Viewpoint: One year since Aura Rosser's death and still no justice

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 7:38pm

Almost one year ago, Ann Arbor police shot and killed 40-year-old Aura Rosser in her home. In the final hour of the night on Nov. 9, 2014, Ann Arbor police officers Mark Raab and David Ried responded to a call for assistance from Rosser’s partner, 54-year-old Victor Stephens, who claimed she attacked him with a knife. Within five to 10 seconds of entering their home, Raab discharged his taser and Ried discharged his firearm, striking and killing Rosser. They claimed she charged them with a kitchen knife.

The Ann Arbor to Ferguson movement was born in the city’s streets on Nov. 25, 2014, the night after St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson would not face charges for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown. Hundreds of people from Washtenaw County and the University gathered on the Diag in solidarity with people fighting against oppression in Ferguson, Palestine and Mexico.

Most importantly, we gathered and marched for Aura and her family.

While we were organizing, Michigan State Police investigated Ried’s use of lethal force. On Jan. 30, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie declared that Ried “acted in lawful self-defense.” Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor released a statement on his Facebook page the evening of Mackie’s announcement. He continued the city’s policy of evasion in response to the killing. He also denied that racism played a factor. Taylor called Rosser’s death a “tragedy of mental illness and drug abuse unabated.” Then he claimed that the killing was “not the tragedy of racism,” which was “loathsome and unacceptable to everything Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor police stands for.”

Ironically, as Taylor denied that race played a factor in Rosser’s death, his actions only illustrated how much the city and county government’s response to her death resembled that of the authorities in St. Louis, Cleveland and New York City, all of which exonerated police officers for killing Black Americans and then downplayed the fact that police officers kill Black Americans at a disproportionate rate.

It has been one year since Aura Rosser’s death. I wish I had more positive news to report. Unfortunately, I do not. The city has not apologized for Rosser’s death. The city did not take any responsibility for her death. Ried was not fired. Rosser’s family is still waiting for justice.

Last December, the city of Ann Arbor announced it would invest $174,000 in body cameras and upgrades to in-car videos. Then-Police Chief John Seto also announced he was reviewing diversity training programs for officers. The AAPD has neither publicly acknowledged whether or not these trainings were instituted nor whether the trainings would be mandatory for all officers. The cost for body cameras comprises less than 1 percent of the city’s proposed $25 million police budget for 2016. And while body cameras are a step in a positive direction, no one should forget that police cameras caught police officers shooting and killing Samuel DeBose in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino in Gardena, Calif., and in Sandra Bland’s arrest in Texas.   

The City of Ann Arbor has failed to take any measures that could further illuminate how it can prevent future police shootings of Black Americans. The city has dragged its feet considering whether or not it would establish a civilian review board to oversee law enforcement. We protested. We organized. We know city leaders were aware of our presence. They heard us protest, but they failed to listen.

The city’s unwillingness to apologize to the Rosser family and the slow pace of policy change provokes one to ask: Does Aura Rosser’s life matter? Did her life matter to the mayor who refused to allow a community activist to use her three minute speaking time at a city council meeting for a moment of silence? Did it matter to the prosecutor who declared that her killing was justified? Does it matter to the local government who has moved too slowly to reform the city’s police practices?

I also wonder if Rosser’s life mattered to the University. Ried shot Rosser on Seto’s watch, the same person who the University recently hired as director of housing security. Meanwhile, Rosser’s family waits for justice.

Some may ask what justice would look like after a police officer shoots and kills a citizen. Ultimately, if the City of Ann Arbor wants to lead on the issue, it must do so by reorienting its justice systems away from punishment to restorative measures. This would include the city formally apologizing to Rosser’s family for her death, paying for Rosser’s funeral costs to relieve the family of undue burden and firing Ried. Doing all, or a combination of any of these tasks, surely would not resurrect Rosser from her grave. But performing these acts of contrition could have gone a long way toward healing the family and rebuilding trust between the police and the Ann Arbor community, especially the city’s Black residents.

The absence of restorative justice is why we have marched, blocked intersections, and shut down city streets and City Council meetings. One does not perform these acts if authorities listen and take citizens’ demands seriously. One does not engage in civil disobedience if the system is just. We will continue to act to keep the spirits of Rosser and other Black women who have died at the hands of police and armed citizens in Southeast Michigan, such as 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones and 19-year-old Renisha McBride. We will not stop until Black women’s lives matter to the University, Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan. Authorities should rise to the challenge of #BlackLivesMatter.

This nation is always looking for inspiring leadership. But if local leaders continue to fail to act with urgency, then we will push them. The longer Rosser’s family has to wait for justice, the longer we wait for changes to the local justice system, the more we will demand. That is how protest movements work.

Austin McCoy is a Rackham student and an organizer with Ann Arbor to Ferguson.