On the second anniversary of the death of Aura Rosser, a Black woman killed by an Ann Arbor police officer in 2014, nearly 100 students and city residents organized a vigil in her honor Thursday evening.
The event, organized by the Ann Arbor Alliance for Black Lives, began with a speech by Rackham student Maryam Aziz. Aziz said the officer who shot Aura Rosser is not solely responsible for her death, but rather it gestured to a systemic issue in today's society.
“Today, more than ever, we ask, ‘who killed Aura Rosser?’ ” Aziz said. “In a strict sense, we know beyond doubt that Ann Arbor police officer David Ried fired the shot that literally broke Aura’s heart, but if we understand that the ‘who’ in our question is always a collective who, then we begin to understand that Ried is only but a single node in a web of people that materially and symbolically murdered Aura.”
Aziz also faulted the Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor township governments for overfunding the police department, as she said they allocate 3.6 times more to police and jails than on social services.
While the death of Rosser was the source of public outcry, Aziz said it is not only the circumstances that are important, but also the manner in which she lived. She said because Rosser was a Black, woman and grappling with mental illness, she already faced an uphill battle in life.
“Her very conditions of life in our society already implied a certain kind of precarious existence, a certain kind of premature Black death,” Aziz said.
Aziz further said existing racism in Ann Arbor cannot be solved by the removal of a few “racist” people, but rather it must be addressed institutionally, drawing it all back to the question of “who killed Aura Rosser?”
“The racism that killed Aura is not a racism that can simply be solved by removing the few bad apples, by removing that bad cop again,” Aziz said. “The ‘who’ in our question ‘who killed Aura Rosser’ is always a collective who.”
Organizers then led those in attendance in a moment of silence. The moment lasted for two minutes and 10 seconds, which organizers said was approximately the amount of time it took for police officers to enter Rosser’s home and taze and shoot her.
Following the moment of silence, organizers encouraged participants to sign leaflets with their names as well as the statement, “We remember you killed Aura Rosser.” A march was then led to the police department and then the hall of justice where the leaflets were posted.
Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Liam Allen said he had not heard about the story of Aura Rosser before the vigil, and that it was difficult for him to believe it happened in Ann Arbor.
“It’s scary every time I hear about another case, especially when it’s in my city,” Allen said. “I feel so comfortable a lot of the time that it’s hard for me to think about that happening here. It’s scary.”
Rackham fellow Austin McCoy said he encourages people to remember Rosser not as a murdered Black woman, but as a more holistic vision of who she was.
“I don’t think any person who is shot and killed by the police wants to become a martyr,” McCoy said. “Her legacy should be like anyone else’s. A loving, caring person to her loved ones and a woman who tried to live her life to the best she could.”