DES MOINES — Social justice and civil rights advocates Monday called for 2018 political candidates in Iowa to support legislation aimed at curbing racial profiling by law officers in Iowa.
Representatives from NAACP branches in Iowa and Nebraska, Citizens for Community Improvement, and the ACLU of Iowa held a joint news conference to decry a July incident involving two black men who were the subject of a police stop.
The groups contend the stop was a civil right violation that should alarm all Iowans.
Attorneys representing Montray Little, 23, and Jared Clinton, 20, allege in a lawsuit the two African-American males were racially profiled by two white Des Moines police officers who pulled over their car in a July 15 traffic stop. The stop was captured on police body camera and cruiser cameras.
The lawsuit alleges the men were detained for no apparent reason by officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann with one vehicle occupant being handcuffed while an officer searched the car without a warrant or probable cause. In the video, an officer is heard asking the men whether they had a gun or drugs. No drugs or weapons were found, and the men eventually were allowed to drive away.
“They were stopped, they were searched, they were detained and they were humiliated,” said Betty Andrews, Iowa-Nebraska NAACP state area president. “This video shows blatant disregard for these two men’s civil rights.”
Little and Clinton spoke briefly at Monday’s news conference, thanking community members for their support, while expressing relief and their intent to maintain their composure to prevent the incident from escalating.
Laural Clinton, a CCI member whose son was one of the men involved in the traffic stop, said her heart sank and she cried when she saw the video.
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“We’re voted in the top five of best cities to live in, but it has to feel that way for everyone,” she said. “They criminalized my children. They made them gun-toting drug dealers before they knew their names.”
Attempts on Monday were unsuccessful to get a response or comment from representatives of the Des Moines Police Department, the officers or Police Chief Dana Wingert regarding the lawsuit.
On Monday, Andrews called on leaders at the city, county and state levels to end racial and ethnic profiling and pretexual traffic stops. She noted that more than 30 states have legislation in the works or laws on the books banning the practice but, “unfortunately, Iowa is not one of them.”
Advocates called on Iowans to seek out positions from candidates for elective office in Iowa this fall and to make ending racial profiling a major issue in this fall’s general election.
Last session, an Iowa Senate panel approved legislation that would bar racial profiling, require profiling-prevention training for law enforcement officers and establish standardized data collection on officer stops and compliance, as well as creating a community policing advisory board to develop a uniform reporting form and begin evaluating the compiled data on stops and complaints with annual reporting by 2020. However, the measure failed to advance beyond the subcommittee level in the Republican-led Legislature.
“It is time that Iowa ends racial profiling, and don’t just do it with talk, do it with legislation,” Andrews said. “Enough is enough.”
Brenna Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds, said the governor did not take a position on the legislation during the 2018 session. She said the issue of racial profiling and a request for a working group to be established including law enforcement that was raised this summer during the governor’s regular meeting with representatives of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP is under consideration by the governor’s office.
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