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Cedar Rapids Black Freedom Rally brings message to mayor's door

Advocates for Social Justice march from Monroe Park to mayor's house

CEDAR RAPIDS — Black Lives Matter protesters, livid over the city’s approach to one of its key demands for police reform, brought the frustrations Friday to Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart’s front door.

About 200 protesters marched a mile from their gathering at Monroe Park in southeast Cedar Rapids to Hart’s home as part of a rally for racial equity.

Someone knocked, but no one answered.

Before the march began, Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission Vice Chair Anthony Arrington spoke of the dissatisfaction, saying there isn’t equity in his city.

“This group is trying to do the best we can with the city, but the city isn’t listening,” Arrington said. “They’re making it personal. This isn’t personal, this isn’t about politics, it’s about Black people.”

Dedric Doolin, president of the Cedar Rapids NAACP chapter, told the crowd that while Saturday is Independence Day, the holiday first came about when not everyone was free and independent — and that can still be said now.

“We have to make Independence Day real for everybody,” he said.

Members of the Advocates for Social Justice, the group organizing and leading rallies and advocating for police reforms in Cedar Rapids, laid out a banner for attendees to write messages to Hart.

Protesters have objected to the city’s decision to open to comments from residents in meetings and online about creating a citizens’ review board of police. Advocates have called it a delay tactic that ignores research they have already done.

Organizers left the banner on Hart’s lawn before heading back to Monroe Park.

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Hart told The Gazette on Thursday that he didn’t plan to attend the rally because he had already demonstrated his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. noting the council’s unanimous passage of a resolution committing to act on the group’s demands for police reform.

“The idea is that they’re going to protest until the citizens’ review board is in place,” Hart said. “I get that. It will get in place. Protests aren’t going to speed us up or slow us down, we’re just going as fast as we can go ... The pressure is there — we know that.”

In front of his house, protesters chanted, “Brad Hart, have a heart, let Black leaders do their part,” chalked messages, and left signs.

Leslie Neely, an Advocates for Social Justice leader, said Hart left home so he wouldn’t have to deal with the protesters at his doorstep.

Neely encouraged the crowd to register to vote, saying that “we can change this.” Registration booth worker Barb Ferris said 10 people had registered before people had started marching.

An open mayor’s seat in 2017 attracted eight candidates to run for the job, including Hart, a lawyer. None of the candidates cleared the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election between the two top vote-getters — Hart and former City Council member Monica Vernon.

Hart went on to win the runoff with 9,528 votes, or 54 percent, to claim a four-year term.

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