Letter to Chief Neumann

Dear Chief Robert Neumann,

I had the good fortune of being seated next to you at the workshop Derrick Jackson convened on April 25, to bring Washtenaw County cops into dialogue—though in hindsight, proximity is probably a more apt word—with civilians. I appreciated that unlike most of the law enforcement participants, who came in uniform and with weapons, you were in street clothes; you also were a generous rather than aggressive interlocutor.

I was disturbed today to learn that one of your officers, in a University of Michigan Police Canine Unit vehicle, pulled up to a bus stop in Ypsilanti Township, where one of my fellow organizers—a black man—was sitting, waiting for a bus. By his own account:

“I was the only patron waiting at the bus stop … The cop stopped his vehicle in front of me, rolled down the rear passenger window, and commanded the dog to bark. The dog sat up and began barking loudly and excessively … I thought that the rear passenger door was going to open up, and for a split second I almost believed that I had done something wrong, and was going to be attacked by the dog … Then the cop drove off. The dog could be heard barking until the vehicle was a couple streets away.”

Some of the most iconic images of American protest depict German shepherds lunging for the flesh of African American demonstrators. These images very succinctly illustrate the aim of White Supremacy, which is the violent enforcement of control over communities of color.

Will you allow one of your officers to threaten and intimidate a citizen who is simply waiting for the bus? It is difficult not to read this officer’s allusion to the police brutality of the 1960s as retribution for this young man’s leadership role in the local Black Lives Matter movement.

One problem with police intimidation, among many others, is that rather than merely attempt to persuade engaged civilians to shut the hell up, it can also traumatize them. Until I hear otherwise, Chief Neumann, I must assume this is in fact the motive for your officer’s actions.

Jeff Clark


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