The group leading Black Lives Matter protests and pushing for police reform in Cedar Rapids is organizing another rally Friday to call for an end to systemic racism as city officials and protest leaders diverge on their desired approaches to creating a citizens’ police review board.
The Advocates for Social Justice posted on social media that the Black Freedom Rally will start at Monroe Park, on 30th Street SE, at noon and is slated to end at 3 p.m., and the organizers hope to make this event their “largest yet.”
The group’s Facebook page advises people to bring chairs, as there will be grilled food available and food donated by Cheddars. There also will be a couple of speakers before community members march down the rally route, which the post said is about a mile each way.
“We will not be silenced and we will not stop fighting until the leaders of Cedar Rapids allow Advocates for Social Justice and other Black community leaders to be a part of this process,” states the Facebook post. “We need them to understand that excluding Black leaders from these decisions IS systemic racism.”
The Advocates for Social Justice said Wednesday the group feels it has been “sidelined” by city officials who pivoted in their approach to forming a citizens’ review board and no longer plan to form a task force to consider the matter.
The city is instead turning to opportunities for public comment at meetings and online.
Protest organizers and other Black community leaders, including Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, have said the Advocates for Social Justice already form a prepared and qualified task force that the city could allow to lead the reform discussions.
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Council members say the approach to forming a review board needs input from the broader community in addition to some members of the Advocates for Social Justice. They also oppose the idea of elected officials, including Walker, sitting on the task force.
Mayor Brad Hart said the rally location is about a mile from where he lives and he understands the protesters plan to pass his house Friday.
He said he does not plan to be present at Friday’s rally because he has already demonstrated support and the community knows where he stands on the Black Lives Matter movement, noting the council’s unanimous passage of a resolution committing to taking action on the group’s seven demands for police reform. People may continue to contact him by phone and email, he said.
Hart said he also showed his support at the first protest that started in Greene Square June 6 and at other rallies, and that the group has the right to protest.
“The idea is that they’re going to protest until the citizens’ review board is in place,” Hart said. “I get that. It will get in place. Protests aren’t going to speed us up or slow us down, we’re just going as fast as we can go ... The pressure is there — we know that.”
City officials are still researching ways to form an effective review board, Hart said, and have not determined how those who seek to sit on the panel may apply.
Hart said he understands the Advocates for Social Justice are “people who care,” but that the review board will be made up of people from across the community.
“This is going to be for citizens to be involved in this,” he said. “I assume it will be a diverse group with race and gender and age and political views.”
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Nicole LeGrand, an Advocates for Social Justice leader, confirmed the mayor’s house is on the protest route and said actions speak louder than words.
“When we sit down to start working on this, if you are not going to include us and you are going to make unilateral decisions on your own deciding what’s best for the Black community as white city officials, then that’s the problem and that’s not being supportive,” LeGrand said.
This rally is in response to the Advocates for Social Justice feeling excluded from the process of creating the citizens’ review board, LeGrand said.
“We are going to just peacefully protest the fact that, again, our voices are being silenced,” LeGrand said. “We’d like them to understand that we are not going to give up. We are not going to be sidelined. This is important and it’s not going anywhere. We are going to continue to fight for it.”
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