116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission voted last week to suspend the title of chair from Amel Ali after she used a racial insult against Black leaders in the community and made other disparaging comments on a local podcast.
The commission voted 7-0 last Thursday, with vice chair Chastity Dillard abstaining. Ali was not at the commission’s meeting last week and told Dillard she needed space to process.
While her leadership title was suspended, Ali remains on the commission. The decision of whether to remove her from the TRC will be before the Iowa City Council again later this month. The commission does not have authority to remove or appoint a member.
A different commissioner, Daphney Daniel, announced her resignation last week, citing personal and health reasons.
Calls for Ali’s removal became public early last week when Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter said she learned of Ali’s comments on the podcast “Rock Hard Caucus” through an anonymous letter and audio recording she received in the mail. Porter is one of the people Ali spoke about in the podcast episodes.
Porter and her group, the Black Voices Project, urged the Iowa City Council to remove Ali from the commission. Mayor Bruce Teague called a special meeting after Ali indicated she would not resign.
After a lengthy discussion at the special Thursday meeting about Ali’s leadership and the future of the commission, the council voted 6-1 to table the decision until council’s next meeting on Aug. 16. Teague was the dissenting vote. When the council met last Thursday morning, the commission had not yet discussed Ali’s comments.
Some people have spoken in support of Ali, who apologized for the comments. They called the release of the podcast recordings a targeted attack meant to undermine the work of the commission.
The June 9 and June 16 podcast episodes of “Rock Hard Caucus,” on which Ali was a guest, are no longer posted online. The podcast’s co-founders said the episodes were originally published behind a paywall.
There has been tension between current and former commissioners since the commission was formed in 2020. But at the commission’s meeting last week there appeared to be interest in putting those tensions aside and moving forward.
Porter, a former member of the commission, said she was hurt by Ali’s comments about her, her daughter and the Black Voices Project. But, she told the commission, “the fight ends today.” She wants to put the past aside and find a way for the TRC and Black Voices project to work together.
“Am I hurt? Yes, I’m hurt, but I can move forward,” Porter said. “… I’m just asking you, in order for us to move forward, to do the right thing.”
Commissioners discussed the hurt Ali’s comments have caused members of the community. They said moving forward should include restorative justice, but that doesn’t rule out removing Ali as chair.
“The focus of restorative is the hurt,” Commissioner Kevo Rivera said. “We have people in our community who have been seriously hurt.”
Keeping Ali in the leadership role will not allow for healing, but there should be a pathway for reinstatement, Rivera added.
Some commissioners, including Dillard, raised concerns that the commission has not heard the full episodes.
“We don’t have to move in haste,” Dillard said. “We should make sure that this decision is made in the best way.”
Commissioner Clifton Johnson said the clips of audio that commissioners have heard could jeopardize the commission’s work.
Commissioner Eric Harris said the TRC is at a “critical moment” and making progress. He said his trust for Ali is gone.
The commission has been working for months to hire a facilitator to help carry out its mission and is reworking its facilitator proposal.
Daniel announced her resignation at the end of Thursday’s meeting.
“This week has been very trying for me,” Daniel said, adding she is stepping down for health and personal reasons.
There was an altercation between Daniel, Porter and others last week outside of council chambers during Tuesday’s meeting. Both Daniel and Porter apologized to one another and accepted each other’s apologies. Daniel said it is “water under the bridge.”
Daniel said she hopes an older member of the community will take her place on the commission. The city council will be responsible for choosing who will fill the vacancy from submitted applications.
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