EAST LANSING, Mich.—Community was the theme of the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission on Mar. 29. The commission invited local and national experts to discuss the use of force by police. The hearing was called after a petition was raised by the people of East Lansing following the shooting of DeAnthony VanAtten in April of last year.
Speaking at the hearing were experts like Angie Weis Gammell, policy director for the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law School. Gammell had much to say about the use of force, mainly that officers should use restraint whenever possible and that the goals of force should only be positive.
“Force must make society more safe, not less,” she said.
Trevor Bechtel from the University of Michigan was also present, whose report listed several reform proposals to reduce the use of force by police officers. During the meeting he spoke about the findings of his report outlined some of his team’s reform proposals such as de-escalation training and a ban on no-knock warrants.
Also leading the discussion was Sean Holland, pastor and co-leader of Black Lives Matter Lansing.
“My statements are based in love” he said in his opening statement. Holland spoke on many issues relating to police throughout the meeting, including qualified immunity and community policing and safety. Holland was also concerned with addressing the grievances of the Black community.
“Our people have a long history of state-sanctioned violence and murder,” he said.
In contrast to other evidence and statistics-based reform proposals, Holland emphasized the human dignity aspect of the issue. His comments audibly connected with the audience, eliciting quiet sounds of approval from all over the room. He was also not afraid to directly challenge the institution of policing itself.
“Who are you protecting and who are you serving?” he asked the commission.
East Lansing Police Capt. Chad Pride was present at the meeting but declined to add any comment throughout its duration.
Members of Michigan State University discussed the idea of community as well.
“Real change begins when we come together and listen to voices of the current and the voices of those who are no longer with us,” said Mary Ann Ferguson, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Equity at MSU’s College of Law
Ferguson agreed with the points brought up by the other panelists. She stressed the importance of acting as a community in the face of these issues.
Holland also supported the role of community as a possible solution to over-policing.
“It has to be a community safety issue instead of policing,” he said.
Community seems to be a very apt theme for this meeting. In April of 2022, DeAnthony VanAtten was shot by an East Lansing police officer in the parking lot of Meijer on Lake Lansing Road after 911 calls came in that he was carrying a gun. VanAtten was subsequently charged with multiple felonies as a result of the event. Now, almost one year later, the East Lansing community is still trying to reconcile with the shooting.
The Independent Police Oversight Commission will continue with its regularly scheduled meetings next Wednesday, Apr. 5 at the Hannah Community Center.