IOWA CITY — Long after protesters finish marching through downtown for the night, marks of their anger over police brutality persist.
Streets, government buildings and businessesd are coated with graffiti that some of the marchers have spray painted as they pass.
These pieces of expression — including “Black Lives Matter,” “BLM,” and “White Silence is Violence” — have been tagged across the city as hundreds of protesters have for nights meandered around town to deliver their message and sometimes confront law enforcement, which this week has led to arrests and tear gas.
In an address Thursday to the noon Rotary Club, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, the city’s second black mayor ever, spoke about how the recent events could ignite change in the community despite the unrest.
“When you think about people that are spray painting and are looting — you can focus on that. And there’s a time to focus on that,” Teague said. “But if you stop there, you will miss the greater message of what has happened for the past 400 years, and will continue to happen. So at some point we have to ask ourselves, ‘Where will we put our focus?’”
He said the focus of the community needs to remain on the message of the protesters in the wake of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while the black man was being kneed in the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer.
As a march made a pass through the Ped Mall about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, some protesters spray painted phrases and anti-police messages on streets, the brick walkway, walls and windows. A new mural in an alley beside the Graduate was tagged.
After the protesters has passed, Steve Cook, 51, of Iowa City, spent more than an hour cleaning spray paint off the windows at the Graduate. With a razor blade, a cloth and cleaning fluid, he scraped tags from the windows that look out over the Ped Mall.
“It’s my town,” he said. “I’ve got to do something.”
The smell of spray paint hung in the air as downtown residents came out to take photos and survey the scene.
Cook, who went to work then, said he’d like the United States to review its domestic and foreign policies for how people of color are treated.
Besides the Graduate Hotel, Bread Garden Market and other businesses in the Ped Mall were left with graffiti on their walls. Burlington Street in downtown has been left with paint all over the ground.
At Thursday afternoon Facebook Live event held by the city, Teague asked that protests be peaceful. These allow an opportunity for people to express grievances and spark crucial conversations, he said.
“We want people to say outright. ‘We are grieving, we are mad,’” Teague said. “But I also don’t want people to destroy our city.”
Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed to this report.