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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Saying he doesn’t want “people to fear us,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman told Iowa BIG students in a podcast released this week that police need to work harder to build trust in their communities.
The “Power in Peace” podcast, which featured Jerman in its first episode, is an opportunity for students in the project-based Iowa BIG program to dive into social justice issues in the community and have difficult conversations with community leaders.
Alexus Gause, 17, a senior at Prairie High School, is one of the project leaders. She said her intention in interviewing the police chief was to discuss “serious issues.” She thinks he appreciated the chance to have “open conversation” and build trust and a relationship with the students.
Alexus said social media can be “deceiving” and reveals “a world of hate and racism.”
“You’re not able to form your own opinions,” she said. “I think social media only shows one side of the story. What I specifically want is for younger generations to know they always have a voice and can change what they feel is not right.”
Tatyana Guy, 17, a senior at Prairie High and also a part of the “Power in Peace” podcast, said the racial unrest of this past year has “really hurt my heart.”
"As a person of color, I felt like this past year has been rough, and I wanted to do something to be a part of bringing awareness (to inequality) and educate myself,“ Tatyana said.
Tatyana said she didn’t start thinking about herself as a person of color until after she visited the African American Museum of Iowa in grade school. In school, she felt Black history outside of slavery and segregation wasn’t taught.
“I didn’t learn the good things,” Tatyana said. “I just hope people listen and get something out of it. I’ve learned so much.”
Black Americans are more likely to get fatally shot, to get pulled over by police, to be arrested for drug abuse and imprisoned, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
It is “alarming,” Jerman said in the podcast, adding that he believes the best way to change these statistics is by building better relationships between police officers and the community they serve.
“I know there’s a level of distrust — especially people of color — toward police, and we need to reduce that,” he said. “I think you do that by cultivating relationships and engaging in implicit bias and cultural diversity training.”
Jerman said when he first saw video footage of the death of George Floyd in May 2020, he was “sickened.”
Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty in April. Floyd died after Chauvin pinned him to the pavement with a knee on his neck.
“What happened to George Floyd shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Jerman said.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department does not train officers in knee and neck maneuvers, and the maneuvers are banned by the department. The department last summer also added a “duty to intervene policy,” which requires officers to intervene to prevent or discontinue use of force by other officers that is clearly beyond reasonable.
“I don’t want people to fear us,” Jerman said. “We need to work that much harder to eliminate that fear of the police.”
Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, consulted with students on the podcast.
“I think one of the most important things we as adults and as a community can do is listen to our youth,” Munsterman-Scriven said. “They had the insight, wisdom and courage to share truth.” Munsterman-Scriven encouraged the students to ask open-ended questions that don’t sound like a challenge to they people they interview.
Students, who are the future of their communities, should be active participants now and their voices should be amplified, Munsterman-Scriven said.
“We need to make sure youth in our community know they can initiate ideas, voice their concerns and perspectives, and engage with adults,” she said. “This podcast is one pathway to that where students have a platform and are discussing issues that impact them in the community.”
Other episodes the students hope to produce tackle topics that impact the LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — community; navigating interracial relationships; and how to protest.
Alexus hopes to continue the podcast after she graduates this spring from Prairie. She has plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa this fall and double major in business administration and organizational leadership with a minor in criminal justice.
To listen to the full podcast, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6g5_RHVfVs.
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