Six years after police killed Aura Rosser, community members say they won’t forget her

Sunday, November 8, 2020 - 10:37pm

University students and Ann Arbor residents light candles at the vigil for Aura Rosser downtown Sunday evening.

University students and Ann Arbor residents light candles at the vigil for Aura Rosser downtown Sunday evening. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

Six years after police shot and killed Aura Rosser, a Black woman, in her boyfriend's Ann Arbor home, hundreds of students and community members gathered in front of city hall for a vigil in her memory.

Deborah Carter, Rosser’s mother, spoke publicly for the first time since her daughter’s death. Surrounded by family members including Aura Rosser’s cousins and daughter, Carter described Rosser as an artist and a very lovable person. 

“Unfortunately, the police chose to shoot her in the heart rather than in the foot because she was in a rage, they say, but there was no need to murder my baby,” Carter said.

Ann Arbor police officers Mark Raab and David Ried responded to a 911 call at the home of Victor Stephens, Roser's boyfriend, in Ann Arbor about a domestic disturbance on Nov. 10, 2014. Police arrived at the scene and were confronted by Rosser, a 40-year-old mother of three. After Rosser was seen holding a knife and was within 6-to-10-feet of the officers, Raab unholstered his taser and Ried drew his firearm. 

Both officers deployed their weapons. Rosser died shortly after being shot in the chest. According to Raab, no more than a few seconds passed between the time officers entered the house, and Ried fatally shot Rosser, according to documents released by the Washtenaw Prosecutor’s Office in 2015.

“This officer yelled ‘stop’ and fired the taser at Rosser, fearing for officer safety,” Raab said. “Officer Ried fired his sidearm at nearly the same time. The time from when officers first entered the house and yelled ‘police’ to when she was shot and Tasered was approximately 5-to-10 seconds.”

Sunday night’s vigil drew hundreds to city hall. Lisa Jackson, a University of Michigan alum who serves as the head of ICPOC, or the Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, spoke to the lack of awareness about Rosser’s killing in the Ann Arbor community she’s seen on the oversight board.

“You see, every time a Black person is killed by police and it makes national news, we get bombarded with emails asking, ‘Could this happen in Ann Arbor?’” Jackson said. “And you all know the problem with this right? It’s already happened in Ann Arbor.”

University students and Ann Arbor residents march downtown at the vigil for Aura Rosser Sunday evening.

University students and Ann Arbor residents march downtown at the vigil for Aura Rosser Sunday evening. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

Jackson chairs the oversight commission, which was formed in the wake of Rosser’s death in an effort led by community members and local activists. After applying and being appointed to the post, Jackson found that a major part of her role on the body was acknowledging the distrust and tension between police and members of the community.

“I know police officers, and I understand there are some really good police officers,” Jackson said. “I also understand that African Americans in this community don’t feel like we’re treated exactly the same. We don’t have that expectation. And so I know that there’s a place somewhere for us to do better.”

Dwight Wilson, a community member who served an integral role in advocating for police reform after Rosser’s death, traveled around the country observing other cities’ methods of police reform and oversight to bring back to Ann Arbor. Ultimately, efforts by community members culminated in the formation of ICPOC.

“I have no idea how many officers cross the line, but relatives and friends who are law enforcement officers are clear that they know of no force, including their own, where 100% of the officers walk the straight line. Their reputations are protected when the disreputable are held accountable. As for the victims of killings, brutality and disrespect, police oversight is our best hope,” Wilson wrote in a statement to The Michigan Daily in November of 2019. 

In a memo released two months after Rosser’s killing in January 2015, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie labeled the incident as justifiable homicide, citing a section of the Michigan Criminal Code stating that if a person’s belief that deadly force was necessary was genuine at the time, it does not matter if they were later proven to be wrong about the level of danger they were facing. 

Rosser’s killing prompted a series of protests in Ann Arbor. At one of the gatherings Rosser’s sister, Shae Ward, spoke about her sister’s death. 

“My hope is that I can get strong enough to speak for her,” Ward said at a January 2015 protest. “Because I know her person. She would have never attacked Officer Ried. She would have never made him feel that he would have to take her life to defuse the situation. That is just outlandish. It totally is outlandish.” 

University students and Ann Arbor residents march downtown at the vigil for Aura Rosser Sunday evening.

University students and Ann Arbor residents march downtown at the vigil for Aura Rosser Sunday evening. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

In the years since, University students and Ann Arbor community members have continued to honor Rosser’s memory, holding vigils on the anniversaries of her death. 

Members of the Black community in Ann Arbor have cited several incidents of over-policing and misuse of force before and since Rosser’s death, including increased police presence at multicultural fraternity tailgates and alleged racial discrimination at local bars. In the fall of 2017, the violent arrest of 16-year-old Ciaeem Slaton at the Blake Transit Center sparked a protest of more than 100 Ann Arbor residents outside of city hall a week later. 

Ann Arbor resident Shirley Beckley, who at 78-years-old has lived through decades of protest movements in Ann Arbor and was in attendance at the vigil, said the city hasn’t progressed as much as it thinks it has in terms of racial justice. 

“I think all of you need to understand Ann Arbor isn't what it pretends to be,” Beckley said. “And we need everybody’s help to bring that forth, to make this the place that it ought to be — that they say it is.” 

Beckley said it is difficult to rebuild trust between local authorities and the community when Rosser isn’t recognized as much as she should be.

“You know, I don't know how they think we’re gonna bridge the gap between the community and the police when you won’t even recognize Aura Rosser’s name,” Beckley said. “How are we gonna mend and heal when you don't even recognize the woman that you killed, who is the mother of three children? How are we going to bridge that gap?”

After community members spoke and led several rounds of “Say her name!” “Aura Rosser!” chants, the crowd lit handheld candles and observed six minutes of silence: one for each year since Rosser’s death. 

During those six minutes, as the sky overhead darkened, Ann Arbor resident Julius Theophilus II said his mind was set on justice. 

“I was thinking of ways that the family and the people that this continuously happens to — what justice looks like to them, what it looks like to me, what it looks like to the country, what it looks like for Black people collectively,” Theophilus said. “And if it’s even possible.”

A vigil for Aura Rosser is held downtown Sunday evening.

A vigil for Aura Rosser is held downtown Sunday evening. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

After the silence, the crowd moved swiftly through downtown Ann Arbor, marching down Main Street and Liberty Street. Along the way, several outdoor diners showed support with raised fists and cheers. 

LSA junior Rose Sproat said the visibility of the event was important for those in downtown Ann Arbor at the time. 

“It’s really important that we’re showing them what we want and that they can participate too,” Sproat said. 

When the marchers stopped at the corner of Liberty and State Street, several danced in a circle to accompany chants, trumpets and trombones. 

“Black joy is also a form of protest,” one person said.

Next, the crowd stopped in the shadow of the Burton Memorial Tower to hear a carillon piece, “Enough is Enough: Never Again Sketches,” played by Music, Theatre & Dance professor Tiffany Ng. The piece, coming from the bell tower, used a musical alphabet code to spell out the names of victims of police violence. Rosser’s name was played in measures 91 and 92, toward the end of the piece. 

After reflecting, Theophilus explained what justice looks like to him.

“The people that have suffered the most, they are in a position of power,” Theophilus said. “That’s what justice looks like to me.”

Correction: This article previously stated that Rosser was unarmed when police approached her. However, officers have said she was holding a knife.

Daily Staff Reporter Calder Lewis and Daily News Editor Ben Rosenfeld can be reached at calderll@umich.edu and bbrosenf@umich.edu

 

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