A handful of protesters joined the Ann Arbor Alliance for Black Lives, the organization formerly known as Ann Arbor to Ferguson, and the Radical Washtenaw organization on Wednesday night for a march and vigil marking what would have been Aura Rosser’s 42nd birthday.
Rosser, a Black woman, was fatally shot by officer David Ried, a white city police officer in November 2014. Her death sparked multiple protests over the past year tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, including the formation of Ann Arbor to Ferguson in Rosser’s name.
Attendees marched from the Michigan League to the pedestrian bridge overlooking Washtenaw Avenue, holding lighted signs of Rosser’s name surrounded by a heart. The group then lined up across the bridge to spell Rosser’s name, dedicating renditions of “Happy Birthday,” to her among other chants for justice and an end to police brutality.
The group protested last winter on the anniversary of the shooting, and continues to call for reform in both the city’s care of Rosser’s family and the police department as a whole.
Public Health graduate student Rebecca Ahmad-Robinson, who attended the protest, pointed out the nuance of Rosser’s place in social justice movements in Ann Arbor.
“We really want to bring attention and … raise her name,” she said. “I think we’re trying to celebrate the fact that she existed, she was a vibrant person and loved her community,” she said. “But it’s also somber in the fact that we are drawing attention to the fact that she is not here.”
Aside from the organization’s name change, which organizers said was enacted to emphasize the group’s link with the national Black Lives Matter movement, the Alliance plans to push a number of initiatives this year ranging from broader demands by the national campaign to localized issues, like the dismissal of Ried. The Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office determined last January that Ried’s actions were in self-defense and did not warrant charges.
Another protester, Rackham graduate student Maryam Aziz, also called out John Seto, the former city police chief whose tenure Rosser died during. Seto now oversees student housing for the University police.
Aziz said Seto’s presence on campus is an important link between the student population and the city police. She added minorities’ perceptions of safety could have decreased following these events.
“Aura’s death from the city affects the campus very explicitly,” she said.
Ultimately, though, the vigil’s attendees focused on celebrating the person behind the cause.
“I think people forget that people who have been taken by state violence are people,” Aziz said. “They miss out on minutes of their lives, their coffees, their midnights, their birthdays. And we’re here to say that we remember, and we’re gonna remember her on her birthday as well.”