Government

Black Lives Matter leaders feel 'sidelined' by Cedar Rapids' change in approach to police review board

Officials decide to seek input from public instead of forming a task force

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart speaks as members of the City Council and police department meet June 9 with protest organi
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart speaks as members of the City Council and police department meet June 9 with protest organizers at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After facing criticism over its approach to creating a citizens’ review board of the police, the city announced Wednesday it will open the process to public comment.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said in a statement that the city believes it can establish a review board in 90 days that will ensure public safety accountability and strengthen the community’s bonds with the police force.

The “Cedar Rapids City Council is listening to residents’ calls for change, recognizes that the time for action is now, is responding and will keep working with the community to combat systemic racism,” Hart said.

A local group, the Advocates for Social Justice, which has been meeting with city officials, said the step is a bureaucratic way to slow progress and quiet leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s just such a letdown that they are not open to our involvement and … it’s just very offensive to the movement and to the work that we are doing,” said Nicole LeGrand, a leader with Advocates for Social Justice. “We are just going to keep fighting, and we have the support of the community, and we’re not going to give up.”

Creating a review board was among the group’s demands, which the city vowed to enact in a June 19 resolution.

Hart said city officials want to develop the police review board with input from the community — including the Black Lives Matter movement and members of Advocates for Social Justice, the group that has organized Cedar Rapids protests after George Floyd was killed May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer.

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Leaders of the advocates group said they feel “sidelined” again by city officials after a contentious Zoom meeting Friday over implementation of the review panel.

Council members said Friday they planned to offer more details at this Tuesday’s meeting about the makeup of a task force to explore implementing the panel.

Council member Dale Todd, chairman of the city’s Youth and Public Safety Committee, said it is “regretful and tragic” the task force fizzled.

The city instead will offer opportunities at council meetings and through resident surveys, focus groups, community meetings and online feedback forms to engage the community in the reform talks.

“This is a big issue and there are a lot of people in the community that want to provide input,” Todd said. “We see this now as a way to do it in an efficient way, in a way that’s more inclusive, and in a way that I think at the end of the day we’ll all be proud of.”

He said the protest organizers and city officials had a list of potential task force members, and that many of the people proposed were the same.

But the group’s insistence that Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker be on the panel was a sticking point, Todd said.

“The council was clear that we didn’t want to have elected officials on the task force because in order to keep it pure and get the utmost in citizens’ input, we wanted to keep it strictly a citizen-based committee ... and they were unwilling to accept that recommendation,” Todd said.

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Walker said in an interview that stance seemed like “a cop-out” because he has been involved with other city efforts, such as when he co-chaired a Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force to evaluate economic disparities and opportunities.

“If the goal is to put together the best minds on these issues, I am confident that I am one of those individuals that belongs in the room to help craft these policies,” he said, adding that other Black leaders felt strongly that he should be involved, too.

The Advocates for Social Justice would have been the best task force, he said, as it already represents a diverse group.

Todd said the city showed it was committed to taking action when the council unanimously backed the protest group’s seven demands for police reform.

“We are acting on what we see our charge to be and we will be soliciting as much community input as possible to make a product that we believe is sustainable, last into the next generation, that we can all be proud of,” Todd said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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