116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Casey’s General Stores' use of armed security at an Iowa City store serving a relatively large Black population is raising questions about what message that sends and concerns about the safety of patrons.
The issue was raised in a guest column in The Gazette, but also has gained attention on social media and was a topic discussed Thursday night at an Iowa Freedom Riders meeting in a park about a half mile from the store.
The Casey’s at 1904 Broadway St. has been using armed security guards since 2018, a company spokeswoman confirmed to The Gazette, to provide what she called “a safe and enjoyable store experience.”
Out of the 2,200-plus Casey’s stores in 16 states, spokeswoman Katie Petru estimated “a couple dozen” stores have security like at the Broadway Street location.
But some community members question whether having an armed guard provide security there might increase the chances of just the opposite happening.
“What if there was an accident? What if an untrained or racially biased guard shoots someone?” asked Mary Russell, an Iowa City resident, in a guest column in The Gazette. “Even if nothing happens, what if those who patronize the Casey's or see the armed guard have to worry about those possibilities every day?”
Much of the frustration stems from the racial demographics of the neighborhoods where stores have armed guards and where they don’t.
The Broadway Street store is in a census tract that is about 25 percent Black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The downtown Iowa City Casey’s, meanwhile, is in a census tract that is about 4 percent Black.
Members of Iowa Freedom Riders, an Iowa City group advocating for racial equity, went to the downtown and 1410 Willow Creek Ct. locations and said they were told those locations never have armed guards.
“There are Casey’s around everywhere, and we’ve heard from folks over the last week who have said, ’Oh yeah, I go to this Casey’s and never once seen an armed guard,’” said David Drustrup, a 34-year-old Iowa City resident.
A Casey’s spokeswoman did not say whether the downtown and Willow Creek locations have armed security. When The Gazette visited the two stores, none was present.
Petru said the security presence “allows our store team members to focus on serving our guests and managing the store, which is their primary focus.”
Petru told The Gazette the Ankeny-based company added the security to the Broadway Street location after seeing “elevated levels of disruptive activity” in 2018, although she would not provide details of that activity.
"There haven't been any major incidents since then," Petru said.
The Iowa City Police Department said it has seen similar levels of calls between the Broadway Street location and the downtown and 1410 Willow Creek Ct. locations, the two stores where Iowa Freedom Riders members say armed guards are not present.
Between Jan. 1 and May 5, the Willow Creek Court location had 31 calls for service. Broadway Street had 26. The downtown location had 20, police records show.
“Why is this one the one that needs an armed guard?” Drustrup asked about the Broadway Street location.
Petru said the armed security guards have “industry-standard” training along with some Casey’s-specific training such as “ being polite and friendly to guests.” She did not say what weapons the guards carry.
On its Twitter account, Casey’s told the Iowa Freedom Riders on May 3 that “We will share your feedback with leadership.”
Raneem Hamad, a community organizer and Iowa Freedom Riders member, said it’s important to remove the guard “especially if people are actually cognizant of what the Black community has been going through for the past hundreds of years.”
Hamad said members have been using Casey’s contact page on its website to ask management to reconsider the policy. She said another community organizer has been in contact with Casey’s management.
“Black communities always are dealing with the brunt of violence, even when their communities are non-violent,” Hamad said following a People’s Truth and Reckoning Commission meeting Thursday not far from the store.
“We were all here today. I don’t think we saw any violence in this community, and yet there is an armed security guard in their community space.”
Hamad said she realizes that Casey’s is not the only company to have such practices, but that she never has and “never will” shop there. Similarly, Drustrup said he will "absolutely not" shop there.
"People have other options,“ he said.
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