Ann Arbor to Ferguson, a local activist group protesting police brutality, held a Black Lives Matter community meet and greet at Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor Saturday to encourage residents to talk about the issues black people in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti face today and to plan Black Lives Matter activism events.

Denise Bailey, one of the organizers of the group and a graduate student at the University, said there was a lot of local interest in gathering to take action for the lives and civil rights of African Americans in Ann Arbor following the death of Aura Rosser.

Rosser, a 40-year old black woman and Ann Arbor resident, was fatally shot by an Ann Arbor Police Department officer after she reportedly approached officers with a knife. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office did not press criminal charges against AAPD Officer David Ried, citing “lawful self-defense” in his shooting of Rosser. Ann Arbor to Ferguson was formed in response to Rosser’s death, protesting the Prosecutor’s decision and arguing that her death was preventable and one of a long history of police brutality and discrimination against African Americans.

Ann Arbor to Ferguson is a consensus-based group that meets every Friday and has around 25 members during the school year. The group contains people of a variety of viewpoints and has members working on different projects to combat racism against African Americans. Previously, the group held a silent protest to raise awareness for police brutality against black women.

University graduate student Austin McCoy, an Ann Arbor to Ferguson organizer, said the group is working with the City to form both a citizen review board for oversight of the AAPD and a policy of best practices for the department.

Organizer Shirley Beckley spoke at the event, inviting people to join her in “court-watching.” She specifically criticized the unequal law-enforcement she had seen, especially with regard to charging African-American children as adults.

“We do exist. We are here,” said Beckley. “We keep trying. We keep protesting. We keep asking, and I don’t know the solution. I’m a little tired of it. I’m a black woman who has a son and a grandson. I worry about their safety.”

Doctoral student Princess Williams, who worked for the political campaign of Jackson Mississippi’s former mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, a civil rights activist from Detroit, said she has seen first-hand the unequal treatment of African Americans by the justice system. She said that although she values the north for its progressivism, she said racism still exists here, too.

“They’re going to be nice to you, but they’re not going to say they’re still thinking racist things,” Williams said. “I feel like something like Baltimore or Ferguson wouldn’t happen in Mississippi because we are hyper-conscious of the racism within that state, so if something happens, they’re going to immediately jump on the officials.”

She then spoke about the murder of James Craig Anderson in 2009 in Jackson, Mississippi by a group of white teenagers.

“When something like that happens, we take it seriously. Whereas, in the north, I feel like people have this perception that, ‘oh, that’s not racist’ or ‘there’s not a lot of politics in it,” Williams said.

Organizer Denise Bailey said there room for improvement in Ann Arbor’s treatment of African American citizens. She said the Black Lives Matter movement is comprised of many issues that are oftentimes connected.

“Definitely the prison system is a part of it, as is hyper-policing of areas where there are people of color, especially poor people of color and Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have those problems,” said Bailey. “In Ann Arbor, also, there’s this problem of color blindness because there are a lot of white liberals who are theoretically supportive but relatively insulated from what it’s actually like.”

Among other people at the event were Chevoy Cathy, from Sterling Heights, and his daughter, Jazz Cathy. Cathy said he brought his daughter to the event to show her what support for Black Lives Matter looks like.

“Obviously, the movement’s important because, being black in this country, you face different obstacles,” said Cathy. “And right now, the biggest one is not being viewed as a threat all the time and being able to just live freely.”

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