At an open speak-out Wednesday night, members of the University community participated in an intimate dialogue in the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom on police brutality and recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.
The discussion — sponsored by Central Student Government in collaboration with Counseling and Psychological Services, the Black Student Union and the Students of Color of Rackham — derived from a November CSG resolution pledging to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson. In August, unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer, sparking a national dialogue on race and police brutality.
A clause of the resolution stated CSG would plan a forum to discuss police brutality with the University community.
The event included no formal speakers and was open to anyone in the University community. Those in attendance were first asked to reflect on their own experiences with policing at the University and offer their thoughts and perspectives about the quality of policing on campus.
BSU speaker Arnold Reed, an LSA senior, shared a story of how he and his and fraternity brothers were surrounded by police one night while practicing their step routine for the October 2014 Midnight Madness performance.
“Walking away from that situation I felt very confused, attacked and unsafe,” Reed said. “Had that been a different group of guys, who knows what would’ve happened?”
BSU secretary Cap Kendall, a Kinesiology junior, discussed how her negative experiences with campus police have emotionally impacted her.
“It’s to the point where I don’t even want to reproduce and bear children,” she said. “I don’t want my children to feel the terrible feelings I feel being Black every day.”
Participants also discussed the relevance of the incidents in Staten Island and Ferguson, where grand juries chose not to indict officers who had killed unarmed Black men.
University faculty and staff were also present to share their experiences and thoughts on police brutality. One faculty member shared a story of how her Black colleague, a doctoral student, was often stopped by police when riding his bike around campus.
A portion of the discussion was also dedicated to brainstorming ways in which students, faculty and University police can work to create a positive and safe environment on campus. Ideas discussed included ensuring University crime reports are more specific and encouraging University Police becoming involved with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and other events on campus.
In recent months, members of the University and Ann Arbor community organized several events to call attention to police brutality, including “die-ins” on the Diag and in front of the Crisler Center following Winter Commencement.
University Police Chief Robert Neumann was also present at the event. Though he did not participate in the discussion, he took notes as students offered ideas to improve the quality of policing on campus. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Neumann said having the discussion was essential in developing a positive relationship between the police and community.
“It’s critical that the community and the police have an open and trusting and transparent relationship,” he said. “The police are here for the community, we have to always to remember that. Good police administration seeks out input from the community.”
Neumann also said working to improve public safety on campus is a process that will require continued support and cooperation from the campus community.
“We will never rest on what we’ve done in the past, in terms of community outreach,” he said. “We are always looking for news way to engage our community, because our community is evolving and we must evolve with it.”
LSA senior Geralyn Gaines, BSU vice speaker and a CSG representative, helped plan the event. She said hosting the discussion was vital to sparking more of a reaction from the University community to nationally recognized instances of police brutality and bringing attention to the issue as a whole.
“As a student body, I don’t feel we have had enough of a response in regards to what’s going around in the U.S. where there are victims of police brutality,” Gaines said. “I think that it’s really important to address these issues and continue to have these dialogues where people can express themselves.”
The BSU will host a follow-up event Wednesday evening titled “Know Your Rights” at the Trotter Multicultural Center.