116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The new chair of Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is facing calls for removal after using a racial insult against other Black leaders in the community and making inappropriate comments on a local podcast.
The Iowa City Council will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in City Hall to discuss removing Amel Ali from the commission. Ali’s comments were brought up during the public comment session at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter learned of Ali’s comments through an anonymous letter she received in the mail. Porter shared a photo of the letter with The Gazette.
The envelope also contained a USB drive that included recordings of the podcast “Rock Hard Caucus.” The June 9 and June 16 podcast episodes, on which Ali was a guest, are no longer posted online.
“She has called out a number of Black Voices Project members and other community leaders by name using the most racist and offensive terms,” Porter said during public comment, reading from a letter that she and other Black Voices Project leaders wrote.
The Iowa City Council created the nine-member commission in 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The commission’s mission is to gather testimony about racial injustices, foster ways for people to share their stories and encourage conversations in the community.
The commission has faced challenges since its creation, including resignations, a four-week pause and calls from Mayor Bruce Teague to “restart” and “re-imagine.”
Porter urged the council to remove Ali from the commission and appoint Chastity Dillard as chair so the panel can move forward. Dillard is currently the vice chair.
Porter, a former member of the commission, said this goes beyond the disagreement between current and former members of the commission.
“She has verbally attacked a whole swath of our local community leaders, a choice wholly inconsistent with the charge of the commission she is supposed to be leading,” Porter said.
During Tuesday’s public comment, Ali apologized for her comments and said they were wrong, ill-considered and hurtful.
“Despite the call by the mayor and others to have me resign, I can't walk away and turn my back on the trust, hope and responsibilities entrusted to all of us on this commission,” Ali said.
She said she believes the recording was released to disrupt the work of the commission. Tensions between current and former commissioners have been high at past council meetings as the commission works to identify a path forward, including hiring a facilitator.
At least four speakers during the meeting’s public comment period voiced support for Ali remaining on the commission. They said it’s a targeted campaign against Ali that’s intended to halt the work of the commission.
“I’ve learned a great deal about myself through this harm I caused and will continue to learn and heal with this community and the mental health professionals that are supporting me,” Ali said.
Ali, who previously served as panel’s vice chair, was unanimously elected as chair last month after Mohamed Traore stepped down from the leadership role. Ali has been on the commission since it formed.
Traore became chairman of the commission in March 2021 after Porter resigned and vice chairwoman T’Shailyn Harrington was voted out as chair following Porter.
The commission has been working for months to hire a facilitator to help carry out its mission and is reworking its facilitator proposal.
The commission is charged with issuing a report to the City Council by June 2023, with recommendations for changes and to advise whether the commission should continue or be disbanded.
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