CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Brad Hart told local Black Lives Matter protest leaders by email Friday that city officials will not continue participating in talks with the advocates as the City Council embarks on police reform efforts.
Advocates for Social Justice, a group that drafted seven demands for police reform in Cedar Rapids after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, had been meeting in person and over Zoom with several city leaders, though those talks turned contentious.
A week ago, protesters marched to Hart’s home.
In the email sent Friday, Hart said he, council member Dale Todd, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and police Chief Wayne Jerman “do not plan to be part of any additional negotiation meetings” with the advocates since the purpose of those talks — to “fully understand the demands” — had been accomplished.
“As I’ve said before, thank you for your passion and your ongoing efforts to move the seven demands forward for everyone in our city,” Hart wrote. “Our meetings have allowed me and others to better understand the demands, and the city council unanimously resolved to address each of them, in large part because of your work.”
He noted the council unanimously passed a resolution June 19 to commit to ending systemic racism at the local level and to further study actions it could take on the demands, and to update the community on the status of existing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Hart invited the advocates to continue reaching out to discuss the issues one-on-one by phone or in-person.
“There’s a process in place and I fully expect them to be engaged in that,” Hart told The Gazette. “Probably because a lot of the community won’t be engaged, they’ll have even more of an opportunity to provide input through our meetings and through the surveys and through the focus groups and all the ways that we technically reach out to the community on key community issues.”
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Members of the Advocates for Social Justice last week said they felt “sidelined” by the council’s change in approach to forming a citizens’ review board of police after city officials decided not to create a task force involving the protest leaders. Instead, city leaders said they’d reach out to the community more broadly for ideas on creating the panel.
City staff, led by the Community Development Department, will work on the process moving forward, Hart said. More details will be provided during Tuesday’s City Council meeting on how the community may participate.
Nicole LeGrand, co-founder of Advocates for Social Justice, said city officials “have effectively turned their backs on the group of people who have the most to gain from these much-needed reforms, and subsequently the most to lose as well.”
“The City Council claims that Black voices are essential and valued partners in press and media releases,” LeGrand said, “but brazenly disrespects Black leaders in private emails and personal conversations, as we seek nothing more than a seat at the table to discuss the urgent issues that may feel like bureaucratic minutia to public officials, but translate into life-and-death realities for our people.”
Amara Andrews, an activist with the Advocates for Social Justice and a lawyer, said the city’s current approach is not a good way to create a review board with real power to hold the police accountable.
Andrews said it puts bureaucratic processes before community members’ voices.
“We’ll keep doing the work that we think is right and that makes sense, and our hope is that eventually they pay attention,” Andrews said.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who has been helping represent the advocates, said the city’s public input efforts are just “another process.”
“All they have to do is sit down with Black leaders in their community,” Walker said. “That’s all you have to do, is sit down and talk to Black people about issues that affect Black people.”
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The advocates said they’re working to expand their coalition to connect with other Black Lives Matter groups in Eastern Iowa and the rest of the state, including Des Moines.
Walker said he’s open to ideas to advance racial justice reforms on the county level, but the immediate issue is municipal police reform.
“The fact of the matter is we are here today because George Floyd was murdered by municipal police officers, and we are here today because that has been a reality for African Americans in this country since the beginning of time,” Walker said. “This is a problem with Black folks and police departments, and police departments in the state of Iowa are a city function.”
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner is an independently elected official, though the three county supervisors work with him to set the sheriff’s office budget.
Besides patrolling unincorporated areas of the county including major thoroughfares, the sherif’s office provides patrol services to 12 towns and operates the Linn County Correctional Facility.
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