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Iowa black leaders call for defunding the police, release of Iowa City protest leader from police custody

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker asks police chiefs to cease use of 'chemical irritants'

Linn County supervisor Stacey Walker speaks to council member Dale Todd as members of the city council and police depart
Linn County supervisor Stacey Walker speaks to council member Dale Todd as members of the city council and police department meet with protest organizers at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Organizers presented a list of demands to ensure more transparency in local policing and government and racial equity within the city. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Black leaders in Iowa are calling for defunding the police and for the release of Mazin Mohamedali from police custody, an Iowa City protest leader who was arrested earlier this week.

In a broadcast live streamed to Facebook and YouTube Thursday, members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in Iowa City and Des Moines and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker spoke about a statewide vision for racial justice.

“We are going to have to rethink how we approach public safety, which means meaningful investment in communities of color and rethinking how we fund our current law enforcement,” Walker said.

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The Black Lives Matter protests are a “global response” to four centuries of systemic oppression “that’s plagued black Americans since they first arrived on the shores of this country,” he continued.

Walker said Iowans must do all they can to support people of color and especially black people who seek leadership roles or public office.

At the end of the day, it boils down to who is in power, who isn’t, and what people in power do with it, Walker said.

“Until more people of color, advocates and allies are empowered and act with conviction, our situation will never change,” Walker concluded.

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Paul Wittau, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member in Iowa City, said they are demanding the immediate release of Mazin Mohamedali, 20, who was arrested Sunday evening, and for all of the charges against him to be dropped.

Mohamedali was arrested on three charges, including unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and a probation violation.

Mohamedali, along with hundreds of other protesters, blocked multiple roadways on June 3, including Dubuque Street and Foster Road.

“Using charges from the past as a pretense to perpetually harass, disenfranchise and criminalize black people for the rest of their lives is exactly what the Iowa Freedom Riders and (Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement) leaders are fighting to change,” Wittau said. “Everyone has a right to protest ... it doesn’t matter what mistakes we made in the past.”

On Monday, A judge said Mohamedali could be released on his own recognizance for the protest-related charges, but she said she didn’t have authority to overstep the state’s order he be placed in a halfway house for the other case.

The judge ordered he remain in jail until he can be moved to Hope House in Coralville, according to Mohamedali’s attorney, Rockne Cole. Shortly afterward, Mohamedali was moved to a jail in Marshall County, Cole said.

Wittau said the Black Lives Matter movement in Iowa City has to “stand up and fight back against these kinds of chilling attacks on our free speech and civil liberties.”

The protests in Iowa City, which have taken place almost nightly for the past two weeks, and their attempt to march to Interstate 80 is a message to Gov. Kim Reynolds, Wittau said.

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“Enough is enough. It is time to listen to the calls for justice from black people across our state and nation,” he said.

In a letter dated June 10 from Stacey Walker sent to police chiefs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ames, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, Waterloo, Sioux City, Davenport and Des Moines, Walker calls for a commitment to never use “chemical irritants” on peaceful protesters.

Walker calls the use of chemicals like tear gas and pepper spray “an abhorrent act of unprovoked violence.”

Tear gas, which was first used as a weapon of war in World War 1 and banned in 1925 by the Geneva Convention, is an unacceptable weapon to use against U.S. citizens, Walker wrote.

People who are tear gassed and exposed to the coronavirus may have an impaired immune response to fight off infection, he said.

“Suppressing peaceful protesters with weapons of war is an action America would forcefully and rightfully denounce if we witnessed this behavior coming from any other country,” Walker wrote. “ ... The eyes of the world are watching, and we should set an example.”

Vanessa Miller contributed to this report.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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