The recent heinous murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in the presence of other officers and witnesses has sparked protests and unrest in cities across our country. We’ve finally reached a turning point in our nation’s history of race relations where we must all stand up and shout “Black Lives Matter!”.
The City of Ann Arbor Police Department has had its own issues related to the treatment of historically disadvantaged members of our community by our police. Aura Rosser was shot and killed by an Ann Arbor Police Officer in 2014. That event sparked a movement that led to the creation of a citizen-led advisory task force that provided recommendations for the creation of a truly independent police oversight commission in 2018.
The task force recommended the commission be given the budget and authority to conduct its own independent investigations into complaints against police. They recommended the commission have its own legal counsel outside of the city administration’s and attorney’s offices, and it should have subpoena powers to obtain information relevant to their investigations. Those recommendations were rejected by the mayor and council, and a very watered down resolution calling for the creation of our current Independent Police Oversight Commission was finally passed. The commission’s name is much grander sounding than the actual powers granted due to the limitations imposed by the original resolution that created it.
Local government has a role in advancing racial justice. I attended the Independent Police Oversight Commission meeting Tuesday evening, June 16, 2020. Many residents were calling for a radical shift to how we police our community. Some were calling for transitioning to a more effective community policing model, while others were calling for more drastic cuts to our police budget. The city has reopened contract negotiations with the police union, and I hope to see something significant come from that process. Hopefully, we’ll get a more just organization.
Many residents and some commission members are calling for more authority to be given to the Independent Police Oversight Commission, to make it more like what the original citizen-led task force had envisioned. This could be done by providing them with their own legal counsel, subpoena power for records and documents, access to LEIN and adequate funding to conduct the investigations that they feel are needed.
The city recently passed a resolution pursuing greater LEIN access. This will require changes at the state level, but given the moment, I’m hopeful our city can achieve this. I support efforts to bring about the other recommendations as well.
Racial justice includes working to resolve social justice issues. There are quite a few Ann Arbor residents from historically disadvantaged communities who have done well, so these folks won’t require economic assistance from our government to continue to live in this rapidly changing city, but there are other long standing members of this community who haven’t been as prosperous, and our city needs to make sure that we create a healthy, supportive, environment for them.
I will work with Jennifer Hall at the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and other community stakeholders to provide an adequate supply of housing that is affordable to low-income and lower middle-income residents. We also need policies to maintain affordability of our current housing. Simply increasing the supply of market rate housing has not worked, and raising local taxes to provide more housing won’t solve this complex problem. Our economy and some of our residents are suffering and will continue to suffer until our city corrects this.