116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When will Black people be accepted members of our Iowa communities?
I am a young Black woman and my family moved to a predominantly white neighborhood in Cedar Rapids a few years ago. We were treated as if we weren’t supposed to be there. The police would constantly circle our neighborhood and drive slowly by our house; other neighbors told us that they never did that before. We’ve even had to deal with a certain neighbor telling the people she works with that she thinks we partake in illegal activities.
These false accusations affected my family negatively and unfairly. We felt offended and degraded but sadly, this seems to be a problem anywhere we go. The fact that we are a Black family does not make us any more likely to commit a crime or partake in illegal activities.
There has been a huge problem nationwide with white people falsely reporting people of color to police. From young Black children selling lemonade in front of their homes to Black people peacefully barbecuing in a park, it seems that there is always someone there to accuse them of illegal actions.
These accusations might seem harmless, but they can result in psychological damage or serious physical harm to the accused. Imagine having someone accuse you of a crime and police officers showing up with guns drawn. People of color in America today can easily envision a cellphone being mistaken for a weapon and having police bullets ripping into their bodies. Sadly, a mere accusation can often lead to death for people of color.
You might remember a story from last summer in New York where a white woman walking her dog called the police on a Black man who was simply in the park bird watching. Her name was Amy Cooper and she was a glaring example of a white woman who wrongfully feared a person of color and threatened to use her privilege to call the police. Luckily, Christian Cooper, the victim of this police call, was filming their encounter on his cellphone so the truth could be shared with the public. But what if he hadn’t had his phone? It would have been another story of a Black man harassing a white woman.
Later, a policy called the “Amy Cooper Law“ was introduced in New York, designed to address discrimination and the severity of hate crimes against the protected class, thus resulting in bigger punishments for offenders. It also is designed to keep people from misusing 911, resulting in the offender receiving a civil penalty or a fine.
Thankfully, this incident did not end in another false arrest of an innocent Black person. Although this particular incident happened in New York, false accusations against people of color are more common in Iowa than people would like to believe.
I am a student at a program called Iowa BIG, which provides students with opportunities to work on real-world problems. This year as a senior, I have been working on a project that will hopefully influence public policy. We have talked with several advocates and legislators who are interested in creating a welcoming community for people of color, including Sen. Liz Mathis, Rep. Art Staed and Rep. Ras Smith, a member of the Iowa Black Caucus.
I want to make a difference in my state, or at least in my town of Cedar Rapids. I want all people to feel safe and welcome in and near their homes, regardless of the color of their skin. I want white people to feel safe around Black people.
A policy like the Amy Cooper Law could make people pause for a second and think about whether a police call reporting a person of color is really necessary. Does this person you’re about to report truly look suspicious, or are they just a Black person going about their daily life? Perhaps if we think before we act, it will help us to achieve that “Iowa Nice” everyone keeps talking about. It’s time.
Jada Scott is a senior at Linn-Mar High School and Iowa BIG. This column is part of a series about Black Iowans facing disproportionate police contact, including through false reports made by fellow Iowans. A group of students at Iowa BIG is advocating for a law to protect people of color from frivolous, unnecessary and potentially dangerous police interactions. twitter.com/reportsfalse