Community members, activists recall incidents of racial profiling since death of Aura Rosser

Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 6:27pm

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Design by Michelle Fan

This article is part of a Michigan Daily series reflecting on the five years since Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser was fatally shot by police officer David Ried while responding to a call on Nov. 10, 2014. Rosser, a Black woman afflicted by a mental illness, was a 40-year-old mother of three. On Jan. 30, 2015, the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s report justified Ried’s action as “lawful defense.” No charges were brought against him. 

Over the past five years, the Ann Arbor Police Department has worked to implement reforms to increase transparency, largely in response to the shooting death of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser. However, several instances have incited criticism from residents and local activists who say communities of color feel as if they are disproportionately targeted by AAPD.

Blake Transit Center

In the fall of 2017, an Ann Arbor police officer took 16-year-old Ciaeem Slaton into custody while he was waiting at the Blake Transit bus stop. A video taken by one of Slaton’s friends shows the officer pinning Slaton to the ground while pointing a taser toward him. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Oct. 4, 2017 to protest Slaton’s arrest.

The ACLU of Michigan reviewed the police report and video of the incident and called on the AAPD to review its policies on de-escalation and use of force.

In response, an AAPD official and Ann Arbor’s city attorney met with the Washtenaw County ACLU Lawyers Committee to review the incident and discuss the city’s plans to implement new policy and training on de-escalation. 

In an interview with The Daily, Slaton’s mother Tria Moore said the incident continues to affect her and her family. 

“I lost so much. I lost the job I had just started … because I was so stressed out,” Moore said. 

Moore said the instance heavily impacted how she views Ann Arbor’s systems of justice.

“I have no trust in the police department,” Moore said. “I have no faith in the police department. If something goes wrong, they are going to be the last people I call.” 

Multicultural Fraternities

Multicultural fraternities at the University of Michigan have also reported incidents of over-policing at their tailgates and parties. Before the 2017 Michigan v. Michigan State game, Lambda Theta Phi, a Latin fraternity, and Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically Black fraternity, were issued six minor citations. The citations were for disturbing public peace, creating a nuisance, obstructing police and contributing to noise. 

That night, the police also forcibly entered the Lambda Theta Phi house after citing the host with disturbance of the public peace. At the time, The Daily reported that the police report stated they had noticed a group of about eight people surrounding a Latino male and dragging him into the house. Officers then forced their way into the house. The Daily reported that all 10 predominantly white IFC fraternities surveyed reported no police presence or citations at their house tailgates that day.

Two years after reporting these incidents, members of multicultural fraternities say they are still facing over-policing. Music, Theatre & Dance junior Jack Williams III said in his one semester as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, he noticed the fraternity taking extra precautions when hosting parties.

According to Williams, hosts of Alpha Phi Alpha parties typically take several preventative measures to avoid contact with the police by reaching out to their neighbors and letting them know that there will be an event.

“Establishing that relationship with your neighbors really goes a long way because unfortunately, the reality of the situation is, you see a bunch of Black people partying … they’re going to call the cops, right?” Williams said. “So, you just have to establish an extra credit.” 

Williams said he gets frustrated, especially with the knowledge that other predominantly white fraternities do not have to deal with these additional hurdles.

“(This) would never happen at a white frat house,” Williams said. “Because we’ve had parties at a white frat house before. We typically have done parties with Alpha Delta Phi at their house. Never had a problem.”

As a student at the University, Williams said he felt anxious with Ann Arbor’s large police presence. 

“The cops are just heavy all the time,” Williams said. “Every time I’m driving past, like, even if I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m like … ‘are both hands on the wheel? Did I stop at that stop light?’ And so, just having that added layer of pressure all the time … I hope I don’t get pulled over and get arrested.”

Blind Pig Incident

In the summer of 2018, the AAPD once again faced allegations of racial discrimination after AAPD was dispatched to resolve an altercation at The Blind Pig bar. Ann Arbor resident David Bigham released a video on June 24, showing the confrontation between officers and three unidentified Black men outside the bar.

On July 3, the AAPD released its own dash cam video of the incident. The footage shows the incident began when a white man motioning the cop car toward a group of three Black men. Upon exiting the car, one of the cops pulled a gun on one of the three men while yelling profanities at him and demanding he to get down. Then, the man who had originally gestured the cops over walked toward the Black man on the floor and is seen choking him and then shoving him toward the pavement. 

In a July 2018 statement, then-Interim Police Chief Robert Pfannes said the video Bigham released was misleading and did not reveal the full scenario.

“The white male fighting in the video is not an Ann Arbor police officer nor a police officer anywhere,” Pfannes said. “He was also handcuffed when a backup officer arrived, but that is not seen in the narrow focus of the private video.”

The AAPD also launched an internal investigation to review the incident. During the City Council meeting on July 2, City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the investigation would be diligent and in-depth. 

“What I’ve asked the chief to do is to proceed fairly, equitably, but as quickly as he can,” Lazarus said at the meeting.

In a previous interview with The Daily, Bigham noted his video doesn’t tell the full story as the dash cam does, but that it still revealed the racial profiling by the AAPD.

In a recent interview with The Daily, Bigham stated he was never contacted by AAPD to serve as a witness either by phone or email. However, he did have a conversation with Pfannes on June 28, 2018 during a community outreach meeting and said he found the police chief’s comments disturbing. 

“My general takeaway (was) that it’s about protecting downtown. That’s what it says to me. It says that policing in Ann Arbor is about protecting downtown,” Bigham said. “Part of protecting downtown is making not only people of color, but especially people of color and people who are unsavory, as uncomfortable as possible when they are downtown in order to maximize, sort of, the psychological, you know, the effects of feeling unwelcome.”

Looking Forward

AAPD has worked to improve its relationship with the community, according to the department’s new chief Michael Cox. Cox has said he plans to prioritize community policing. In an interview with The Daily, Cox noted cultivating greater trust in the community is one way to build stronger relationships with Ann Arbor residents. 

“If you want to have a good relationship with anyone, you have to have some kind of trust and you have to build that usually through communication and talking. … That’s something different, but interacting with the public in ways that don’t have to do with normal police work is important and builds trust,” Cox said. “It helps us, you know, figure out what the community wants. It helps the officers get to know the community, and the community gets to know the officers.”

Cox emphasized how greater communication among the department and community could benefit both sides when tensions arise. 

“If or when something does happen that people might be upset with, when we begin the communication of explaining why it happened or even apologizing, it will be accepted or people will take what we say more at face value,” Cox said. “When you don’t have trust, it’s pretty deep and you don’t trust anything anyone says, but when you do, you’re able to overcome problems and talk and move forward. Without trust, people get stuck sometimes.”