Close to 200 protesters flooded campus grounds and the streets of Ann Arbor for two hours Saturday afternoon to rally against police brutality. The protest, independently organized by recent graduates of Skyline High School in Ann Arbor comes after two fatal shootings of of Black men — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul — by police officers. The killings sparked demonstrations throughout the week across the country, including a protest in Dallas in which a lone gunman shot 12 policemen, leading to 5 deaths.
Black activists and other local residents of a variety of races came together earlier in the week for a number of events commemorating Sterling and Castile, including a vigil for Sterling in the Diag on Thursday attended by more than 100 people. Organizers passed out flyers the day before the march, and circulated information about the event by social media.
Organizer Charde Madoula-Bey, an incoming student athlete at the University, said the peaceful Ann Arbor rally was a powerful example of the importance of speaking out.
“I was disgusted that for something like selling CDs, which is what Alton Sterling was doing, you get a bullet in your head… when Dylan Roof kills people in a church and gets taken out in a vest,” she said. “I think (the protest) brings a lot of unity to the city. And I know more and more people will continue to join us.”
Demonstrators carried signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “United we fight.” A banner at the front of the march memorialized Aura Rosser, an Ann Arbor resident fatally shot by an Ann Arbor police officer in 2014. Rosser quickly became the center of local Black organizing in the city. Organizer Myles McGuire said by marching in her name, protestors wanted to argue policing is still an issue in Ann Arbor.
“(While passing out flyers), an ex-cop told us he didn’t think this was right, people yelling back about white lives and All Lives Matter,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Ann Arbor resident Camryn Love, a rising Skyline High School senior, agreed and acknowledged tensions between the Black community and local law enforcement in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
“If not physical, there’s definitely oral hostility, you get these looks from police or side comments… and it makes you feel unsafe,” she said.
Police oversight has recently become an issue in local government. In December, city council’s Human Rights Commission released a recommendation for the creation of a civilian review board that would independently receive and investigate complaints against police officers. In a June memo to City Council, Jim Baird — the Chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department — questioned the need for such a board in Ann Arbor and insisted nothing should be implemented until an independent audit of AAPD practices is completed.
Both the Ann Arbor Police Department and the University’s Division of Public Security and Safety were present throughout the rally and created a rolling barricade between traffic and the march, which began on the Diag and looped around Central Campus and city streets, eventually stopping on Main Street before turning back around. Police officers and protesters largely did not interact, though some exchanged kind words with the officers for blocking off the street traffic.
DPSS spokesperson Diane Brown said the University and city security forces collaborated upon surveying the logistics of the protest.
“Our protocol is keeping people safe,” she said. “That is our first priority.”
The march eventually swelled from 50 attendees at its beginning to a peak of about 200 protesters. When the group stopped on Main Street to chant “We gon’ be alright,” bystanders on the sidewalks joined in with applause and cheers.
McGuire said he was overwhelmed by the show of support, and will continue to speak out against police violence.
“I’m overwhelmed and so full right now,” he said. “But even if there were 12 people, we would’ve still marched. I don’t care if there’s 5, 10, or 50 people… this is what needs to happen.”