More than 500 people gathered Wednesday at the Michigan Union to march through downtown Ann Arbor in protest of police brutality. After congregating at the Union, the protesters walked down State Street and Main Street, stopping several times along the way before regrouping at the Diag to have several people address the crowd. The Ann Arbor Police Department escorted the protest, directing traffic away.
The protest follows a recent streak of police violence –– videos showing fatal police shootings of two men, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile of St. Paul, Minnesota, launching a flurry of nationwide protests. A shooting spurred by a lone gunman last Thursday at a protest in Dallas claimed the lives of five police officers. A vigil for the victims was held last Thursday in Ann Arbor, and a smaller march Saturday through downtown was also organized in response.
Community-police relations in Ann Arbor have been sensitive since the 2014 shooting death of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser by police officer David Ried. The county prosecuting attorney ruled Ried's actions "lawful self defense," though some residents were dissatisfied and skeptical of the results of the investigation.
In December 2015, the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission put forth a 42-page report, recommending an independent audit of AAPD practices and the implementation of a civilian oversight board to independently review complaints against police officers. Although City Council voted in March to eagerly accept these recommendations, AAPD Chief Jim Baird expressed skepticism of the need for increased local oversight and stressed nothing be implemented until after an audit in a June memo.
Currently, the implementation of the HRC recommendations remains stalled, though money has been set aside in the city’s fiscal year 2017 budget for an auditor. City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), who also is liaison to the HRC, told The Daily in an interview Wednesday she expects a resolution to hire an independent auditor soon — which would precede ordinance changes to implement an oversight body — but was unable to provide an exact timeline.
Kailasapathy added she did not believe the implementation of increased oversight was a reaction to deteriorating trust, but rather a check-and-balance on local government.
“This is not an indictment of our police force. This is about setting up checks and balances,” Kailasapathy said.
The atmosphere of the protest was high in energy, with marchers constantly chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot," as well as, "No justice, no peace" and "hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go!"
Marchers were eager to get more people involved, encouraging many bystanders to join the protest. Many passing-by cars honked in support of the protesters, and some drivers got out of their vehicles to record the protest.
Most bystanders either joined in the chants or observed in silence, but one woman, in response to the chants of "Black lives matter!" replied with: "All lives matter!"
The climate between protesters and police during the protest was friendly, with several protesters shaking the hands of police officers and speakers calling for the crowd to thank the police department. However, protest organizer Diante Harris, a Kinesiology junior, said the department still has work to do build relationships with the community.
Harris further argued that the need for increased civilian oversight doesnt necessarily imply the police department has been neglecting its responsibilities, adding that local officers should have nothing to fear.
"The chief is probably just thinking that this is all out of spite, or, you know, a quick reaction, but as people who pay these officers to protect and serve them, and as people that are a part of the communities that these officers work in, I don't see what bad could come out of having a say in some of the matters," Harris said. "Right now the police chief doesn't want to hear that in Ann Arbor. He believes that this is a local problem, and that everyone is overreacting because of what happened to Aura (Rosser)," he continued, to boos from the crowd.
In front of a crowd of hundreds gathered on the Diag, Kinesiology senior Nas Ali lamented the death of Philando Castile, who was killed on the same street Ali lived on as a child, where his family still lives.
"Last week, when Philando Castile passed away –– I live here, I go to school here, but that happened half a block from where I grew up,” Ali said. “The cop who killed him has pulled me over so many times, and I can't even put into words the things that he has said to me. This time it changed. As much as I've grieved for everyone who has happened before, this time I wasn't removed from it. It wasn't St. Louis. It wasn't Florida. It was in my backyard."
Harris also spoke to the experiences he'd had with police.
"Growing up, I only saw them when someone in my community was being arrested,” Harris said. “What do you think that does to you when you're a kid, to your psyche? You're going to not trust the police. You're going to be afraid of the police.”
Despite the distrust he described, Harris ended by encouraging unity.
"We need more community involvement with our police officers,” he said. “And that's the truth — I know not everyone wants to hear that. A lot of people don't want any unity between the police officers and the community, but they are part of the communities whether we like it or not. And we are part of the communities that they serve, whether we like it or not."
Protester Johnny Anderson challenged stereotypes of protesters, saying their message wasn't so unpalatable as some believed and that demonstrators like himself don’t condone violence.
"Everybody has this vision in their head, that the revolution's going to be this violent gunfire against the government,” Anderson said. "No, it's going to be peace, it's going to be this right here. This is the revolution right here. CNN ain't coming here to see this peace, ain't nothing to talk about."
Ann Arbor resident Brionne Fonville said that the revolution would require more than protesting and marching.
"What I saw here tonight was beautiful,” Fonville said. “There's so much power and potential in what we did, marching. But we need to start thinking about what we're going to do next. You all have the same equal power and potential. I'm going to paraphrase Dr. King for a second, and all I want to say is think about what you're doing with your life. Think about what you do every day. Think about the people you come into contact with and think about how you can use that to bend the moral arc towards justice."
AAPD Officer Thomas Hickey, while also encouraging communication between police and civilians, argued the AAPD has done much to engage its community.
"I can tell you that at the Ann Arbor Police Department, we have been proactive about diversity and multicultural training,” Hickey said. “We probably go above the standard for training. We pride ourselves on staying current with what's going on, and that makes for a better police department, and probably overall transparent. We have great communication with some of the folks here. Communication is basically the bottom line."