116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Though pleased with — and even surprised by — the across-the-board guilty verdicts Tuesday against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, local activists who have been on the front lines of calling for social justice over the last 11 months say the dire need for their advocacy is as strong now as ever.
Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020, sparked protests around the world — including in overwhelmingly white Eastern Iowa, where residents hungry for racial justice protested and made demands to city and school officials.
Amara Andrews, vice president of the board of the Advocates for Social Justice and a Cedar Rapids mayoral candidate, said she was “so emotional and in tears over a correct verdict” when it came down Tuesday afternoon.
“There was so much doubt,” Andrews said. “It’s the verdict that is right, but we’re so emotional over it because for so long we haven’t seen justice served for people — Black and brown men in particular — who have been killed at the hands of police officers.”
The Advocates for Social Justice worked with Cedar Rapids city officials last year to prompt the city to adopt seven demands for police reform. The work, however, isn’t over only because of the guilty verdict, she said.
The Cedar Rapids City Council adopted an ordinance in February that calls for the creation of a citizens review board of police — one of the demands of the Advocates for Social Justice. The review board now needs members and the power to be taken seriously, Andrews said.
“None of our demands were unreasonable,” said Tamara Marcus, co-founder of the Advocates for Social Justice. “All of them contribute to preventing exactly this.”
Now that a verdict has been reached, she said she finds it “even more difficult.” It’s more important than ever to invest in “meaningful police reform,” she said.
“Investing significantly in training prevents people from being murdered, from going to prison for second-degree manslaughter,” Marcus said. Chauvin faces prison time on the manslaughter conviction.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said the trial was about far more than Chauvin.
“The institution of law enforcement was on trial here and our American life was on trial,” Walker said. “And what was at stake was a question of ’how are we going to treat people of color in this country?’”
For too long, Walker said, the norm has been that police face no consequences after instances of police brutality in which an unarmed Black person is killed.
“It’s my hope that this is a new day — that people of color in this country will be able to find justice when these things happen,” Walker said. “And it is my larger hope that we put an end to police violence altogether one day.”
But it can’t be only people of color bringing these issues to the forefront, he said. Because Iowa is a predominantly white state with mostly white public officials, Walker said those officials “have to be just as energized, just as vocal as the oppressed are.”
Although the adoption of Cedar Rapids’ citizens police review board is a step toward progress, Walker said, broader systemic reform will involve re-imagining education and policing, addressing the root cause of poverty and talking about why low-income and minority populations are too often essentially the same entity. Such questions will take political will, politicians being uncomfortable and engagement from the community, he said.
“I'm persistent because I recognize that this society values my life differently than it values that of a white person,” Walker said. “And that is wrong. If we are to be a civilized society, it will only come about because people are committed to these issues, they're persistent and they don't stop until things change. We need people in office that are going to help bring about that change.”
Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh, sisters at Kennedy High School who last summer presented Black Lives Matter demands to the Cedar Rapids school board, said they don’t feel happy or relieved after Chauvin’s guilty verdicts.
“True justice would be George Floyd still alive,” Raafa said.
“This trial did not bring George Floyd back, and it will not prevent the deaths of Black men and women that will continue to happen,” Rahma said. “To all Black people and all allies — continue fighting. This is not a stopping point.”
One of Rahma and Raafa’s Black Lives Matter demands was for the district to remove school resource officers from buildings. The district has no plans at this time to do so.
“This trial is going to add more pressure and give a sense of clarity to the district to take actions to remove (school resource officers) from our schools,” Rahma said.
Rahma tweeted after the verdict: “Y’all don’t be fooled, Black people will still be incarcerated/murdered by the system daily, we just won’t always hear ab(out) it.”
Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd, who is chair of the city public safety committee, said the verdict will help the United States “re-imagine policing.”
Todd spoke of Rodney King, a Black man whose beating at the hands of Los Angeles police in 1991 was caught on tape. Nonetheless, a jury acquitted the four officers of using excessive force — setting off days of riots and a national reckoning. Later, in a civil trial, a jury ruled King was owed $3.8 million by the city of Los Angeles.
“Thirty years ago, the Rodney King verdict gave the nation the impetus to make improvements in policing, but those reforms were short-lived,” Todd said in an email.
“This verdict will help us to re-imagine policing in a way that decreases incidents of force and helps to build more trust between law enforcement and communities of color, thereby making the streets safer for both law enforcement and the people that they are sworn to protect,” Todd said.
In Iowa City, Mayor Bruce Teague noted at a council meeting Tuesday night the city has started rethinking police responses to calls for service and better connecting people in crisis with the proper care.
“We know the public expects better here in Iowa City, and we know the people who serve on the Iowa City Police Department expect better of themselves as well,” he said.
The Advocates of Social Justice are scheduled to hold “A Rally to Unite” at 4 p.m. Saturday at Greene Square in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“The message is how allies can be engaged stand up and fight hand in hand with us, and it’s a vigil for the lives lost,” Andrews said.
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