Ryan Henyard spoke with The 'Gander about the motivations behind his online police brutality teach-out available through the University of Michigan.
Ryan Henyard spoke with The 'Gander about the motivations behind his online police brutality teach-out available through the University of Michigan.

We caught up with course creator Ryan Henyard for a look at the crucial conversations reshaping the nation right now.

ANN ARBOR, MI — Do you know the laws and policies governing peaceful protests, traffic stops, or searches of your personal property in Michigan? The brainchild of Ryan Henyard, a free online course at the University of Michigan aims to make participants aware of laws and policies that prevent accountability, now through July 31.

“I realized that I would love to see something teaching everyone all the things I’ve learned about,” Henyard said, being careful to acknowledge the emotional labor Black people experience when having these conversations in their own communities.

The conversations around the subjects of policing and police brutality extend into the hundreds of comments between virtual classmates. The University’s Center for Academic Innovation hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday, a recording of which will be added to the online course curriculum.

Class participants and the general public came together to discuss U-M’s online course and its effect on their lives and communities. Teach-out facilitators R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Lisa Jackson, Barbara McQuade, and Angela Dillard joined Henyard on the Zoom call that allowed the public to listen in on an in-depth conversation on the history and effects of police brutality. 

“Sourcing is what I do,” Henyard told The ’Gander when asked how he pulled together such a diverse and knowledgeable group of experts for the course.

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Protest discussions dominated the hour-long conversation as much as they dominate the 24-hour news cycle.

“Police brutality and protests have [historically] always been intertwined,” Dillard said, pointing out that one usually leads to the other but with the ambiguity of the proverbial chicken and egg scenario.

“The difference between safety and your right to do something are two very different things,” Jackson said as she explained that one’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest could still be met with violent force from law enforcement, like we’ve witnessed over recent days in Portland, Oregon.

Nightly demonstrations have continued in Oregon’s largest city for two months since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in May. President Trump said he sent federal agents to Portland to halt the unrest, but state and local officials say the agents are making the situation worse.

McQuade said it’s important for communities to strike the right balance between enabling police officers to do their work and ensuring every American’s Constitutional rights are protected. 

Most of the 200-plus participants requested clarification on defunding the police, according to Henyard. People wanted more information on what the concept means, and why it’s important to achieve racial equality and equity.

“These policing budgets have increased, and they’re doing jobs that don’t fit their function and their form,” Lewis-McCoy said. “You must divest from the police and invest in other community solutions that can create real change.”

SEE MORE: Decreased Militarization, Decreased Violence: What Defunding the Police Would Mean for Michigan

Brutality Across America

Portland, Oregon began making national headlines when thousands of its citizens, 77% of whom are white, protested police brutality and racism in late May. Without attempting to become a case study in civil disobedience and police brutality, the protesters there have shown the country the extent of potential law enforcement corruption.

Though federal troops themselves may not be corrupt, McQuade said the misuse of their skills is.

“As someone who has worked closely with law enforcement, I’m disappointed to see [federal troops] used in this way,” she said of those sent to Portland by the president. “A way that would be very damaging in their long-term effectiveness.”

When U.S. troops dressed in full combat gear fire “less-than-lethal” rounds and teargas into crowds of citizens, it can erode the idea that those same troops are also meant to protect U.S. citizens, according to McQuade.

Dillard said any solutions to problems within policing must come from a shared mindset among those who seek change.

“When we call for law and order we aim too low,” she said. “We need to aim higher for a system that protects dignity, safety, and people.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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