This week marks the anniversary of the tragic death of a 7-year-old black girl named Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Six years ago, Aiyana was killed while she slept at her grandmother’s house.
Joseph Weekley, the Detroit SWAT officer who fatally shot her during a botched raid, is still on the police force. Despite being charged with involuntary manslaughter and two lesser charges, juries failed to reach verdicts and the charges were dropped in January 2015.
The loss of this innocent girl is heartbreaking, and it is a stain on the soul of this nation. It’s also a sickening comment on the state of black girlhood in America.
Earlier this year, news accounts and press releases made it seem like the moment for the recognition of black girls’ humanity had come at last. After years of lobbying, for example, the White House finally launched an initiative aimed at improving the lives of black and Latina girls — something similar to the program My Brother’s Keeper.
More recently, The NoVo Foundation, created by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, launched a seven-year, $90 million commitment to “support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color in the United States.”
These developments follow the tireless work of organizations like the African American Policy Forum and the Human Rights Project for Girls as well as the careful research undertaken by scholars on the lives of black girls — from historians like LaKisha Simmons to social justice scholar Monique Morris to sociologist Carla Shedd. In April, the Black Girl Movement Conference in New York marked the nation’s first conference on black girls.
This momentum is positive and necessary. Unfortunately, it does not overshadow the virulent hatred and misogynic feelings that jeopardize African American girls’ very existence.
From the racist vitriol spewed at Malia Obama, a brilliant student who has been admitted to Harvard University, to the white supremacist’s bullets that whizzed past a 5-year-old black girl hiding among the dead during last summer’s shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the beating and subsequent criminalization of a 16-year-old Spring Valley High School student by a school resource officer, black girls lives have yet to matter.
Countless studies have now ticked off the ways that black girls are vulnerable to sexual assault and criminalization because of it. Studies have shown how black girls are suspended more than white girls and even black boys, who are themselves disproportionately targeted by school disciplinary policies. Research indicates that black children are regarded as violent threats, and black girls are viewed as loud, hostile and aggressive — stereotypes that eclipse their humanity and their youth.
The failure to obtain justice for Aiyana is rooted in all of these issues. In order to upend these dynamics, we have to continue to fight and get justice for this child and her grieving family because we will not achieve substantive change for black children, let alone all black people, until we do.
There is no moving forward until Joseph Weekley is punished for taking Aiyana’s life.
There is no reconciliation until the humanity of our children is sacrosanct.
There is no forgetting about Aiyana Stanley-Jones. She was 7 years old, asleep at her grandmother’s house. An officer shot and killed her and walked away.
A peaceful rally will be held in Detroit outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to remember Aiyana and all victims of police brutality. We all should demand that the Department of Justice investigate this case.
We need justice for Aiyana and we need to turn the tide in this country for the sake of all black girls.
Kali Nicole Gross is Public Voices Fellow, an associate professor and associate chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin.
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