Government

In the Corridor, protest demands hit the City Council dais

City leaders consider what to do about calls for police reforms

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who said he was representing protest organizers, speaks Tuesday to Cedar Rapids Ci
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who said he was representing protest organizers, speaks Tuesday to Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd as members of the council and police department meet with the advocates at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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After thousands of people have marched over the past few days in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids to call for police reforms, city leaders in both communities took initial steps Tuesday to fashion their response.

In a special City Council workshop in Iowa City, and at a meeting of advocates and some city officials in Cedar Rapids, participants cited an urgency to act now — and yet said some reforms would take time.

IOWA CITY

In the midst of an Iowa City Council work session called to address demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders, council member Laura Bergus’ frustration showed a bit.

“I feel like we’re missing the moment right now,” Bergus told her colleagues. “I think we need to focus on things that aren’t in the weeds.”

Much of the two-hour meeting focused on Mayor Bruce Teague’s suggestion that an independent commission be formed to study the protesters’ growing list of demands — which for now include dropping all charges against protesters, publicizing the Iowa City Police Department’s budget, dedicating a portion of the city’s staff to diversity and inclusion, creating an affordable housing plan, not enforcing evictions, restructuring the police department and divesting from military-grade police equipment. Iowa City already does some of these; and some are outside its jurisdiction.

But Bergus said she wanted to make progress on specific items now, not wait for a commission’s findings.

While she believes the entire council is on the same page with respect to supporting the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, Bergus said the council was getting too hung up on jurisdiction, authority and “what we can do.”

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“We can advocate,” Bergus said. “That’s our role. That’s part of our role.”

Ultimately, the City Council largely agreed on a mix of actions.

It plans to send a letter to Johnson County Emergency Management asking the agency to get rid of the county’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.

The council also intends to review a list of citations and charges written during the protest before calling for any of those to be dropped.

Bergus said other demands can easily be met, such as making the police department budget easily accessed online.

Other items will take more time. Teague has called for a commission to listen to the stories and experiences of the protesters and make specific recommendations how to address those concerns. Teague said the commission would be similar to the Better Together coalition tasked with coordinating the community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was left unclear who would coordinate that commission’s efforts or who would be on it.

Other actions discussed by the council include possibly renaming Wetherby Park in honor of Black Lives Matter.

CEDAR RAPIDS

An advocacy group in Cedar Rapids is hoping to “stand in front of the entire city” by Juneteenth — which commemorates the day the last slaves were freed on June 19, 1865, in the United States — and celebrate progress on their demands with the city of Cedar Rapids.

Mayor Brad Hart, council members Dale Todd and Ashley Vanorny and police Chief Wayne Jerman met Tuesday with members of the advocacy group, which had organized a Black Lives Matter protest Saturday night in Cedar Rapids.

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The advocates had seven demands. After 90 minutes of discussion, the assembled group had discussed only two — forming an independent citizen’s police review board and making significant investments in diversity, equality and inclusion. The parties planned to resume the conversation virtually at 9 a.m. Friday.

Other demands include banning chokeholds, imposing strict body camera provisions and abolishing qualified immunity for officers.

Jerman said he would be open to a conversation about a citizen’s review board, but that there are confidentiality policies to be navigated. He did not know whether those were imposed at the city, state or federal level.

Hart said it would be “troubling” for people not trained in law enforcement to judge law enforcement.

“Having some sort of citizen participation in a review I think makes sense. Having a panel that’s all citizens — I don’t think that makes sense,” Hart said.

Jerman said as for investing in diversity, equality and inclusion, the department requires at least an hour of implicit bias training for all its officers.

Advocacy group members asked for the police department to consider giving incentives for officers to live in the communities they police and having implicit bias trainers who are people of color — which Jerman said they were not.

The goal Tuesday was to “develop a framework for how this conversation continues going forward,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who said he was speaking as a member of the advocacy group.

Todd said reaching an agreement by Juneteenth was unrealistic.

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“I saw your demands. Demands don’t go great in some places. Let’s think of them as priorities and doable and achievable things,” he said.

While Hart said he was interested in creating a task force to continue these conversations, Walker said it would slow down the process.

“What you’re hearing is frustration of a task force and committee after committee,” he said. ”There’s a sense of urgency here.”

While initially the conversation was heated, Anthony Arrington, who represented the advocacy group, said there was some commonality by the end.

“Not a lot of cities have the opportunity to look a mayor in the eye and argue,” he said. “These demands are not a desire to back you in a corner.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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