Dignity over Malice, Racism, and Ignorance

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Jim Anderson

In over six years, Sergeant James Anderson had never told this story publicly until last Monday at the Ypsilanti “Police-Community Relations/Black Lives Matter Task Force” meeting at Ypsilanti High School. A tall, slim, elderly man with glasses wearing a yellow-and-white short-sleeved shirt, he explained that he could not speak too loudly because he can’t help crying every time he talks about the incident.

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Other Voices

An estimated 450 people attended Monday’s monthly meeting of the Ypsilanti Police-Community Relations/Black Lives Matter Task Force. The task force consists of members of the Ypsilanti City Council and the Human Relations Commission (HRC). Chief DeGiusti also sat at the table with the task force, though he is not a member, and Sheriff Clayton was invited to speak.

The task force began in September 2015 in response to an ongoing campaign by local activists demanding accountability for police misconduct, though this history was never mentioned by the task force. Most of the monthly meetings have been under-publicized and have had very low public attendance, and therefore little public input. Monday’s assembly proves that many people would have had an interest in speaking on these issues if the task force had reached out to the community more actively. At some monthly meetings, there has been no representative of the YPD in attendance.

Below is a selection of some of the more RAW voices heard at the meeting, which lasted for 3½ hours. Watch this space for features of some of the stories shared, coming soon. Conspicuously absent was any mention of wanting more policing in people’s own neighborhoods, or fear of criminals in the neighborhood (besides police), or fear of gangs (besides police).

A child asked, “Mom, if I get stopped, should I turn on the camera right away?”

Ex-police officer: “You can’t train an individual to not be racist. You cannot train an officer to not be sexist. No way you can train people not to racially profile.”

“The police pulled me over and my grandson started crying and said, ‘Don’t hurt my nana!’”

“Are officers cleared for mental illness?”

“None of this is going to change until we deal with race, class, and ethnicity…. It’s going to get worse.”

“What does cultural competency mean? … How transparent are you going to be? … Can an officer fail?”

A young Black woman reported that she’s frightened for her 20-year-old brother and drives him everywhere. She was pulled over and falsely accused of not stopping at a turn. She talked back and the officer said, “Why would you give me attitude?” Then, she said, she really had attitude. “I’m afraid for my brother, but I’m not afraid…. Know the law, know your rights. Tell your kids. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, if you’ve done nothing wrong. You can be angry, mad, sad, hurt, anything you want to be.”

“[Police] just follow orders, they’re not critical thinkers. We need to be critical thinkers…. If we were more involved, they wouldn’t get away with this.”

A woman reported that her 18-year-old nephew, who is Black, was falsely accused by a high-ranking officer of taking something from a white girl’s party. She accompanied him to the police station to work it out, but said they were treated with hostility and disrespect. “We’ve been here since Emmett Till. We are still in the same place. How do we figure out which one of these police is rogue? … Police always deal in a hostile manner with the Black community…. Police officers are being dismissed, and they should be held accountable.”

“I am sick of being treated like any other criminal because of the color of my skin.”

“That was no mistake when a man was shot on the ground. That was racism…. There are things that go on in police departments that you should not allow.”

A 23-year-old Black man, a husband and father, said he has had many encounters with police and never once had a good experience. He reported that he has been tricked on numerous occasions by police to put himself in danger. For example, an officer once asked him, “What time is it?” and when he reached in his pocket the officer reached for his gun. “I don’t trust y’all, at all—not the politicians or the police officers…. I know you get paid enough.”

“Black people are traumatized. We know when we wake up that we’re not white. Do you wake up and think ‘I’m white’? No…. You have to get uncomfortable because we’re uncomfortable every day…. You have to give up some of what you haven’t earned.”

Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder and Vietnam vet, reported that he was assaulted by white kids dressed in “red face” who threw a full beer can at him. The police wouldn’t do anything. Later three white kids falsely reported to the police that Nathan had stolen a lawnmower and he was arrested and his lawnmower confiscated. Now the prosecutor wants him to plead guilty, including to assaulting an officer, which he would never do. “The last time I came to a meeting, the Chief [DeGiusti] said, ‘We’ll come like the cavalry.’ I don’t want to be nobody’s enemy.”

At Heritage Fest, a white woman saw two officers push about 50 Black kids out of the protected pedestrian area into a high-traffic area at curfew. About 10 white kids remained and weren’t touched. “I didn’t know who to call.”

A mother’s 13-year-old son was waiting at the school bus stop, as usual, when a cop car pulled up, claiming a neighbor said he looked suspicious. The cops put him in the car, did not call his home, took him to school, and did not tell the administration. Her son texted, “I’m okay, police are taking me to school” and “I didn’t reach for anything.” “Now I have to tell him, it’s not about reaching for anything anymore.” The school counselor called her to say he wasn’t doing well, that he was terrified. “Where was your community building when you had the opportunity? These are people and they have families just like you.”

A white woman asked, “What can the white community do?” An audience member yelled, “Stop calling the cops on us!”

“I’m so tired of hearing people say the cops aren’t all bad. It’s Black men that are getting killed…. We’re not paying you to kill our sons and our daughters…. My mother wouldn’t even come to this meeting because she said she is exhausted from having to say the same thing over and over…. We are demanding change. We are demanding respect.”

“How can you build trust when you can lie to people? … Who do we allow to be officers?”

“I think what brings most of us here tonight is the fear that there’s no accountability.”

“The system is not broken. It’s working the way it was designed.”

Sue Melke, a former HRC member: “When you started the task force, I sent you email and video of people being intimidated [by police]. Not one of you said you watched it.” Sue reported that the task force rejected her suggestions for publicizing the meetings: “It’s like you didn’t want the community involved.”

“Treat us like we’re real people.”

Remarks to the City of Ypsilanti Police-Community Relations/Black Lives Matter Task Force

Rebecca A

Our value is not tied to our productivity, capitalism taught you that. It don’t matter if you have a criminal record, I can’t stand my dad, but that nigga deserve to live, with his real ass record.

Many Black folks are robbed of the opportunity to be “productive” citizens to society.

Many charges are trumped up for minor offenses, we became the incarceration Capitol of the world by being very active and intentional.

We live with the most racist education system, it is literally our most racist institution, feeding the school to prison pipeline with strong intention.

We live in areas where segregation is the norm, resources are gutted where we live, where our black bodies occupy space. How you think Ann Arbor been getting richer, while gutting Ypsi? Gentrification is real.

Black lives matter is a resounding call against the fabric of this nation, this nation thrives because black lives do NOT matter to these people and institutions. Remember that institutions are run by PEOPLE so the same people that we’re being told to feel like are human as blue lives matter, don’t see my Black ass as human enough to be cared for, to be given safety nets so we can eat, having drugs funneled into our communities by rich folks, I know poor folk ain’t got planes to be getting this shit here? I want to know how.

As a Survivor of multiple traumas, I know how hard it is to push through this pain daily. We are born into this nation knowing it does not want us to breathe. Period.

My black soul matters, so does my husband’s, my future kids, my tribe of nieces and nephews, my siblings as crazy as they can be. I’m done begging for my humanity to be seen. This country ain’t never loved me enough to put in that much damn effort.

5 Simple Steps to Becoming an Anti-Racist White Man

1. Help your white peers, children, and colleagues to recognize their own complicity in the system that continues to condemn Black and Brown people to premature death. If you think you yourself aren’t a beneficiary of this same system, then ground yourself first in an understanding of the concept of self-delusion.

2. If you ever witness a Black or Brown person being detained by cops, take out your phone and film the entire interaction. If you ever witness a Black or Brown person being harassed, assaulted, or otherwise transgressed by a cop or vigilante, put your body between the aggressor and the person of color.

3. If you’ve got a savings account or surplus assets of any sort, share this wealth with a friend of color who is struggling financially; furthermore, let them know they may feel welcome to request this sort of sharing/reparations at any time in the future. If you don’t believe your own financial comfort is made possible in part by the poverty of others, then you’re actively complicit in the system of white supremacy. (Do not give your surplus money to churches or non-profits; give directly to folks you know.)

4. Stop writing essays and Facebook posts decrying racism; the only thing these effect, albeit triflingly, is guilt about your own passivity. Instead, do something practical, in your own town—for example, take a piece of cardboard and a sharpie, write THIS WHITE MAN IS PRO-BLACK, and stand on a street corner for an hour. Better yet, see number 3 above.

5. Recognize that white supremacy is rooted in patriarchy. Work to undermine both in your own home—cook, clean, and care for others on a daily basis.