrong home.
Her parents say they hope Aiyana will be remembered as more than a symbol of heightened tension in a city in crisis. They want her remembered for the small, joyful moments that make up a little girl’s life.
From the moment Aiyana was born, she was a loud, little mystery.
Her dad, Charles Jones, tried to decipher her screams. Frazzled, he’d turn her over to her mother or grandmothers to make sense of the girl.
“I was scared — not because of the baby, because of the girl,” said Jones, now 25.
When Aiyana was about 11 months old, Jones sat eye-to-eye with her as she wailed. He asked her, “What do you want me to do? You can’t talk, so how am I supposed to know?”
For some reason, he handed her some Cheetos. They ate them together. She was quiet the rest of the night. From then on, Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones was his baby girl.
In a funeral service attended by thousands, Aiyana’s parents Charles Jones and Dominika Stanley buried their only daughter. The funeral was held in the Second Ebenezer Church on May 22, 2010 in Detroit; the Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy. The casket was white and was afterwards driven to the grave by horse-drawn carriage. She was buried on the grounds.
Aiyana’s grandmother, Gwen Carter, 46, hadn’t been thrilled to hear that her 17-year-old daughter Dominika Stanley was pregnant. She scolded Dominika, then a high school senior, about getting into trouble with Charles Jones, her boyfriend.
“But then I said, ‘We’re gonna get through this,’ ” Carter said. Carter helped feed her teenage daughter’s Taco Bell pregnancy cravings. As Stanley’s belly grew, the two painted a room in their house pink and white to welcome the baby home.
After seven years of endless moves, the duplex at 4054 Lillibridge was supposed to be a pit stop, a temporary fix as Aiyana’s parents searched for their first home together in Detroit. Aiyana — a girl both bossy and sweet, tomboy and girlie-girl, a self-described princess — was there just a month before her life ended.
When Aiyana was born, “There she was– a beautiful, beautiful angel,” said Carter. “She was my firstborn granddaughter.”
Aiyana’s other grandmother Mertilla Jones also was smitten, claiming the girl as her “mini-me”. She swept Aiyana into her brood of grandchildren. Aiyana’s young parents were happy to have the help.
“She had so much love coming from top to bottom,” Carter said. “She was a happy baby. Whatever she wanted, she got — she demanded it.”
Charles Jones wasn’t sure about a baby girl. He grew up with brothers and now has six sons — three with Stanley, three with another woman — and felt like he had a grip on raising boys. Jones, a lifelong Detroiter, suddenly was immersed in Disney films and Hannah Montana songs.
Looking at photos from her seventh birthday last July, he rattled off the Disney princesses that adorned her cake: Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty. “She pulled the strings in me,” her father said.
MORE MEMORIES OF AIYANA
The bond between father and daughter was obvious to the staff at Trix Elementary. Aiyana was in second grade at Trix when she died. Wesley Ganson, who was principal at Trix until a year ago, said he saw “Jones give Aiyana a kiss every day. “He would always say: ‘I love my daughter,’” Ganson said.
Aiyana loved to be in the middle of everything. “We had a lot of incentives that we did in the classroom where they could earn different points and different prizes,” recalled kindergarten teacher Frankie Black. “She always wanted to make sure that she got her name on the board … or a star on her paper.” Black remembers when Aiyana saved her from playing one of the Jackson 5 during a Christmas program. The girls were supposed to just dance in the background.
“When it came time to do the performance, one of the boys was absent,” Black said. Just as Black began to think she would have to stand in, Aiyana came to her rescue. “She raised her hand and said, ‘Mrs. Black. I’ll do it.’
“And when it was time to do the performance, she did a beautiful job.” Black, too, recalled Aiyana’s bond with her dad. “I think she adored her father, because whenever he came to pick her up, she was ready to go, she was right there,” Black said.
Aiyana seemed drawn to music from infancy, her family said. Even before she could talk, she could dance. “My goodness, the baby was 6 months old, and she could rock herself,” said her grandmother Mertilla Jones. “She’d rock the boat. It was amazing that a 6-month-old baby could rock like that.” Added Carter: “She had a beat to it.”
The raid was conducted by the Detroit Police Department’sSpecial Response Team (SRT). Her death drew national media attention, and led U.S. Representative John Conyers to ask U.S. Attorney GeneralEric Holder for a federal investigation into the incident.
Officer Joseph Weekley was charged in connection with Aiyana Mo’Nay’s death. In October 2011, Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment with a gun. Weekley’s first trial ended in a mistrial in June 2013. His retrial began in September, 2014. On October 3, the judge dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge against Weekley, leaving him on trial for only one charge: recklessly discharging a firearm. On October 10, the second trial ended in an another mistrial.
The SRT had prepared for a surprise raid ‘to arrest a wanted man.’ A surveillance unit had been monitoring the duplex in which he lived throughout the day; a no-knock raid was scheduled for just after midnight.
Police staged a “safety briefing” shortly before the raid, undoubtedly focusing on their own safety rather than the safety of unknown innocents behind the doors they were about to kick in. Officers were briefed that they’d be entering a “possible dope den,” in which the suspect “might be armed” and might even possess “dangerous dogs.”
Police neglected to account for — or flatly disregarded — the safety of any innocent adult citizens and children that might be present. Besides the glaring presence of toys strewn about the lawn and front porch, it is unlikely that investigators could have missed the presence of four young children and multi-generational family in the opposite unit, during their surveillance of the duplex.
The raid commenced at roughly 12:40 a.m. The Special Response Team arrived in its armored vehicle with a warrant to arrest Chauncey Owens, who was known to stay with his fiancée at 4056 Lillibridge Street.
Armed with MP5 submachine guns, adrenaline, and an unhealthy fear for officer safety, the raiders shuffled past the toys that littered the front yard and ignored the two distinct street address signs hanging on either side of the shared porch of the multi-unit building; 4056 was on the left, 4054 was on the right.
With a shot, a family lost their princess.
A man named Mark Robinson was detained on the sidewalk while walking his dog, just before the raid. He repeatedly told officers, “There are children in the house,” yet his warnings went unheeded. He was pinned to the ground with officers’ boots on his neck and back, reported attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
The raid team was accompanied by an embedded cable TV crew, filming for A&E’s “The First 48.” With full bravado, the SRT put on a display of maximum force for the fans of police-state-adoring reality television.
What happened inside the lower flat of that two-unit house is disputed: Police say the gun went off accidentally when a cop made contact with the grandmother. The grandmother said she never touched anyone. But no one disputes the tragedy of losing Aiyana, a spirited girl who was already planning a fairy-princess-themed birthday party in July.
It was Mertilla Jones who lived on Lillibridge and who had been beside sleeping Aiyana on the couch. Aiyana’s parents had moved in, temporarily they say, while they searched for their own place to raise their children.
The blood-stained couch where Aiyana was sleeping was removed as evidence. But the home remains filled with all things Hannah Montana, Aiyana’s family says, from shoes to purses to a play stage backdrop through which Aiyana blasted “Nobody’s Perfect” until her mother could barely stomach the song.
With all the turmoil surrounding Aiyana’s death — which led the family to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city — Aiyana’s family said they hope people don’t forget what the girl meant to them, and the moments her parents will miss out on.
Her father said he appreciates the attention directed at Aiyana, from the Rev. Al Sharpton’s eulogy to the stuffed animals to cards he said the family has received from around the world.
“She deserved all this, anyway,” Charles Jones said, “without having to die.”
Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones was the first child, killed by badge-wearers, whose name I came across (thank you Kate). I have a list of men and a list of women, but children… not yet.
We had a long and lovely talk. That’s two Saturday nighters I can count on, now, and I think I have just met a third.
I was given the go-ahead to run a parallel project at Mudcat (thank you Joe Offer), to facilitate posting of music resources and, perhaps, invite comments here or there. Aiyana Mo’Nay’s death has been the hardest for me to ‘get at’ in my co-counseling sessions; her memorial has also been the hardest to plan, sing, and remember all the details for. On the upside, the time I could not spend listing the song we opened with (I’ll nab it Sat. night when I look in my binder of last week), I put into standardizing the format here and at Mudcat, and standardizing the process of posting these in three different places– for three different ways to reach other white people.