Will Shakespeare

Groundcover vendor No. 258

“We need to commemorate her artistry, her poetry, her motherhood, her being in this world. She had friends and family, she had spirit. She loved. She stood up for herself. She did not need to die. We demand justice for Aura Rosser.”

 — Radical Washtenaw Magazine, 2015

The story of Aura Rosser has the making of a Shakespearian tragedy. Many people are familiar with the tragedies of Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and of course, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. In our time, the tragedy of Aura Rosser reflects who we are as a society in which the dreams of our founding fathers, our ancestors, and our civil rights leaders are seemingly elusive and far-fetched. 

Justice delayed is justice denied! Writer and poet Langston Hughes asked some pointed questions in his poem, “Harlem.” He wrote, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Does it fester like sore — and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” 

University of Michigan students and other members of the Ann Arbor area community marched and protested on January 31, 2015, one day after the Washtenaw County Prosecutor said that the police killing of Aura Rosser was lawful self-defense and that his office would not pursue a murder charge. The disappointment and uproar could be heard beyond Ann Arbor. It became headline news in national newspapers and social media. Protesting students and city residents carried large posters that said “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “THIS IS A MOVEMENT, LET’S NOT MAKE IT A MOMENT,” and “WE WILL NEVER FORGET AURA ROSSER.” The Protesters also carried large-sized photos of Aura Rosser as they marched.

Aura Rosser’s journey started in Lansing, Michigan, where she was born 40 years before her death. Her family moved to Detroit, and she attended Cass Tech High School and graduated in 1992. Rosser left Detroit for a new beginning in Ann Arbor. Her sister, Shae Wood, said that Aura was “very artistic and deeply into painting with oils and acrylics. She is a culture-type of gal. She was a really sweet girl. Wild. Out-going. Articulate.” 

The pain of her death and the refusal of the County Prosecutor to pursue a murder charge against the police officer involved in the fatal killing took a huge toll on Aura Rosser’s family. Shae Wood offered the following statement on January 31, 2015: “I hope I can get strong enough for her…because I know her person. She would have never attacked Officer Ried. She would have never made him feel that he would have to take her life to defuse the situation. That is just outlandish. It’s totally outlandish.” 

On the sixth anniversary of Aura Rosser’s killing, her mom, Ms. Deborah Carter spoke. Surrounded by family members and Reverend Robert Blake on November 9, 2020, Carter said that her daughter was “an artist and a lovable person.” Carter continued, “Unfortunately, the police chose to shoot her in the heart rather than the foot because she was in a rage, they say, but there was no need to murder my baby.”

According to family members, Aura Rosser did not only relocate to Ann Arbor to seek job and income opportunities but also to live near a community mental health facility. She knew she had mental health challenges, and wanted to get help. She was also homeless when she arrived in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. Her search for housing security led to her connection with Victor Stevens who claimed that they were dating for nine months before the fatal shooting. 

Police Brutality, Mental Health and Domestic Violence:

The report released by Michigan State Police showed that before the fatal incident of November 9, 2014, the Ann Arbor police had been called to two domestic violence or domestic disturbance incidents at the house shared by Aura Rosser and Victor Stevens. Police Officer David Ried responded to one of them, and it was resolved peacefully. However, the subsequent response became tragic. 

Officer Mark Raab who was part of the police response team at 11:45 p.m. (Sunday, November 9, 2014) testified that it took five to 10 seconds for him to fire a taser, and his team member, officer Ried, to fire his loaded gun. Officer Raab also said that they were five to 10 feet away from Aura Rosser who approached them with a knife. 

The officers’ varied actions left more questions than answers. Why did one police officer choose to fire a taser and the other police officer choose to fire a loaded gun when confronted with the same risk? The County Prosecutor said it should not matter in the case of lawful self defense. The protesters disagree. The Michigan ACLU disagreed with some conclusions after reading the Michigan State Police report. Radical Washtenaw Magazine provided a retort to County Prosecutor, Brian Mackie’s report. 

In 2015, local activist and historian, Austin McCoy, said that “the shooting of Aura Rosser confirms how Ann Arbor looks like the rest of America. Appraisals of Rosser’s character in the local media and the prosecutor’s report reads more like the characterization of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown…The crucial difference is that Rosser is Black and female.” 

Writer and social activist Kimberle Crenshaw coined the phrase intersectionality for the racism of being Black and female. According to McCoy, Aura Rosser’s tragedy was documented in a book by attorney Andrea Ritchie, “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.” Her name is also in an article written by historian Robin D. G. Kelley with the title, “Why We Won’t Wait.” 

Sadly, the local media focused on her mental illness, criminal record and the toxicology report which was released as part of the autopsy report. Even the Huffington Post of February 2015 carried a headline that read, “No Charges for Officer Who Killed Mentally Ill Woman Who Confronted Police with a Knife.” Since 2014, America has witnessed multiple episodes of police killings and brutality, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Let’s remember Kimberle Crenshaw’s hashtag #SAYHER NAME! It included Aura Rain Rosser, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor and other Black female victims of police violence and brutality.

Community Policing Reform

After a record number of African Americans were brutalized and/or killed by the police from 2014 to 2020, Congress took up “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” The Act was first proposed by the House of Representatives. It died in the Senate. In April 2021 Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder for the traumatic death of George Floyd. President Joe Biden said that the guilty verdict was a first step and urged the Senators to pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” so he could sign it into law. On February 18, 2021, the House passed the “Federal Police Camera and Accountability Act.” On September 27, 2021, the Los Angeles Times carried a headline that said, “Congress failed with the George Floyd Act, but there’s still hope.” 

At the local level, a few changes have taken place since Aura Rosser’s tragic death. The former Police Chief, John Seto, announced that all Ann Arbor police officers would receive diversity training and autism awareness training. The Mayor announced in 2014 that the city would spend about $174,000 to purchase new wearable police cameras and update existing cameras inside police vehicles. 

Mental illness is at the center of Ann Arbor’s community policing reforms. The city hired more psychologists and social workers to become members of the Crisis Response Team. Many community residents want Ann Arbor to reallocate more police budget towards mental health. The County passed a community mental health millage to fund responding to public safety issues. Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton is one of our national leaders in mental health and community policing reform. A significant number of Ann Arbor area residents and thousands of University of Michigan students still demand justice for Aura Rosser!!!

The police shooting of Aura Rosser did not happen on Mayor Christopher Taylor’s watch. He assumed office on the 10th of November 2014, one day after the tragedy. However, he has received harsh criticism for the way he and the Ann Arbor City Council accepted the County Prosecutor’s decision not to charge the shooting police officer with murder. Many protesters wanted the mayor and the city council to support the movement to bring an independent prosecutor in order to seek justice for Aura Rain Rosser. Since the fatal shooting, some community members and students have grudgingly given the Mayor a few credits for stepping up and making consequential changes, noted in the previous paragraphs. From the beginning of the police shooting and the large crowd protests, the former city councilman Chuck Warpahoski and former long-term chairman of the Ann Arbor Human Right Commission, Dwight Wilson, led with distinction. They helped to organize new community policing training workshops and laid the groundwork for the Independent Police Oversight Review Commission. Such gestures may not be enough. However, there is a saying that “half bread is better than none.” From the perspective of the protesters, a meaningful change will come when the new Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Eli Savit, reopens the investigation into Aura Rosser’s fatal shooting. There is a loud sentiment out there that Rosser’s family is facing delayed justice and that the community needs to experience the sweetness of “a swift justice.” What do they want? They want equal administration of the law and justice. They want respectful community policing. They want better race relations and improved diversity and equity engagement.

Will Shakespeare

Groundcover vendor No. 258

“We need to commemorate her artistry, her poetry, her motherhood, her being in this world. She had friends and family, she had spirit. She loved. She stood up for herself. She did not need to die. We demand justice for Aura Rosser.”

 — Radical Washtenaw Magazine, 2015

The story of Aura Rosser has the making of a Shakespearian tragedy. Many people are familiar with the tragedies of Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and of course, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. In our time, the tragedy of Aura Rosser reflects who we are as a society in which the dreams of our founding fathers, our ancestors, and our civil rights leaders are seemingly elusive and far-fetched. 

Justice delayed is justice denied! Writer and poet Langston Hughes asked some pointed questions in his poem, “Harlem.” He wrote, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Does it fester like sore — and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” 

University of Michigan students and other members of the Ann Arbor area community marched and protested on January 31, 2015, one day after the Washtenaw County Prosecutor said that the police killing of Aura Rosser was lawful self-defense and that his office would not pursue a murder charge. The disappointment and uproar could be heard beyond Ann Arbor. It became headline news in national newspapers and social media. Protesting students and city residents carried large posters that said “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “THIS IS A MOVEMENT, LET’S NOT MAKE IT A MOMENT,” and “WE WILL NEVER FORGET AURA ROSSER.” The Protesters also carried large-sized photos of Aura Rosser as they marched.

Aura Rosser’s journey started in Lansing, Michigan, where she was born 40 years before her death. Her family moved to Detroit, and she attended Cass Tech High School and graduated in 1992. Rosser left Detroit for a new beginning in Ann Arbor. Her sister, Shae Wood, said that Aura was “very artistic and deeply into painting with oils and acrylics. She is a culture-type of gal. She was a really sweet girl. Wild. Out-going. Articulate.” 

The pain of her death and the refusal of the County Prosecutor to pursue a murder charge against the police officer involved in the fatal killing took a huge toll on Aura Rosser’s family. Shae Wood offered the following statement on January 31, 2015: “I hope I can get strong enough for her…because I know her person. She would have never attacked Officer Ried. She would have never made him feel that he would have to take her life to defuse the situation. That is just outlandish. It’s totally outlandish.” 

On the sixth anniversary of Aura Rosser’s killing, her mom, Ms. Deborah Carter spoke. Surrounded by family members and Reverend Robert Blake on November 9, 2020, Carter said that her daughter was “an artist and a lovable person.” Carter continued, “Unfortunately, the police chose to shoot her in the heart rather than the foot because she was in a rage, they say, but there was no need to murder my baby.”

According to family members, Aura Rosser did not only relocate to Ann Arbor to seek job and income opportunities but also to live near a community mental health facility. She knew she had mental health challenges, and wanted to get help. She was also homeless when she arrived in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. Her search for housing security led to her connection with Victor Stevens who claimed that they were dating for nine months before the fatal shooting. 

Police Brutality, Mental Health and Domestic Violence:

The report released by Michigan State Police showed that before the fatal incident of November 9, 2014, the Ann Arbor police had been called to two domestic violence or domestic disturbance incidents at the house shared by Aura Rosser and Victor Stevens. Police Officer David Ried responded to one of them, and it was resolved peacefully. However, the subsequent response became tragic. 

Officer Mark Raab who was part of the police response team at 11:45 p.m. (Sunday, November 9, 2014) testified that it took five to 10 seconds for him to fire a taser, and his team member, officer Ried, to fire his loaded gun. Officer Raab also said that they were five to 10 feet away from Aura Rosser who approached them with a knife. 

The officers’ varied actions left more questions than answers. Why did one police officer choose to fire a taser and the other police officer choose to fire a loaded gun when confronted with the same risk? The County Prosecutor said it should not matter in the case of lawful self defense. The protesters disagree. The Michigan ACLU disagreed with some conclusions after reading the Michigan State Police report. Radical Washtenaw Magazine provided a retort to County Prosecutor, Brian Mackie’s report. 

In 2015, local activist and historian, Austin McCoy, said that “the shooting of Aura Rosser confirms how Ann Arbor looks like the rest of America. Appraisals of Rosser’s character in the local media and the prosecutor’s report reads more like the characterization of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown…The crucial difference is that Rosser is Black and female.” 

Writer and social activist Kimberle Crenshaw coined the phrase intersectionality for the racism of being Black and female. According to McCoy, Aura Rosser’s tragedy was documented in a book by attorney Andrea Ritchie, “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.” Her name is also in an article written by historian Robin D. G. Kelley with the title, “Why We Won’t Wait.” 

Sadly, the local media focused on her mental illness, criminal record and the toxicology report which was released as part of the autopsy report. Even the Huffington Post of February 2015 carried a headline that read, “No Charges for Officer Who Killed Mentally Ill Woman Who Confronted Police with a Knife.” Since 2014, America has witnessed multiple episodes of police killings and brutality, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Let’s remember Kimberle Crenshaw’s hashtag #SAYHER NAME! It included Aura Rain Rosser, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor and other Black female victims of police violence and brutality.

Community Policing Reform

After a record number of African Americans were brutalized and/or killed by the police from 2014 to 2020, Congress took up “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” The Act was first proposed by the House of Representatives. It died in the Senate. In April 2021 Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder for the traumatic death of George Floyd. President Joe Biden said that the guilty verdict was a first step and urged the Senators to pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” so he could sign it into law. On February 18, 2021, the House passed the “Federal Police Camera and Accountability Act.” On September 27, 2021, the Los Angeles Times carried a headline that said, “Congress failed with the George Floyd Act, but there’s still hope.” 

At the local level, a few changes have taken place since Aura Rosser’s tragic death. The former Police Chief, John Seto, announced that all Ann Arbor police officers would receive diversity training and autism awareness training. The Mayor announced in 2014 that the city would spend about $174,000 to purchase new wearable police cameras and update existing cameras inside police vehicles. 

Mental illness is at the center of Ann Arbor’s community policing reforms. The city hired more psychologists and social workers to become members of the Crisis Response Team. Many community residents want Ann Arbor to reallocate more police budget towards mental health. The County passed a community mental health millage to fund responding to public safety issues. Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton is one of our national leaders in mental health and community policing reform. A significant number of Ann Arbor area residents and thousands of University of Michigan students still demand justice for Aura Rosser!!!

The police shooting of Aura Rosser did not happen on Mayor Christopher Taylor’s watch. He assumed office on the 10th of November 2014, one day after the tragedy. However, he has received harsh criticism for the way he and the Ann Arbor City Council accepted the County Prosecutor’s decision not to charge the shooting police officer with murder. Many protesters wanted the mayor and the city council to support the movement to bring an independent prosecutor in order to seek justice for Aura Rain Rosser. Since the fatal shooting, some community members and students have grudgingly given the Mayor a few credits for stepping up and making consequential changes, noted in the previous paragraphs. From the beginning of the police shooting and the large crowd protests, the former city councilman Chuck Warpahoski and former long-term chairman of the Ann Arbor Human Right Commission, Dwight Wilson, led with distinction. They helped to organize new community policing training workshops and laid the groundwork for the Independent Police Oversight Review Commission. Such gestures may not be enough. However, there is a saying that “half bread is better than none.” From the perspective of the protesters, a meaningful change will come when the new Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Eli Savit, reopens the investigation into Aura Rosser’s fatal shooting. There is a loud sentiment out there that Rosser’s family is facing delayed justice and that the community needs to experience the sweetness of “a swift justice.” What do they want? They want equal administration of the law and justice. They want respectful community policing. They want better race relations and improved diversity and equity engagement.

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