On the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the Ann Arbor Independent Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC) both reflected on the past of police violence in the nation and in the community and looked forward to the future of policing in Ann Arbor.
A year ago, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds while other officers watched Floyd die. In response to the murder and national outrage, protests in cities across the world took place in search of systemic change. Following the response, Chauvin was fired and more recently found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The meeting opened with a prayer from Pastor Mashod Evans from Ann Arbor’s Bethel AME Church, a historically Black community institution in the city. Evans called on the meeting attendees to remember the long historical legacy of the murder of Black people in the U.S. and to acknowledge how the fight to end this violence continues every day.
“While we have lost a brother, a friend, in George Floyd and so many, that has spurred a movement for something greater, something newer, something better,” Evans said.
Dr. Lisa Jackson, chair of the commission, then opened the public forum with a statement of reflection on Floyd’s murder and also the numerous other incidents of violence committed against Black people over the years. Jackson emphasized that for Ann Arbor to make substantive progress, the community must establish meaningful oversight.
“Meaningful oversight means that the results of oversight actually change the way that policing is done in our city in a way that is just for all of its inhabitants, workers and visitors,” Jackson said. “Meaningful oversight means that when a policing mistake is made it is not obfuscated. Meaningful oversight means that when something happens to you, you feel safe going to the police because you know the police are actually accountable to you.”
Jackson then went on to discuss two projects the committee is involved in in the city: establishing a system of responders responsible for mental health crises, instead of police, and the creation of unarmed traffic enforcement.
“It is only by taking officers out of situations that they’re not equipped to handle and holding those officers who abuse their authority accountable (that) we can create the conditions for real relationships between the community and the police,” Jackson said.
Unarmed traffic enforcement has been made a priority in cities such as Berkeley, California, and the committee expressed a desire to follow their example. In cities such as Denver, successful changes have been made to send health care workers instead of police in response to mental health crises.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, spoke about a bipartisan package proposed in the State Senate that includes bills targeting accountability and transparency in policing. If passed, the bills would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Irwin’s bill focuses on de-escalation and de-stigmatization of mental illness.
“I proposed this bill to include training to help officers recognize their implicit bias and require training to help identify people who are having a mental health crisis and how to deescalate that,” Irwin said.
Throughout the meeting, there was also much discussion of optimism and the role it plays or doesn’t play in activism.
Commissioner and LSA sophomore Makiah Shipp said many negative police interactions have been harmfully normalized, but that people should be optimistic about the work that young activists are doing, on the University of Michigan campus especially.
“When you think about maintaining optimism or grabbing a little bit if you’ve lost it all, I hope that you can do so for our generation,” Shipp said.
Shipp also said serious work needs to be done in examining the role that the U-M Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) plays on campus.
“(DPSS is) equally as important, because those are the people that are also interacting with students and regular people on campus,” Shipp said. “People will have PTSD from police interaction and nobody believes it.”
Former Ann Arbor City Councilmember Stephen Kunselman talked about the importance of police in the communities and how, even with their flaws, the police’s role should not go unappreciated.
“I don’t want to see police departments beat on that do good work,” Kunselman said.
Kunselman recounted a story where police recently protected the safety of his neighborhood.
“Just not so long ago in my neighborhood, armed robbers went into the wrong house,” Kunselman said. “And I can tell you every cop in town was there at 7:30 in the morning, getting the evidence together, calming the little girl and calming all kinds of people in the neighborhood.”
Community member Alan Haber spoke about creating accountability of police in the Ann Arbor community. Haber said this can only be accomplished if the community has the power to subpoena information about police activities.
“I think what we really need to see – and it’s in the whole community – is a greater sense of the people who use places as themselves responsible, who become not problems, but solutions,” Haber said.
Near the end of the meeting, Jackson discussed some of her own harmful experiences with police abuse of power, like when she was asked on a date during a traffic stop and promptly given a ticket when she declined the officer. She said even she has been guilty of normalizing these interactions, but that this needs to change.
“I think we have to be realistic,” Jackson said. “Optimism, not necessarily, but realism is important. That means thinking about the very real things that have happened and thinking about them in their current context and understanding that abusive things are abusive.”
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