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Cedar Rapids protesters vow 'we won't be silenced'

Black Lives Matter demonstrators leave messages at City Hall

Protesters march to City Hall during a We Won't Be Silenced Peaceful Protest in Greene Square in southeast Cedar Rapids,
Protesters march to City Hall during a We Won't Be Silenced Peaceful Protest in Greene Square in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, July 18, 2020. The event is sponsored by Advocates for Social Justice. The protest is in reaction to a statement by Mayor Brad Hart that the city of Cedar Rapids will no longer be negotiating with the Advocates for Social Justice. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Troubled by the city’s process and timeline for enacting police reforms they have demanded, scores of local Black Lives Matter protesters marched Saturday evening on Cedar Rapids City Hall, leaving behind reminders written in chalk that they intend to keep the pressure on.

“I hope that the city finally understands that uniting with the advocates for social justice will bring this city together,” Brandon Jackson, 37, a member of the Advocates for Social Justice group. “...We’re never going to give up. These are our lives that we’re talking about.”

The organizers, Advocates for Social Justice, hoped for a forum to discuss the issues with city leaders. But City Council member Ashley Vanorny was the only council member to appear at the event that began at Greene Square.

Last month, the City Council unanimously endorsed the group’s demands and several city officials began talks with some of the advocates.

But the negotiations turned contentious, and the city broke them off.

On Friday, the city announced a three-month process for gathering community input and forming recommendations for one of the advocates’ seven demands — creating a citizens’ review board of the police.

Advocates say the city is moving too slowly, sidelining research they are doing and squelching Black voices.

Saturday, Vanorny was among those calling for keeping the group deeply involved.

“But we don’t need to hear from all the people in the community because, unfortunately, police brutality disproportionately affects brown and Black people,” she said. “We don’t need to hear from all the white people. I hear from them plenty.”

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Vanorny and organizers of the “We Won’t Be Silenced” event Saturday encouraged protesters — about 200 people attended — to keep the pressure up as the city moves ahead with reforms.

Former Cedar Rapids mayoral candidate Jorel Robinson led off the protest by honoring U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a towering civil rights figure who died Friday from cancer.

“It’s time we get into some good trouble,” Robinson told the protesters. “And those are the words of John Lewis, and we’re going to get into some good trouble today.”

Organizers handed out chalk to attendees to write messages on the sidewalk at Greene Square. The group then set off down First Avenue E to the steps of Cedar Rapids City Hall.

They chalked messages on the sidewalk and on the walls of City Hall, some of them reading “Amplify Black voices” and “Listen to Black leaders.”

Advocates for Social Justice leaders encouraged protesters to sign a “Black Voices Matter” banner they said would be delivered to the city.

Under the city’s process for gathering information, residents can share ideas at cedar-rapids.org/CRB, where feedback will be collected and shared with the City Council.

Mayor Brad Hart has told the advocates he believes the process for seeking broad input will be successful and that he, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, Police Chief Wayne Jerman and City Council member Dale Todd do not plan to continue their weekly talks with the group.

Hart, though, has encouraged members to continue reaching out individually to officials.

Comments: (319) 398-8370; sarah.watson@thegazette.com

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