Ann Arbor residents and organizations like Transforming Justice Washtenaw and the Collective Against White Supremacy accuse the Ann Arbor Police Department of discriminatory practices after a video was posted on Facebook depicting police officers pinning three Black males to the ground and handcuffing them in response to a reported altercation outside a popular venue, the Blind Pig.
Two videos were posted online portraying the incident. In the initial video posted on June 24 by Ann Arbor resident David Bigham, the blurry footage shows a police officer handcuffing three Black males after being called to the scene and told one of the males had a gun. The scene shows another white male who was initially perceived by civilians on the scene as a police officer but was later identified as not being a member of the police force repeatedly trying to force one of the Black males down to the ground by wrapping his forearm around the other male’s neck and climbing on his back.
Throughout the video, Bigham narrates the scene. At first he mistakenly identifies the white male civilian as an intoxicated cop while the man on the ground screams to see the white man’s badge.
When the actual AAPD officer breaks up the fight between the white and Black males, he pushes the white man aside and proceeds to force the Black man to the ground. Bigham’s footage portrays the police handcuffing the Black men while the white man involved in the altercation sits on the curb and a white female witnessing the scene holds up her hands.
In the video, Bigham responds to the fact all the Black men were handcuffed before the white man or woman stating, “This is common. This is what we see all the time. This is policy. This is procedure. So when we talk about systemic racism this is what we’re talking about.”
However, in a dash cam video released on July 3 by the AAPD, the footage shows the cops being pointed toward the incident by several white citizens and the white male being handcuffed shortly after the Black males.
The AAPD’s video also depicts the initial officer’s encounter with the three men as he orders them to the ground while the men keep walking.
In the video the officer can be heard saying as he is surrounded by several people, including Bigham and the white woman after handcuffing the first Black male: “Sit down. We’ll figure out what’s happening, but there’s six of you and there’s one of me.”
Then the second officer arrives and handcuffs another Black male per the initial responding officer’s request. The officer also handcuffs the Black man on the ground followed by the white man.
In an interview with MLive, Interim Police Chief Robert Pfannes said the white woman who can be seen in the video with her hands in the air showed visible signs of injury.
“However, due to conflicting accounts and witness statements, all subjects were eventually released at the scene pending the results of the investigation by the AAPD Detective Section,” Pfannes said.
City Administrator Howard Lazarus explained as a result of the incident an internal as well as a criminal investigation is currently underway. The findings and body camera footage will be released at the conclusion of the investigations.
While both Pfannes and Lazarus claim the incident is currently under investigation, Bigham said he was never contacted to give an official statement, even after talking with Pfannes personally regarding his own concerns.
Bigham explained later he saw the fight unfold before the police officers were called to the scene when he was on his way to Dessous, an Ann Arbor restaurant, to pick up his paycheck. Bigham saw the altercation and even knew one of the men – a cook at the restaurant where he works.
“The white guy and the Black guy were squaring off and kind of throwing drunken punches at each other and another scuffle breaks out in the alleyway and I think the white guy’s girlfriend got punched by somebody,” Bigham said.
Bigham said the Black males tried to leave the scene as the altercation unfolded, but the white male followed them and proceeded to call the cops and tell them one of the other males was armed. He pulled out his camera when the initial responding officer arrived and the white man proceeded to engage with the Black male again.
“The guy was on the ground for a long time before the cops showed up, maybe three minutes just on the ground on his hands and knees while the white guy was trying to shove his chest into the pavement,” Bigham said.
However, despite the Black male’s position on the ground, Bigham said the officer who responded to the scuffle seemed to go after the Black male instead of the white man who was wrestling the man to the ground.
“The police officer goes in and tries to break apart the white guy on top of the Black dude but he goes after the Black guy,” Bigham said. “He obviously considered the Black man as the bigger threat.”
Bigham agrees his video doesn’t tell the entire story. He says he began filming after the first officer arrived and left after the third officer’s car pulled in. Thus, he does not know whether the white woman from the scene was also handcuffed or whether all the people involved in the scene were taken to the station.
Pfannes reported to MLive that all the individuals involved in the altercation where initially handcuffed but released on the scene.
“As a Black male, I just didn’t feel comfortable staying any longer,” Bigham said explaining why his film cuts off before witnessing this information.
Despite being wary of the situation at the time, Bigham said he believed the AAPD did a good job.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Bigham said. “The police officers did not bring out their guns and I believe they were responding the best way they could to a threat. Given the call they received they followed policy. I don’t think they didn’t follow their policy.”
Bigham went on to explain he thinks the import of the phone call itself had a lot to do with the AAPD’s response.
“The white guy basically tried to weaponize the police against them because he was assaulting the one man and when he called the police and said that one of them had a gun, how were they supposed to respond?” Bigham said. “I think it was more of an issue of him weaponizing the police against the other men rather than the police actually being overtly racist.”
Even though his video was heavily used by political groups like TJW and CAWS, Bigham explained he was not politically motivated.
“I have no relations whatsoever with them or any group for that matter,” Bigham said. “Other than this I’m not in any political group, I’m not a member of Black Lives Matter or anything like that.”
Ultimately, Bigham agrees no one would be talking about or responding to this incident if he had not filmed it. Bigham said there are two main points he wants viewers to understand from watching his video.
“This brilliantly illustrates how much more of a threat that Black people are considered in reference to police than white people and I also think that this is a case of a white man weaponizing the police against minorities,” Bigham said.
Since the video, was posted the Blind Pig incident has been a subject of conversation at the July 2 City Council meeting where CAWS raised concerns regarding the incident.
In a statement to CAWS and TJW, Pfannes clarified the white man is not an officer.
“The white male fighting in the video is not an Ann Arbor police officer nor a police officer anywhere,” Pfannes said in the statement. “He was also handcuffed when a backup officer arrived, but that is not seen in the narrow focus of the video.”
The Blind Pig incident is one of many issues CAWS and TJW have found with the AAPD. Racial tensions between citizens and the AAPD have run high since the Aura Rosser shooting and the Blake Transit incident originally spawned the idea of an Ann Arbor police task force to create a Police Review Board.
CAWS and TJW initially saw the video on Facebook and responded by calling the city to action.
“In a meaningful sense, the City has not responded to this issue,” CAWS wrote in a collective email interview. “The only response we have received are emails from interim police chief Pfannes (we have shared these publicly), which in their own right are indicative of some of the issues with how AAPD views and handles incidents like this, by deferring responsibility and excusing the behavior. No member sitting on City Council, including the Mayor, have provided a response as to how the policies and practices AAPD uses will be changed to prevent incidents such as this from reoccurring in the future. AAPD says they are conducting an investigation, the process and timeline of which is not transparent. They say this each time there is an incident of racist policing and the outcome is always inaction.”
Similarly, TJW said incidents like this make the police review board more important than ever.
“This incident is disturbing but it’s not surprising,” TJW member Julie Quiroz said. “This incident underscores a need for a police commission. The city is moving in the right direction with a task force but it still has a long way to go.”
Quiroz said issues like police transparency and oversight will have a big impact on the future of Ann Arbor.
“We’re hearing from a lot of Ann Arbor voters (who) are watching this issue and looking at the city council and mayor’s races to see who is serious about ensuring real police oversight,” Quiroz said.
TJW and CAWS are worked together to create revisions and additions to the Police Task Force Draft Template, which they presented at the Police Task Force meeting on June 28.
CAWS said the two groups will continue to work together against systemic racism.
“Collective Against White Supremacy and Transforming Justice Washtenaw have been working together to advocate for robust police oversight. While we take different approaches to oversight, we share values of reducing harm from policing by empowering the community through independent, funded, transparent, and representative oversight,” CAWS wrote. “Transforming Justice Washtenaw’s demands for police oversight should be adopted by the Task Force and City Council, and we will fight for those demands to be met, while emphasizing our own vision as aspirational for the future. “
The AAPD have not responded to any requests for comment from The Michigan Daily
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