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Iowa City protesters reach Interstate 80 again, with a very different result

Unlike a night ago, no tear gas or flash bangs

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague speaks Thursday evening to protesters gathering on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. (Nick
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague speaks Thursday evening to protesters gathering on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)
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IOWA CITY — Despite heavy thunderstorms, intense protests continued Thursday night as more than 1,000 people marched through Iowa City to protest police brutality, chanting and holding fists in the air.

After clashes with law enforcement late Wednesday and early Thursday led to protest organizers to decry the use of tear gas and flash bangs as “atrocities,” Iowa City elected officials vowed the city’s police department would “not be involved.”

“The Iowa City elected hears you loud and clear,” Mayor Bruce Teague told a crowd gathered on the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

The change in tactics appeared most obvious as the marchers late Thursday approached Interstate 80.

Just a night before, city and state police formed a line to block protesters from reaching the freeway, saying the risk of a fatality was too high. Some of the authorities fired tear gas and flash bang grenades.

But Thursday, it was a very different scene.

Police squad cars could be seen escorting the marchers across an overpass at I-80. While the state closed the interstate to traffic, by late Thursday most of the protesters were milling around on the overpass. but a few made it on to the interstate itself.

No tear gas or flash bangs were used.

An Iowa State Patrol officer told The Gazette authorities reached an agreement to not use tear gas if the protesters would stay only on the overpass.

Thursday marked the fourth night of marches across the city following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 in police custody. The Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, along with three other officers present for it, have been arrested and criminally charged.

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For one protester, it was frightening to see Wednesday night’s interaction with authorities in Iowa City — a scene evocative of other clashes with law enforcement happening elsewhere.

“You always see things on the news about people being abused by police and its never really close to home,” said Asante Walker-Garcia, 22, of Coralville, who marched with the group. “Or at least that’s how it’s always been felt for me.”

As fat rain drops fell on protesters Thursday when they moved through the city, they were met with no resistance from law officers.

In a speech on Facebook, Teague had sought to diffuse tensions.

He called on protesters to refrain from property damage and the city’s white residents to listen and work for change.

“Right now black lives are on fire, and we need you to come and assist to get this fire out,” he said.

The protest Thursday was well-organized, with several medics identifying themselves and organizers moving through the crowd with a marker to write down the phone number of a lawyer should arrests occur.

Seeing the crowd rally and remain undeterred was “amazing,” said Walker-Garcia.

“That made me feel more that I should come out and support because people are doing that for people like me,” said Walker-Garcia, a black man.

Grace Kim, a 20-year-old UI student, said she was fearful for her safety when considering whether to join Thursday’s protest. However, she said someone pointed out to her that she should be the one “between the cops and the black community.”

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“That really inspired me to come out and it’s time to check my privilege,” Kim said.

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