CEDAR RAPIDS — Black Lives Matter advocates are urging the Cedar Rapids City Council to keep the group leading the local protests involved in forming a citizens’ review board to hold the police accountable, pushing for community involvement as the process moves forward.
The Advocates for Social Justice asked on social media for members of the public to speak at the council meeting Tuesday to back their pleas to participate.
A Facebook post from the group asserted that “right now the mayor wants to make this decision unilaterally.” But at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Brad Hart said he would not support acting alone.
The U.S. Justice Department reports models of these review panels across the country vary in how they involve the community to provide oversight of police.
Hart and police Chief Wayne Jerman have committed to forming such a board, though the scope of powers and makeup of the panel are still being researched.
“How those members will be selected will be determined after a review of the best practices from around the country and then discussed and adopted by council,” Hart said Tuesday. “I do not expect any best practices to include the mayor being the sole person to name these members, and I wouldn’t support that, either.”
Leslie Neely, a leader of the Cedar Rapids advocacy group, told the council it is crucial that the Advocates for Social Justice remain involved in talks over that and the group’s other six demands, which include items such as decriminalizing marijuana possession and strengthening use-of-force standards.
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The council last Friday agreed that the city had already taken significant strides on four of the demands, and passed a resolution committing to further studying how to accomplish three demands they say would requires changes in state and federal laws.
“Our group has worked very hard to make this happen and it is crucial to not only us but the community that we are included in this process,” Neely said. “Let’s not forget that the point of the citizens’ review board is to eliminate the private and unilateral decision-making processes that are already in place.”
Angelica Vannatta, of Cedar Rapids, agreed that reform at the local level would be key to advancing equity and called for transparency.
“It’s important that the appointment of the citizens’ review board be an open process in which the residents of the Cedar Rapids metro area and the Advocates for Social Justice play an integral role, and that City Council seeks public input on the selection criteria, the application process, the review of potential board members, and approval of appointment in order for this to be a fair and equitable process,” Vannatta said.
Lindsey Elickson, one of at least eight people who spoke in support of the group, urged the council to choose a diverse panel.
“I want to add that to make sure that we have participation from folks in that review board who are impacted disproportionately by policing and that have maybe not had great experiences as well,” Elickson said.
The speakers’ remarks came minutes after the council issued a proclamation to affirm that Black lives matter and to commit to ending systemic racism at the local level, marking the council’s formal commitment to institutionalizing diversity, equity and inclusion, and seeking further policy and administrative measures in support of those goals.
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