116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I am writing to bring attention to Casey's General Stores' decision to hire armed guards for their store on Broadway Street in Iowa City and ask Casey's to reconsider the decision.
I'm viewing this in the context of our country's continuing episodes of racist violence by police forces and the courts. Our Black neighbors face brutality by police forces and are incarcerated at disturbingly high rates by our criminal justice system. Studies have shown that a significant factor in these outcomes is the racial bias of the individual police officers.
This issue is, of course, part of the Iowa City community as well, as evidenced by the treatment of Christopher Kelly by Iowa City police in 2018 for "walking while Black."
I attended the Iowa Freedom Riders' Truth and Reckoning Commission last month in Iowa City where community members shared their safety concerns about these armed guards. What if there was an accident? What if an untrained or racially biased guard shoots someone? By that point, it will be too late for Casey's to show the appropriate level of care for the community they serve.
Even if nothing happens, what if those who patronize the Casey's or see the armed guard have to worry about those possibilities every day? What if visitors to those neighborhoods take Casey's choice of an armed guard for what it seems to be saying — that the neighborhood is such a dangerous place that even coffee and cigarettes need to be guarded with violent force? What if business owners who are considering expanding in this area, as part of the city's efforts to revitalize the district, interpret Casey's choice as a statement on the necessary "force" needed to stay in business there?
I would be curious to know what training Casey's has required of the armed guards they have selected. Have they been trained in safety? Have they been trained to recognize and not act upon their own racial bias? Have they been held to higher standards of justice than police forces across the nation? If so, I would be very pleased to hear about their training and those standards and would commend Casey's for the efforts. If not, I would ask them to consider the risks they are bringing upon the community by adding this potential for racist violence to the neighborhood and reconsider their decision to hire these armed guards.
Mary Russell lives in Iowa City.