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Iowa City after Black Lives Matter protests: Work on racial justice will continue indefinitely

City continues to address issues raised by protesters

Protesters flee June 3, 2020, as flash grenades and tear gas are set off on Dubuque Street near Interstate 80 during an
Protesters flee June 3, 2020, as flash grenades and tear gas are set off on Dubuque Street near Interstate 80 during an Iowa City march against racial injustice. The Iowa City Council commissioned an investigation of the incident. A report issued last month calls for additional training, clarifying mutual aid agreements with area law enforcement agencies and taking steps to more effectively monitor protest activity and communicate with demonstrators. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Editor’s Note: After video last summer captured the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, protests for social justice reverberated across the country, including in the Corridor. Local governments and school districts made promises about how they would respond to the calls to eliminate systematic racism. Now months later, here are updates on where these public agencies stand.

» Read more from: Cedar Rapids | Marion | School districts

IOWA CITY — Of the 17 action items outlined by the Iowa City Council last June aimed at addressing systemic racism in the city, all of them are either complete or in stages of completion.

However, City Manager Geoff Fruin said the list of action items will never be 100 percent finished as the city views addressing inequality as an ongoing process.

For instance, one of the measures in the June 16, 2020, resolution called for equitable recruitment, hiring and staff training for the city’s employees. Fruin said the city has made changes in an effort to attract more diverse city employees, but that will continue indefinitely.

“We’re hiring at nearly all times in the city,” Fruin said. “This one takes constant focus and reflection in order for us to achieve our goal. We don’t want to consider that complete.

A number of substantial actions are complete, however:

Police department restructuring plan

Fruin unveiled his 246-page plan in December.

The plan contains 36 recommendations on restructuring the department with a focus on diverting calls for service from the police to trained civilians, creating a continuum of responses to mental health crisis calls, unbiased policing and moving forward.

Some elements of Fruin’s plan have been implemented, with the City Council approving reallocating the police budget to help fund two new positions in the city.

However, Fruin said he views each of the 36 recommendations as a separate conversation that will take place in the community over the course of the next year and beyond.

“I don’t look at it as something that needs to be completed by X date,” he said. “I think it’s going to be all of ‘21 and beyond.”

Report on use of tear gas on protesters

The City Council received the report last month and has not discussed it at length yet.

The report on the June 3, 2020, protest calls for additional training, clarifying mutual aid agreements with area law enforcement agencies and taking steps to more effectively monitor protest activity and communicate with demonstrators.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission creation

The council in November approved the members of the nine-member commission and the panel has since begun holding meetings. The commission is tasked with hearing evidence of discrimination and racial injustice; providing opportunities for those impacted to share their stories and express their truths through art, theater and other avenues; and to facilitate conversations between the minority and white communities, create a model for enabling the conversations throughout the community and identity policy reforms, social practices and other means of creating better social harmony that will be recommended to the City Council.

“Once you have these conversations, there’s no way someone in good conscience can say instances of racial injustice don’t happen in Iowa City,” commission member T’Shailyn Harrington told The Gazette in December. “If there’s evidence of something, there’s no way you can say, ‘That’s fake news.’”

Other completed action items include a review of military-grade equipment and a letter calling for divestment in the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, an armored transport shared by area law enforcement agencies; enacting a general order banning the use of chokeholds; making Juneteenth a city holiday; investigating compliance with the proper use of police body and in-vehicle cameras; and a general order on the duty of police officers to intervene and stop excessive force. All area law enforcement agencies also agreed to a duty to intervene memorandum of understanding in June.

Among action items that are still underway:

Compliance with House File 2647

The measure, passed unanimously and signed into law last year, includes a provision against rehiring officers in Iowa who have been fired for committing serious misconduct.

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Fruin said the city is waiting on the Iowa Legislature to create a process governing when officers are fired for misconduct and placed on a registry. Once that work is complete at the state level, the city will ensure its internal policies are compliant, Fruin said.

Social justice and affordable housing

The action item called for a $1 million committed to social justice and racial equity efforts, as well as developing a new affordable housing plan.

The funds have been set aside and the city is waiting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to establish its budget. The remaining funds will be doled out by the City Council at its discretion for things such as housing, public art, cultural activities or economic opportunities, Fruin said.

opportunities for artistic expression

A public art project on Capital Street will take place this year. Fruin said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also will make recommendations related to more public art and festival opportunities for communities of color.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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