Monday night, in the culmination of years of the public calling for increased accountability of the Ann Arbor Police Department, Ann Arbor City Council finalized a roster for a task force to develop a police review board.
In response to recent racist incidents in Ann Arbor, including the shooting of Aura Rosser by a white police officer in 2014 and the Blake Transit Center incident, where a Black teen was dragged into the bus station and put in handcuffs, Transforming Justice Washtenaw has continued to press for increased transparency and accountability for the AAPD. Amid pressure from TJW, the council had previously decided to assemble a task force in order to establish parameters for a police review board with the perspective of everyday citizens, especially those with unique insights such as affected minorities and social workers.
With a list of 13 recommended members from the Human Rights Commission and two alternates, the council settled on 11 members for the task force. Among the 11 individuals, the council selected HRC member Dwight Wilson, high school student Keyshon Cotton as well as three task force members who have Ann Arbor addresses, but reside in Pittsfield Township, Scio Township and Ypsilanti.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor emphasized the diversity of the task force, saying the force includes active HRC members, a member from the LGBTQ community, social workers, public defenders, civil rights attorneys and community educators.
“The resolution asked for increased diversity, and I believe that we have it,” Taylor said. “The task force is majority women which I believe is a good thing and majority-minority which I also believe to be a good thing.”
Though the council seemed to accept many of the HRC’s recommendations, taking nine of the 13 recommended members, TJW continued to press for changes in the council’s resolution.
In a press release, TJW called the council to task, demanding the council establish TJW member Lori Saginaw as chair of the task force. Several Ann Arbor citizens called for Saginaw’s instatement as chair, including Amory Vhou, who praised Saginaw’s leadership abilities.
“As chair, she will elicit and synthesize everyone’s best contributions,” Vhou said.
In a last-minute change prior to the meeting, Taylor attempted to appease TJW by placing Saginaw as a co-chair with University of Michigan Law School professor Richard Friedman.
Amid contention over the selection process for the task force, Taylor explained his selection process by saying not only was it a difficult process, but there were many factors the council took into consideration throughout.
“There are more people in Ann Arbor with skills and abilities than there are places to serve and that was the case with the task force,” Taylor said. “There will be other opportunities to serve. Even if you weren’t selected your role is not done.”
Taylor’s statement, which was in reference to the contested omission of Shirley Beckley, was met with controversy from residents as well as council members. Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, attempted to amend the resolution to include Beckley by arguing for Beckley’s vast experience as an activist in Ann Arbor.
“One of the things that have driven the process from the very beginning is our friend Shirley Beckley,” Eaton said. “Ms. Beckley has a historical grasp on why this community needs to have a civilian review process. She needs to be a part of the task force.”
Despite cheers from the crowd at Eaton’s declaration as well as support from Councilmembers Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, and Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, Eaton’s amendment did not pass. Taylor explained his reasoning in excluding Beckley, referencing an incident from more than two years ago when Beckley called the council out regarding a lack of consequences for Officer David Ried after he shot and killed Rosser.
“If you won’t at least fire officer Ried, then … Let’s string him up,” Beckley said in a quote to MLive during a previous meeting.
Taylor said Beckley disqualified herself from the task force through her statement of violence towards Ried.
“This drew applause from the audience,” Taylor said regarding Beckley’s previous statement. “A call for violence against an officer or a call for violence against city staff is unacceptable in my view and a disqualification for participation.”
Even after the council passed the finalized roster for the task force — one that excluded Beckley — TJW members continued to call for Beckley’s reinstatement in the task force. Saginaw argued Beckley was not only a valuable member of the task force, but her words and anger were understandable.
“We know that Officer Ried is not, nor will ever be in danger of being lynched by Shirley Beckley,” Saginaw said.
Beckley even came to the podium to defend herself and her statement from more than two years ago during the public comment session, refusing to apologize for her words towards Ried.
“Back then it was very hurtful to see a Black woman killed and not helped, especially when she was a mental health patient and you all know that,” Beckley said. “My ancestors have been strung up, lynched, run over, babies cut out of their bellies, families separated. We’re still looking for families. I’m not going to apologize for my anger. Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’ve been here 75 years. No, I haven’t seen any progress. We have made progress to have a task force and I’m happy about that. It doesn’t really matter if I’m on there or not. The fact that you did it is a plus, and I’m very happy about that.”
Despite tension regarding the selection of task force members, citizens and council members agreed the assembly of task force members was a long-awaited step in the right direction. Councilmember Graydon Krapohl, D-Ward 4, said the AAPD is ready for a change.
“I’ve spoken to many within the force who are looking forward to this process,” Krapohl said.
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, went on to say the next police chief would be chosen in line with this vision of racial justice in the AAPD.
“We are putting off our search for our police chief because we respect this process,” Grand said. “It will be such a key part of the role that we will not even post the position until we know what this commission will look like.”