Candidate for county prosecutor highlights need for police reform

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 6:51pm

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie will face a challenge at the ballots this November from a grassroots activist who aims to bring police accountability and voter engagement to the forefront of county politics.

Mackie’s challenger is D’Real Graham, program manager of 826michigan — a volunteer educational organization. Graham said he wants the role of county prosecutor to be more visible to the public so voters will make informed decisions and not blindly vote along party lines.

“When you think about corrections and who is making decisions, when you identify leadership, the county prosecutor is high on the list,” Graham said. “If we are hoping to have local officials ready to amplify our values we have to know them, we have to talk to them, we have to challenge them.”

A teacher professionally, Graham hopes to increase civic engagement at the local level and greater transparency overall.

“If we don’t understand how the current system operates, we won’t understand how we are losing a workforce every 10 years,” Graham said. “We have more people entering the county jail than we have graduating from Eastern Michigan University. That should register as a problem for … anyone in this community.”

Mackie could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Among Graham’s main objectives is to extend alternative programming and put a system in place for care and custody of nonviolent offenders. Graham also wants to see true reform of policing in Ann Arbor.

“It’s going to be my responsibility to also ensure that public defenders, investigators and advocates are humble and not just leaning on their specialization or their expertise,” he said.

At the focus of his candidacy is the Aura Rosser case, which brought the national controversy surrounding police accountability and racial justice close to home in Ann Arbor.

Aura Rosser was a 40-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014 after a domestic violence call by her boyfriend. Though the police officer responsible for the shooting was cleared of charges due to Rosser’s history of mental illness and drug abuse, protestors have consistently challenged the outcome.

In light of the Aura Rosser aftermath, Ann Arbor's Human Rights Commision released a report requesting reforms to police oversight.

“I don’t know if 60 days is enough time to decide if a law enforcement agent exhibited undesirable behavior while on duty,” Graham said. “If I understand what happened to Aura Rosser, she was lynched. She didn’t go through the correctional system or the judicial system and there was not proper justice.”

Graham also said that first responders to emercency calls like Rosser's don't need to be police officers. He stressed that he would have advised the city of Ann Arbor to handle the case differently had he been prosecutor at the time.

“Not only would I have advocated that the city of Ann Arbor invest money to mobilize an alternative crisis intervention unit, but also to hire individuals who have expertise and skill to receive individuals who may not be a threat to society but may at that time need a source to heal and to recover and the ability to govern their faculties,” Graham said.

His candidacy was welcomed by racial justice activists on campus. Austin McCoy, a postdoctoral fellow at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning who used to lead the on-campus United Coalition for Racial Justice, wrote he believes Graham can bring the necessary institutional reform necessary for greater equity in policing locally.

“I think it's great that D’Real is running because he is a grassroots leader who is in touch with the needs of the most vulnerable in our community,” McCoy wrote in an email interview. “D’Real's desires for local leadership to re-examine the various institutions that comprise Washtenaw County’s criminal justice system is consistent with his organizing work around policing in Ypsilanti. He’s committed to ensuring justice for everyone in Washtenaw County.”

Graham faces several obstacles, as he faces an incumbent candidate who has been in office since 1992. He lacks the JD degree and legal experience traditionally associated with the position, though a JD is not a requisite for county prosecutors. However, he said he challenges the public to reevaluate the expectations of county prosecutor currently established in mainstream politics.

“The county prosecutor is not a practicing attorney,” Graham said. “This is a government-level manager, so do we need a practicing lawyer in his capacity to ensure public safety? Do we even need to use the term ‘county prosecutor’ to address this official? Isn’t he or she or they simply the superintendent of public safety? Shouldn’t I be concerned about your public safety and the safety and security of public county residents?”

The election for prosecutor will take place Nov. 8.