Ann Arbor community members protest police brutality

By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 4, 2015

On May 1, which was International Workers’ Day in many parts of the world, community members protested for just policing policies for laborers of color.

Members of the group Ann Arbor to Ferguson organized the event to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in 1886, where workers who were peacefully protesting job conditions were beaten and killed by the police in Chicago.

Rackham students Maryam Aziz and Austin McCoy said holding the protest on International Workers' Day ties together broader labor issues that impact both workers and Black Americans.

“We decided to do May Day to commemorate what happened in the Haymarket Square riots back in 1886 in Chicago, so we’re tying this into how the labor of Black lives doesn’t matter, how labor activists have always been treated as if their lives don’t matter either,” Axis said. “So we’re tying to two together to say you can’t say that you can’t separate Black lives not being valued from also the labor of the working class and people of color not being valued.”

McCoy said the protest was also held to raise awareness about larger issues regarding police brutality against communities of color. He mentioned specifically the killing of Aura Rosser by the Ann Arbor Police Department in November. McCoy and Ann Arbor to Ferguson have been protesting and raising awareness about the issue, while also helping Rosser’s family, since her death.

The protest also addressed recent killings of unarmed Black men, which have received national media attention, such as the killing of Freddie Gray, who suffered from a fatal spinal injury after being arrested by Baltimore city police officers.

“I think today has larger meaning because of what’s going on in Baltimore, Terrance Kellom shooting in Detroit on Tuesday as well,” McCoy said. “So this is for Aura Rosser, but it’s also about all the Black folks who’ve been shot.”

The protests began in Liberty Square and moved to State Street and Main Street before reaching the Ann Arbor City Council office. Traffic stalled in all streets where the protest took place, and many protesters shouted, “no justice, no driving,” at cars. Two police cars trailed behind the rally.

Protesters held signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” “We Will Never Let You Forget Aura Rosser,” “Justice for Aura Rosser” and “Strong Communities Make Police Obsolete.”

Jeffrey Sorensen, a University alum and co-founder of the startup optiMize, participated in the protest. He said he attended the protest because of his continued frustration over police brutality.

“It’s just this story that keeps coming up again and again and again, and yet a huge, huge percentage of people just don’t pay attention at all, or are totally misinformed, or stop paying attention after an hour and just go about their lives,” he said. “Just the response is really sad to me. A lot of people I grew up around, a lot of white people, just don’t give a shit at all.”

Ypsilanti resident Anthony Morgan also participated in the protest, and brought along his two young daughters. He said he has been following Ann Arbor to Ferguson’s movement since its beginning, and finds it important to teach younger generations about social justice and community activism.

“It’s a necessity, I’m at an age where we’re transferring the wisdom of the elders to the energy of the youth, kind of like Common said in ‘Glory.’ It’s a way to use new school understanding with old school experience and still fight some of the same shit, though. It’s constant, the fight never ends.”

Many pedestrians on the streets looked on and recorded the march on their cell phones. Some onlookers yelled back at the protesters in frustration, while others showed solidarity by honking their horns or raising their hands in reference to the “hands up, don’t shoot” phrase and gesture that originated in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Engineering junior Josh Johnson saw the protest while he was on Main Street, and said even though it caused traffic standstill, because there was no property damage, he appreciated the demonstration.

“If they’re not hurting anyone, if they’re not causing damage, I appreciate their opinion, but if they are destroying peoples’ property, then I think that’s wrong,” Johnson said. “If they are peacefully protesting, then I appreciate their opinions, no matter what side it’s on.”