The Black Student Union partnered with Students of Color of Rackham to host a day-long forum on local policing Saturday. Security officers and administrators from a variety of University of Michigan departments took part as well, representing the University’s Division of Public Security and Safety and the Ann Arbor Police Department.
About 50 students and police officers participated in workshops discussing students’ rights, the relationship between race and safety and the national conversations surrounding police brutality sparked by incidents such as the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Student organizers didn’t shy away from acknowledging tension between students of color and law enforcement. Rackham student Pete Haviland-Eduah, SCOR Vice President, opened the forum by noting the need for students to know law enforcement on a personal level.
“There is a deep rift of mistrust between the Black community and the law enforcement that serves them,” he said. “But these are the conversations that must be had … we have to employ humility in order to listen to one another.”
Music, theatre & dance sophomore Diego Zimmerman, the BSU’s Political Action Chair, built on Haviland-Eduah’s comments, presenting a survey conducted by the BSU which found that 34 percent of respondents — the majority of whom were African-American — are uncomfortable approaching police officers in uniform.
“We are here, though, to alleviate that fear,” he said.
DPSS Police Chief Robert Neumann acknowledged discussions involving race and policing might be sensitive ones, but highlighted their utility as well.
“We’ll leave here today with the information you need to be educated customers,” he said. “For law enforcement, to be better capable of providing the best experience we can.”
The workshops and presentations took three months for the various organizations to coordinate, but SCOR liaison and Rackham student Courtney McCluney said she appreciated the planning process and officers making themselves available to students.
“And our student leaders stepping up and being able to put aside potential common perceptions that they have about each other, I think we were all just really courageous in putting this together,” she said.
McCluney also noted the dialogue’s importance in providing a space for proactive conversation over continued mistrust between the police department and the community.
“We have to be able to work together with all moving parts, including staff and students,” she said. “As student leaders on this campus, we wanted to be able to facilitate conversations about this rift, and be able to hopefully come up with some solutions that are viable to not just students, but also to law enforcement as well, so we can make everyone’s job better.”
DPSS spokeswoman Diane Brown agreed and said University police rely heavily on students’ comments to learn how to police more effectively.
“This kind of dialogue helps forge partnerships and will help inform our future policies and practices,” she wrote in an e-mail after the event. “We also hear from community members that they appreciate getting to know us in an environment not related to an investigation or emergency.”