Remarks — On the Ground for Mike Brown
August 9, 2015
We know why we’re here. We are on the ground for Mike Brown.
I think we already know the details about what happened last August 9. Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown after a scuffle. Wilson and the police left his dead body laying on Canfield Drive for hours. Wilson was not charged.
We are also here because of Aura Rosser. Three months later, on November 9, 2014, Ann Arbor police officer David Ried shot and killed 40-year-old Aura Rain Rosser. Officers Mark Raab and Ried discharged a taser and fired a shot simultaneously within seconds of entering their home. After the Michigan State Police conducted its investigation of the shooting, County Prosecutor Brian Mackie concluded, “that when Officer Ried shot and killed Aura Rosser…he acted in lawful self-defense.”
The Ann Arbor to Ferguson movement was born on November 24 when St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough announced that the grand jury would not indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. Hundreds of us gathered at the UM Diag in solidarity with Ferguson protesters to pay our respects to Brown. Our first action connected various struggles for justice — the march connected events in Ferguson, Ann Arbor, Mexico, and Palestine. Our action was local and global.
I said during our first action that the decision not to indict Wilson was a provocation. The decision to not indict the officers who strangled Eric Garner was a provocation. The mayor of Ann Arbor’s failure to apologize for Aura Rosser’s death and the department’s refusal to fire Officer Reid — both provocations. The death of Sandra Bland was a provocation.
Over the last year, many of us have answered the provocation — from Ferguson to New York City to Charleston and Baltimore, to Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti. We answered the provocation in Ann Arbor mostly through direct actions — disrupting city council, marching, holding die-ins. We’ve held teach-ins. We have also tried to begin the slow work of reaching out to the larger community.
While Ann Arbor to Ferguson is not perfect, our collective remains a special group. We mobilized around the death of a black woman. We are required to highlight black women’s invisibility in the conversations about state violence. We were saying her name before it even became a hashtag. As many of our members said at one point of time or another, “I am here because of Aura Rosser.” We may be coming together for Mike Brown today, but Rosser’s spirit hangs over all of our actions.
Some have wondered over the last year whether or not Black Lives Matter protests have worked. They have — the movement has put the issue of racist and lethal policing on the table. Protests have spurred states and localities to consider reforms, including here in Ann Arbor. I’m referring to the basic reforms of diversity training and body cameras.
However, we still live under a state of emergency. Police have killed 314 African Americans since Michael Brown’s death. Of course, the racial oppression of African Americans spills over and touches other citizens. Seven hundred Americans have been killed by the police so far this year.
We still have a lot of work to do.
Several of our activists attended and participated in the Movement for Black Lives conference in Cleveland two weeks ago. Some may remember Anthony calling for a black agenda during one of our December protests. Well, while at the conference, they got together and put together a black agenda. I did not attend the meeting in Cleveland, so I cannot deliver any details. When everyone returns, they will present it to the group and we’ll begin to execute it. We will keep you all posted. Obviously, the agenda entails refocusing our efforts squarely on achieving justice for Aura Rosser, however the architects of the agenda define it. I am sure it will also include greater focus on achieving policy change because if the Prosecutor determined that Ried acted in lawful self-defense, then that means the law needs changed, at the very least. But, we won’t neglect the power of community organizing and direct action in our pursuit for justice. We need all of our weapons for this fight.
We also need all hands on deck.
A black agenda emphasizes the necessity of black leadership. If the movement is for black lives, then black folks should lead. This means we need more black folks and people of color to participate in the effort, especially folks from the Ann Arbor and Ypsi area, and especially the black youth. Ann Arbor to Ferguson is yours if you want it.
A black agenda does not exclude white and other non-black folks. The movement for black lives asks much from you. We need you to follow. You should lead only when talking to other whites or non-black folks about dismantling white supremacy. Become a resource for other white and non-black folks. We often shoulder this burden, now it is time for you all to carry that load. If you work with us, we need you to listen to us. Not because we want to silence you, but because we are confident that our experiences with dealing with white supremacy put us in the best position to lead on this issue. The movement for black lives in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County can also use your resources — financial, social, and institutional — for support. We need your presence at protests so that black folks are not putting themselves at unnecessary risk.
So, we are here — for Mike Brown and Aura Rosser. We are here to pay our respects. But we should also think of this moment as an opportunity to begin anew. We have to continue to push city leaders to deliver justice for Aura Rosser. We have to continue to raise awareness around the silence surrounding state violence against black women. We need the whole country to know Aura Rain Rosser’s name. Our interim goal — achieve justice for Aura Rosser and achieve useful reforms. The long term goal — dismantle the New Jim Crow. That’s our challenge. We won’t stop until everyone says Aura Rosser’s name.