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Most charges dropped against Black Lives Matter leader arrested in Iowa City

Mohamedali views conviction as a 'badge of honor'

IOWA CITY — A leader of Iowa City’s recent Black Lives Matter movement arrested this month on misdemeanor and felony charges tied to protests and related vandalism has reached a plea deal dropping most of the charges.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has agreed to drop five of six charges against Mazin Mohamedali, 20, in exchange for his guilty plea to a single simple misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, with time served, according to his attorney Rockne Cole.

The deal drops a felony charge UI police filed against Mohamedali for destroying a $5,000, eight-foot-tall fence protecting the campus’ Old Capitol Museum on June 7, when he “waved frantically to get others to assist” and then was seen celebrating, according to officers.

His guilty plea acknowledges he “obstructed a street or highway when marching for civil rights and against police brutality on Dubuque Street,” on June 3, according to court records.

Mohamedali remains in the Marshall County Jail, where he was relocated from Johnson County, on an unrelated 2018 armed robbery conviction, which landed him three years probation.

The day after Mohamedali’s arrest for civil disobedience, a Johnson County judge said he could be released on his own recognizance for the misdemeanor charges but that she didn’t have authority to overstep a state order he live in a halfway house — for his robbery conviction and alleged probation violations.

Because no space was immediately available in the local Hope House, Mohamedali was moved to Marshall County. His attorney Cole on Friday reported his client will be entering the halfway house “in the coming days.”

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Additionally, Cole said Mohamedali is pleased with the resolution to his lesser charges and with “the government’s willingness to listen and recognize the broader context of Mr. Mohamedali’s conduct.”

“This movement is all about making personal sacrifices for the greater good,” Mohamedali said through his attorneys. “My conviction is a small price to pay for the dividends that our movement has already brought in the City of Iowa City.

“I am incredibly pleased that our community has recognized our concerns and outlined a concrete plan of action to improve the lives of people of color in Iowa City, which I believe directly resulted from our non-violent protests.”

In response to demands from the Iowa Freedom Riders, the local group driving the Black Lives Matter movement, and nationwide calls for comprehensive police reform, the Iowa City Council this week agreed to restructure its police department.

The law enforcement upheaval aims toward “community policy, including but not limited to, reduction of the public’s reliance on police in non-violent situations through use of unarmed professionals.”

In that vein, another of Mohamedali’s attorneys Aaron Marr Page said his client “worked tirelessly” during recent marches and demonstrations to keep everyone safe, “not just his marchers, but also the police, bystanders, and even the white supremacists who have been stalking the protesters.”

Attorney Cole, in a statement, said Mohamedali perceives his misdemeanor conviction for his role in the recent protests as “a badge of honor in marching without a permit against police brutality and systemic discrimination against people of color.”

In boasting of progress the Iowa Freedom Riders’ movement has achieved in just weeks, Cole noted the City Council’s recent 17-point resolution committing to “an extended and intense effort to address [the concerns of] the Black Lives Matter Movement and systemic racism.” That, he said, includes developing a plan to restructure the Iowa City Police Department, funding racial equity programs, along with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other significant criminal justice reforms.

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The hope from Mohamedali’s agreement, according to Cole, is that Johnson County won’t see any more unlawful assembly charges filed against peaceful protesters.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of the conversation that the protests and recent events are forcing on our broader community right now,” he said. “We’re all extremely pleased that Iowa City Council has heard their message and committed to intense efforts to make changes that improve the lives of people of color throughout Iowa City.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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