116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A year ago today, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, an act so heinous it launched protests reaching all seven continents.
In April, a jury convicted the white former officer of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s May 25, 2020, killing. The Black man died when Chauvin pressed his knees on Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes while he was handcuffed, face down, on a Minneapolis street. Chauvin, who is in solitary at a Minnesota prison, is set to be sentenced June 25.
Over the last year, Americans have wrestled with that crime, local calls for social justice over the summer and our nation’s — and state’s — own complicated history.
The Gazette asked several people throughout the region: “In the year since the death of George Floyd, what has changed in your community?” Here, in their words, are their answers:
Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission
One beautiful thing that has happened is community solidarity. For some time now, the local Casey’s General Store in my neighborhood, the South District, has had an armed guard, but only recently has anything really been done about it because now people are paying attention to these issues. Getting them to remove the guard was entirely a grassroots effort from the community, since local officials have done nothing to intervene. And this isn’t an isolated case. It reflects how over-policed our communities are to this day, even with all that has transpired since Floyd’s murder.
Lia Xiao Scharnau
Linn-Mar High School junior, member of Linn-Mar Social Justice Club
My community has come together to advocate for change. I’ve seen an increase of allies working to educate themselves on white privilege, biases, and Black history. I’ve seen the BIPOC communities unite to support the Black community. It’s amazing to see the overwhelming support, and I think it has started conversations about prejudice toward other BIPOC communities as well.
I’ve also seen people become more hostile toward those pushing for change. They have become more willing to be blatantly racist, but we do not let that stop us. I am proud of the movement that has continued to spark conversations and change.
Mayor of Iowa City
For many years, social justice and racial equity has been a strategic goal in our community, but in the year since the murder of George Floyd, our reckoning with systemic racism has brought about more honest but healing conversations and more restorative and meaningful actions.
There is still work to do, but I am proud that over these past 12 months our community has been a leading voice in championing positive change. We have recommitted to elevating Black voices and sharing Black stories. We have sprinted and we have stumbled. But we keep pushing forward our message: “Black Lives Matter.”
Sheriff of Johnson County
The community is more engaged than ever with local law enforcement. This new level of engagement has compelled us to be introspective and encouraged us to examine the cultures within our agencies. As we began to look at ways to improve and listened to the calls from the community, we quickly realized we were doing many of these things already. Johnson County is fortunate to have a professional law enforcement community dedicated to public safety and open communication with the people we serve.
Co-founder, Marion Alliance for Racial Equity
The stakes seem even higher now. Socially, to support Black lives means that people will automatically assume that you are against police and to support police lives, people automatically assume that you are against Black lives. It’s a frustrating place to be in. I do believe that with consistency in advocating, Marion will become a more progressive community where we can come together instead of it always appearing to be “two sides.”
There is this pressure to pick which side you support. I wish that instead people would be on the side of anti-racism and just leave it at that. When we become anti-racist, we make a decision to constantly evaluate ourselves and advocate for change to remove barriers caused by racism. I may not be able to change the hearts or minds of someone who is racist but I can choose to take a stand against racism that poisons our community. I wish that Marion was filled with more allies, willing to speak out against racism. Although I am thankful for the ones that continue to show up for my family.
Anne Harris Carter
When I heard about George Floyd’s murder, I was already raw from the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. My son was 23 and living in a community where, in 2018, the KKK was planning a rally. “Mom, I go running around here,” he said. It does not matter that neither incident happened in Cedar Rapids; with every police interaction gone wrong, the feelings of disbelief and angst resurface.
In 20 years working in corporate diversity and inclusion strategy, I have seen companies go from asking for diversity training, to implicit bias training, to anti-racism training. Now, the general public is calling for action as well. The dialogue is uncomfortable and progress is complicated, yet I remain hopeful that meaningful change is in reach.
Chief of Cedar Rapids police
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought police reform issues to the forefront of public attention in the past year. The Cedar Rapids Police Department welcomed the dialogue and community participation.
As an accredited agency, the Police Department conducted a comprehensive review of policies and procedures to ensure adherence to best practices even before nationwide attention to police reform issues. With community input and building upon strong relationships established with individuals and organizations, our department is well positioned to foster further communication and trust to make it unequivocally clear that our officers are dedicated to equitably and fairly upholding laws as well as preserving peace in our neighborhoods.
Co-founder, Advocates for Social Justice
It is strange to think that an event as horrific as the murder of George Floyd could bring with it so many powerful changes to communities across the nation, including our own. Though the fight for racial and social justice has never really ceased, George Floyd reignited the movement and brought new voices into the fight for equality.
How bizarre it is to me that such pain could bring with it the sobering reminder that we are all that we have. And we must ask ourselves daily, "How can I honor those who have been taken unjustly from this world," and then do the work to make it so.
Mayor of Marion
The killing of George Floyd was a call to action for all well-meaning people to unite around the ideals of fairness, freedom from fear, equality and justice. Marion’s Civil Rights Commission now has a sharper focus on its critical role in leading community conversations, education and programs to celebrate diversity and promote a more welcoming and inclusive community.
Marion’s Police Department has implemented a program, begun prior to George Floyd’s death, to engage a mental health liaison. In addition, Marion’s City Council appointed a Community Equity and Inclusion Task Force comprised of 13 members who are charged with helping the city identify areas in which we can improve and recommending policies and procedures to ensure fair treatment of all people. We are, more than ever, determined to build a community where all people are valued and have the same opportunities to achieve their goals and enjoy a great quality of life.
Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Coe College Student Senate
In the year since the murder of George Floyd, there has been an increased awareness of the issue of police brutality. While this in itself is good, there have been too many cases of performative activism. There is empirical evidence that shows that systemic racism exists in Iowa policing (yes, in Cedar Rapids as well). The latest legislative session has demonstrated that no matter the data, no matter the pleas for life, no matter the videos of Black people murdered by police, most of our legislators do not care enough about Black lives.
Kennedy High School junior, member of the Black Student Union
The devastating events of George Floyd’s death brought me into a leadership position with the (Black Student Union) because we’re working to make changes, so we can make sure things like that don’t happen in Iowa or anywhere else. We’re working on removing (school resource officers), and that’s the role I’m taking on within the next year.
I believe (school resource officers) shouldn’t be in our school buildings because it’s causing harm to many students’ mental well-being or contributing to the school -to-prison pipeline. We need other resources in our building like mental health professionals.
Member, Cedar Rapids City Council
We have made progress in Cedar Rapids, but it is frustrating to read the national headlines each day and see continued acts of brutality occur across our country. This pains us all including our local officers. Sometimes it feels like you make one step forward but end up taking two steps back, so you keep pushing forward because it is the right thing to do.
You build on the positive framework that is in place, you ask tough questions about ways to continually improve your procedures and make them better. Internally there has been a paradigm shift going on within policing and our own department is no different. Advances in mental health and crisis intervention training for officers, de-escalation techniques, improved transparency, duty by officers to intervene when they observe excessive force and new strategies to decrease gun violence have now been firmly incorporated into daily departmental operations and both leadership and front-line officers are embracing this change.
It is continuous work, but everyone understands that these changes help foster trust and build positive relationships in the community, thereby keeping everyone safe. While there is still much work to do, this is policing today in 2021, much of it the result of George Floyd.
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