IOWA CITY — As more than 100 people gathered in Wetherby Park in Iowa City on Wednesday evening, Mayor Bruce Teague, the second black mayor in the city’s history, led the crowd in chants.
The crowd, which included both white and black residents, called out “Black Lives Matter,” “This is what democracy looks like” and “George Floyd, say his name,” invoking the name of the black man killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck in Minneapolis, setting off a wave of protests across the country.
“OK, we’ve said his name, and it needs to be said across this nation,” Teague said, before calling on crowd members to come to the microphone — which he sanitized in between speakers — and share their thoughts and feelings with him and other elected officials present, which included Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih and Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter.
The listening session was the first of three planned for neighborhood parks. The others will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Pheasant Ridge, outside the Neighborhood Community Center, 2651 Roberts Rd., and 2 p.m. Saturday at Mercer Park, 2701 Bradford Dr.
“We’re here for a reason. We are here, we are disappointed, we are angry, we are tired,” Porter said. “Enough is enough.”
A litany of anger and sorrow poured out from speaker after speaker, black residents of Iowa who shared their experiences of racism.
Tajeria Beacham of Iowa City began crying as she stood in front of the crowd with her son, AK Beacham, 4.
“My biggest fear in this country is having to explain injustice to him,” she said. “Is he next? Is he the next kid to be racially profiled? Is he the next kid to be shot dead in the street? Is he the next kid to be terrorized by his friends for being different? It’s not OK.”
Akia Nyrie Smith, who goes by Keki, of Iowa City, spoke about erasure, of being told all her life that her experiences of racism weren’t a big deal or weren’t what she thought they were, from being a child whom other kids didn’t want to play with because they said her skin “looks dirty” and being dismissed by a teacher to being told she was a good actor but couldn’t audition for the role of Ramona Quimby in a play.
A lifetime of those incidents culminated in feeling erased when being pulled over in a winter blizzard and being told to stand in the snow without a coat because the officer wanted to check for drugs, she said.
“You’re trying to be compliant, because he’s just trying to do his job, so don’t act like you have a chip on your shoulder, don’t act negative about it, he’s just doing his job, he’s just trying to make sure that he’s keeping his neighborhood safe, and you were doing something, and he thought you looked suspicious, so just be quiet,” she said. “It’s what’s happening, but you don’t talk about it.”
She said it was time to talk about it, and time to not let their reality be erased.
Teague also invited white residents to speak, and many did, telling each other to use their privilege and hold each other accountable.
Black speakers like Quenisha Soukup of Iowa City, also expressed that sentiment, telling people to check their friends and family.
“It may be hard, but it’s not as hard as growing up black in America,” she said.
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