Justice for Ciaeem, Justice for Youth of Color
[Editor’s note: the following was written by Justice Looks Like …]
Video of a 16-year-old, black Ann Arbor resident named Ciaeem Slaton being violently handcuffed by an Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) officer has been circulating on social media since September 27, 2017. According to the police department, a fight among 15–20 youth had taken place prior to the video, but witnesses have shared that Ciaeem was not at the bus stop until after the fight dispersed. Police officers told youth to leave the bus stop, while many youth were shouting “Fuck the police” and “Fuck cops.” Community members also shared that everything recorded in the video happened because Ciaeem did not have I.D. and walked away from the police when asked for it.
Following the video footage, Ciaeem and at least one other young person were issued a “trespass,” which means they cannot ride the AATA bus for one year. According to a statement by the Neutral Zone many youth of color have been given a “trespass” at the transit center and elsewhere in Washtenaw County.
What becomes evident after speaking to youth of color who use the transit center to catch the bus, is that events like these impact youth of color in Ann Arbor as a matter of routine.
According to a community member, Marrow’s justification for putting his hands on a 16-year-old was that Ciaeem was “passively resisting arrest,” yet witnesses state that Ciaeem had done nothing to be arrested for in the first place.
According to all of the witnesses and video evidence, the only threat of harm that occurred was was when Marrow physically escalated the situation to the point of bruising Ciaeem’s body.
What this amounts to is that the Ann Arbor Police Department and Blake Transit Center have been given the authority to profile black and brown youth by being stationed at the bus station, to lay their hands on those youth and bruise their bodies, to detain them without a parent present, and to use individual discretion to issue life-altering consequences without having to have a shred of evidence that the youth caused harm. Their reasoning for this is that youth and other community members sometimes fight at the bus stop.
In the 1990’s, politicians and academics popularized the myth of the “super-predator.” This image of young “criminals” as animals-who-eat-other-animals was heavily racialized toward black youth and focused on poor youth in urban areas. As all evidence showed that increased policing and incarceration did not reduce crime, and that youth of color were not more likely to commit violent crime, the super-predator myth was still used to persuade fearful people to support “tough on crime” policies, many of which are still policies today (1, 2). In Ann Arbor in 2017, Black youth are heavily policed for simply existing in public space. While Ann Arbor does not keep records of the racial identities of the people they police on a daily basis and records about police encounters are notoriously difficult to obtain, speaking to black youth tells a powerful story of profiling, harassment, and harsh consequences for normal teenage behavior.
For folks questioning the seriousness of Officer Marrow’s actions, we must remember that an action being routine or policy, does not make it less violent. Indeed, we cannot disagree that Marrow was probably following a policy, and indeed what he did was probably very routine. Instead, we assert that being grabbed, pushed against a wall, flipped to the floor, having one’s neck and back pinned down by a grown man’s knees, being put in handcuffs, having one’s face smashed to the floor, having a taser drawn, and losing the right to ride a public bus should not be routine for youth in Ann Arbor.
We must remember that Jonathan Salcido lost his life because he was violently pinned to the ground by police officers, that Eric Garner lost his life because of officers’ physical restraint tactics, that Oscar Grant lost his life because an officer discharged his firearm instead of a taser, that Freddie Gray lost his life because an officer chose not to put him in a seatbelt and several officers allowed his back to break in the back of a van, that Tamir Rice lost his life for playing with a toy gun in public space. In Ann Arbor, Aura Rosser was shot while in crisis, because one officer chose a lethal weapon while the other chose a taser. In Ypsilanti, David Ware was shot in the back while unarmed and running away. The examples of police using excessive force in situations where there is no imminent danger and causing irreparable harm as a result are countless. Marrow’s actions were beyond excessive force for teenagers simply behaving as teenagers do. It is not individual officers alone who wage violence on black bodies, but it is a structure of laws, policies, and standards of conduct which transcend individual incidents; our society is systematically violating, arresting, imprisoning, and killing poor people and people of color.
Thankfully, Ciaeem is here and free today. But the harm youth of color are experiencing is still physical, and it is psychological, social, and financial. The harm Ciaeem and his peers could suffer should torment this community. To be treated as a criminal for being black at the bus stop sends a message to black youth about their worth in the eyes of our society. To be pinned to the ground and handcuffed is degrading and embarrassing. To be restricted from using the public bus puts youth in an ever more precarious social position of having to fight to get to school, to get to supportive communities, and to build healthy, happy social relationships. For people’s response to this abuse to largely be, “Well, what did he do to deserve it?” sends a message that condones the violence that happens to youth of color in Ann Arbor.
That Ciaeem’s situation is not extraordinary only demands that we do that much more to change the way that policing, safety, and justice are performed here. In the United States, youth of color are arrested, sentenced, and jailed at higher rates than white youth, and according to research, this disparity cannot be explained by youth of color committing more crimes. Rather, that youth of color and the places in which they spend their time are more heavily policed than those of white youth (3, 4). Ann Arbor, no matter its “progressive” image, is no better or different.
So, we can end the conversation with, “this is what officers are trained to do,” or we can have a conversation about what we think safety and justice actually look like.
Safety looks like adults not putting bruises on the bodies of teenagers.
Safety looks like no family having unmet material needs (housing, food, water, transportation, education).
Safety looks like helping youth address conflict in constructive, healthy ways, where and when conflict arises.
Justice looks like transformation of the public safety system so that it does not profile black and brown community members, does not use force on youth, does not arrest or incarcerate youth, and does not have any police presence on school property.
Justice looks like taking resources away from policing, courts, and jails, and investing those resources into low-income families and communities for things like transformative justice programs, better public transportation, more arts and activity programs empowering youth, more community health services, and better programming within public education.
If community members have concerns about safety in public space, police are not bringing that safety. Instead, they are bringing violence and lasting harm to youth of color. We encourage all members of the Ann Arbor community to join in conversation about how we can create safety without policing youth and setting them on a path to be incarcerated, and that begins by acknowledging harm.
#Justice4CiaeemSlaton, now. Justice for youth of color.
- Krisberg, Barry, Juvenile Justice: Redeeming Our Children.
- Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
- Krisberg, Barry. Juvenile Justice: Redeeming Our Children. Pp. 85–87.
- MCCD Youth Behind Bars Full Report, URL: scribd.com/document/228983678/MCCD-Youth-Behind-Bars-Full-Report