Tuesday, June 25, 2024

'Dana Nessel lied to the community': Community leaders speak out against charges filed against DeAnthony VanAtten

September 7, 2022
<p>Lansing resident Karrington Kelsey, 31, speaks during public comment of the East Lansing City Council meeting at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing on Sept. 6, 2022. “I’m not here to yell or scream at you. I’m here to say you need to do better… If you choose to do nothing, you choose the bullets in DeAnthony VanAtten’s body,” Kelsey said. Those who commented on East Lansing policing focused on the shooting of DeAnthony VanAtten in April of this year.</p>

Lansing resident Karrington Kelsey, 31, speaks during public comment of the East Lansing City Council meeting at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing on Sept. 6, 2022. “I’m not here to yell or scream at you. I’m here to say you need to do better… If you choose to do nothing, you choose the bullets in DeAnthony VanAtten’s body,” Kelsey said. Those who commented on East Lansing policing focused on the shooting of DeAnthony VanAtten in April of this year.

A critical mass was held at the East Lansing City Council meeting on Tuesday, with community leaders and members denouncing charges filed against DeAnthony VanAtten, a Black man, who was shot by East Lansing police officers in April.

VanAtten was charged by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office with seven felony counts, including four counts of assault and three weapons charges.

He is also charged with one count of third-degree retail fraud – a misdemeanor.

The two officers involved were not charged following an investigation by the attorney general's Public Integrity Unit.

In a public comment, Kath Edsall, a commissioner on the city's East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission, said she is part of a community that sees itself as progressive, yet often falls short.

“(The attorney general) exonerated the police. She refused to even mention race in her press release. She labeled him an immediate and extreme threat," Edsall said." By her calculation, he deserved more than 25 years in prison, more than life, with multiple felony convictions … so she could justify the shooting because that was her best political calculation.”

Edsall mentioned the East Lansing Police Department’s attempts to discipline an officer for falsifying a police report, and the officer’s success in reversing the department’s decision through arbitration. The officer also received support from their union.

“Police are protected through qualified immunity, which is a huge hurdle for those wronged by the police to attempt to seek relief," Edsall said in their public comment. "Police are protected by laws to tack on punishments if a crime is committed against that officer, versus the same crime committed against a non-police officer."

Further, regarding whether the Oversight Commission has the tools, resources and ability to make a change in East Lansing, Edsall said the commission is still figuring that out.

“This is the first time that we have a number of council people committed to authentic police reform,” she said. "The fact that they seated the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission speaks to that ... But I think this incident has kind of given us a kick in the rear end to try to figure this out.”

Another public commenter, Farhan Sheikh-Omar, addressed ELPD Chief Kim Johnson directly, and said accountability is not part of the department's practices.

Johnson did not publicly comment and remained seated during the meeting.

Sheikh-Omar mentioned the case of Andrew Stephenson, an officer cleared of excessive force by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office in 2020. In two years, he said, Stephenson made up 42% of all public complaints.

"The same thing is happening again," Sheikh-Omar said. "The fact of the matter is that DeAnthony never pointed his gun at your officers. In fact, he got shot ... So at what point did your officers feel felt that their life was threatened?"

The problem in East Lansing, he said, is that accountability is never addressed.

"New mayor, same stuff. More training, same stuff. More funding, same stuff," Sheikh-Omar said. "There needs to be a structural change in this police department."

Karrington Kelsey, a member of Black Lives Matter Lansing, said the shooting of VanAtten and the actions of the department have shown how they value Black lives.

"They value us in ways that dehumanize us," Kelsey said. "Dana Nessel lied to the community. She virtue signaled everywhere, but guess what's still happening? Seven felonies, one misdemeanor and a bullet in this man's body when he was clearly not a threat."

In addition, Kelsey said the ELPD violated Ordinance 1490, which “prohibits calling the police based on racial motives versus criminal conduct."

"One call to criminalize the Black life," he said. "We already know how these systems work when they come in contact with Black lives every day. We have all the statistics, we have all the data, but guess what? We don't have accountability."

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Dana Watson, East Lansing councilmember and Co-Council Liasion to the Oversight Commission, said the purpose of the commission is to increase accountability of the police department and "to strengthen conditions leading to trust in the department by the community that it is pledged to serve."

"Our Police Oversight Commission intentionally represents facets of our community," she said. "They represent different angles. Our oversight's work, in my opinion, did not stop, nor did it start, as it did with the East Lansing Police Department with Attorney Nessel's decisions ... we don't believe that this is going to stop."

East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon, said the council will continue to work with city leaders that are producing models of focused and inclusive living in East Lansing.

"We will not squander this opportunity to come out of this crisis more grounded in our core principles," he said. "The only peace that I get from this is that all these individuals are alive ... there's no individual that can say there wasn't a systems failure that day."

However, Kelsey said he has no hope that the council members will listen to him or other activists.

"If they choose to change systems and change budgets, and until I see those things, there is no work that's happening that it's actually worthwhile," Kelsey said. "They were nice, they were pretty, there were great responses ... How are we going to defund these harmful systems?"

He also said the Oversight Commission isn't working and is a band-aid as usual.

Chuck Grigsby, who led the formation of the Oversight Commission, said the commission has also faced challenges such as delays with information it asked for.

"When I was chairing the commission to create this Oversight Commission, we knew, going in, that they did not have very much power and ways to promote change," Grigsby said. "You need to have information, you need to have data, you need to be able to have the means to be able to have a process, and that process has not been smooth."

Cherry VanAtten, DeAnthony VanAtten's aunt, said when she now sees a police officer, she almost has a panic attack.

"They shot my nephew running away. He wasn't trying to shoot them. He wasn't trying to shoot any of the bystanders," Cherry said. "He was trying to run away and, obviously, when he knew he wasn't going to, he disposed of his gun ... With the hope that he wouldn't get shot. And then they shot him anyway."

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