Public Safety

What local Black Lives Matter groups are demanding and why

These are the demands of protesters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Marion

Hundreds gather to protest at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazet
Hundreds gather to protest at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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In less than two months’ time, the name of George Floyd has become synonymous with resounding calls for racial justice reverberating in public squares, city halls and executive boardrooms across the United Sates — and in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area.

Protesters who rarely if ever have a seat at the public policy table suddenly are meeting with city officials to present demands. And officials are listening and pledging support, though with varying outcomes.

In mostly white Iowa, protesters have been making it clear: People of color live here, too.

Janessa Carr, 31, a Black woman in Marion and a protest organizer, said the narrative in her community is that it is safe and welcoming.

“For white people that may be their reality, but that is not the reality of people of color,” Carr said. “I want Marion to be a place where people of color can come and feel like they are included, they are heard and they don’t have to deal with covert or outward racism.”

Scroll down for a city-by-city look at the demands, why protesters say they are important, and the public response so far. You also can click the links here to just see a specific city:

• In Cedar Rapids: Seven demands for city leaders
• In Iowa City: More than a dozen demands
• In Marion: Six demands from organizers

CEDAR RAPIDS

1. Issue: Citizens’ review board of police.

Status: The creation of a review board is the top priority for the Advocates for Social Justice.

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The board, which the advocates ask be made up of mostly non-law enforcement community members, would have the authority to investigate allegations of officer misconduct and review instances of excessive or lethal force by an officer.

“It’s accountability,” said Tamara Marcus, 28, an organizer with the advocates. “The ability for citizens to review actions of officers with the idea that there would be repercussions.”

The advocates are asking that the board receive and review public quarterly reports of police stops and arrests with breakdowns of demographics including race and ethnicity.

The City Council vowed to enact a citizens’ review board in a June 19 resolution, and is asking for community input on how the board should be developed.

Models across the United States vary, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The information about what model will be used and membership will be determined as the council gathers public input. More details will be provided Tuesday’s council meeting, Hart said.

“In order to keep moving toward our goal of creating a Cedar Rapids Citizen Review Board, our Community Development Department will be leading a public input process, similar to what is done for our other large community initiatives,” he said. “Their role will be as a resource to facilitate discussion, record and compile research, and to assist in navigating required policies and procedures.”

After that, there will be a presentation to the council July 28 providing an overview of the process. There will be another presentation Aug. 25 on input from a public survey, which will be distributed to neighborhood associations and churches and is available to the community online.

A presentation to the council is planned for Sept. 22 on results and recommendations.

2. Issue: Significant investment in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Status: The advocates are demanding the police department train officers in de-escalation, crisis intervention and community policing. Incentive programs should also be developed to encourage officers to live in the communities they police.

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The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy’s curriculum set requirements to teach Biased Based Policing starting this year, city spokeswoman Maria Johnson said, though Cedar Rapids has taught this for four years. The Cedar Rapids Regional Police Academy also teaches cultural competency and race relations, she said, in addition to other courses on the values of being a good police officer and annual implicit biased training for all officers.

The advocates have asked that training be conducted in-person and by a person of color. Johnson said some classes are taught by people of color, but not all.

The police department anticipates trying to reschedule a tour of the African American Museum of Iowa as part of its academy training for 2021, Johnson said, as COVID-19 had prompted the department to suspend all training.

A hiring practice that gives preference to people who live within the neighborhoods they wish to police should be developed, the advocates demanded. Johnson said Cedar Rapids police fall under civil service law, so residency is not a factor considered in hiring.

Iowa Code states that “employees shall not be required to be a resident of the city in which they are employed, but they shall become a resident of the state within two years of such appointment or the date employment begins.”

3. Issue: Ban the use of police chokeholds.

Status: While the Cedar Rapids Police Department already prohibits the use of chokeholds, knee-to-neck maneuvers and other lethal restraining techniques unless “deadly force is justified,” according to their use of force policy, the advocates are reiterating it as a demand.

The advocates ask that the use of deadly force never be used against people who are “fleeing and pose no imminent threat to the officer or another person” or if the subject already is in restraints.

Officers who witness another officer unduly using force are to intervene, according to policy.

Cedar Rapids police officers receive regular training in de-escalation techniques, Johnson said, “including ‘Verbal Judo’ that provides necessary skills to redirect behavior and generate voluntary compliance, which increases personal safety and enhances professionalism.”

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4. Issue: Decriminalize minor marijuana offenses.

While the advocates recognize the City Council doesn’t have the authority to decriminalize marijuana, they are asking officers to write only citations for low-level offenses or let violators go completely instead of making arrests.

Until state or federal drug laws change, the advocates want the police department to develop a new standard for issuing citations to avoid bias.

In marijuana possession cases, a Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely than a white person to be arrested, according to an ACLU study of national law enforcement data.

Iowa Code classifies marijuana possession as a serious misdemeanor.

“The Iowa Legislature is responsible for determining the severity of drug manufacture and possession charges in state statutes,” Johnson said. “The city is committed to working with our legislators with recommendations from our community.”

This is one of three demands the council has agreed to further study to understand the implications of state and federal law, in addition to making police negotiations public and abolishing qualified immunity for officers. Conclusions will be presented to the council in August.

5. Issue: Impose strict police body camera provisions.

Status: Body cameras should be worn by all officers on active duty and by staff when in the field, the advocates ask.

Cameras should never be turned off or tampered with during an officer’s shift, and failure to comply with the provision should result in immediate termination, they demand.

Body camera recordings should be subject to review by the citizens police review board.

Cedar Rapids Police Department policy states that “officers shall activate their cameras to record all contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties.”

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If an officer fails to record the entire contact in a situation required, the officer must document why and say if there was an interruption.

Officers found to have violated the policy face discipline ranging from demotion to suspension or termination under department directives.

“The Police Chief’s Advisory Committee provided input and reviewed the policy, as well as the United States Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union,” Johnson said.

6. Issue: Make police negotiations public.

Status: The advocacy group is asking that negotiations between municipal authorities and the bargaining units representing police officers be public “if a quorum of municipal elected officials attend these negotiations, the meetings would be required by law to be public.”

“Taxpayers deserve the transparency that comes with making these negotiations public,” according to the demands.

Currently, no elected officials attend contract negotiations, Johnson said. The collective bargaining agreement with the Cedar Rapids Police Bargaining Union is posted on the city’s website.

“The city is willing to open parts of negotiations between the City and employee organizations in accordance with Iowa Open Meetings laws,” Johnson said. “Bargaining contracts are also on the City Council agenda and the public has an opportunity to comment before Council approves these agreements.”

7. Issue: Abolish qualified immunity.

While the advocates recognize the council does not have the authority to abolish qualified immunity for officers, they are demanding the city and police chief lobby state and federal officials for the “abolition of this unjust protection.”

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Qualified immunity shields government officials from being held liable for constitutional violations like the use of excessive police force.

Individuals can still seek damages from an officer who knowingly violated statutory or constitutional rights.

“The city is committed to recommend and develop meaningful solutions for accountability,” Johnson said. “Currently, there is an internal review process for all officer misconduct complaints that is in compliance with (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) standards. Further, an individual who has a grievance could also file a complaint with the State Ombudsman’s Office, State Civil Rights Commission, or file a lawsuit.”

IOWA CITY

 

1. Issue: Drop all charges against protesters, including citations and tickets.

Satus: Wylliam Smith, a member of the Iowa Freedom Riders, said protesters were “heavily policed” and some were followed and searched by law enforcement. According to a review of charges and citations related to protests between May 30 and June 9, 15 people were charged and seven were arrested.

“All of these need to be dropped,” Smith said. “This can’t be happening anymore.”

The Iowa City Council itself cannot drop criminal charges. But in a resolution, the council called on the Johnson County Attorney’s Office to drop the charges.

2. Issue: A strong statement from the Iowa City Police Department in support of the protesters.

Status: Interim Police Chief Bill Campbell and City Manager Geoff Fruin both have issued statements condemning the death of George Floyd and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

3. Issue: Publish the full Iowa City Police Department budget.

Status: The city published additional police budget information in June and has committed to increasing transparency about police operations on the city website this year and next.

4. Issue: Every Iowa City department should have at least 30 percent of its staff dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Status: Smith said this is vital to ensure Black people and people of color have equal opportunity to earn jobs with the city, though he is against hiring people just because of their race.

“It’s tokenism,” he said. “Which is just as damaging as not hiring these Black individuals.”

City staff is compiling data on employee demographics and is to publish a report Aug. 20 on those demographics, hiring processes and racial justice training.

5. Issue: Every institution and business must not only have, but also be required to implement, an equity tool kit.

Status: Smith said having an equity tool kit recognizes that minorities don’t have the same advantages as white people and helps to address those disadvantages.

“The equity tool kit is basically for when these problems arise, we’re ready to face them,” he said.

City staff will publish a report on the city’s past use of the racial equity tool kit. The city also plans to offer initial bias training to landlords and the business community.

6. Issue: A clear and sensible plan for affordable housing.

Status: When affordable housing is not available, people of color are pushed into impoverished neighborhoods, Smith said. Not only are these neighborhoods overly policed, but they contribute to the “school to prison pipeline” that sees residents turn to crime to make ends meet.

An affordable housing plan will benefit not only people of color, but the homeless population as well, Smith said.

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“That’s not something we can fix in a day,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to sit down and speak with experts on. We are looking into this.”

The City Council approved a resolution that includes dedicating $1 million in city funds to promote racial equity and social justice. Included in those efforts will be the creation of a new affordable housing plan.

7. Issue: The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa City Police Department must not enforce evictions.

Status: Evictions are done by court order and handled by the sheriff’s office. The city’s police department responds only in rare instances of an emergency. The City Council does not have authority over the sheriff’s office, which is led by an independently elected official.

8. Issue: Iowa City provide funds for the Special Populations Involvement program.

Status: A program within the Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Special Populations Involvement program historically has served adults with intellectual disabilities living in group homes. However, in recent years, the program has shifted focus to include a wider range of adults and children with disabilities, the city said. According to a city memo, programs include sport skill development, independent living skills, social activities and seasonal special events. A free afternoon and evening teen summer program was created in 2015.

A portion of the $1 million in city funds will be directed to the program.

9. Issue: Lift the curfew in Coralville.

Satus: The city of Coralville lifted its curfew June 9.

10. Issue: A plan to restructure the Iowa City Police Department toward community policing.

Status: “What that looks like is defunding it completely ... and restructuring it completely,” Smith said. “We can’t make anything good from a system that was built on injustice and racism. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Send these officers to training.’”

Smith said Iowa Freedom Riders wants funds that would have gone to the police department to go toward education, social work and affordable housing. Issues not covered by those three areas would be handled by public safety officers, Smith said. The group wants officers to hold degrees in sociology and criminology and to show up to calls for service involving crimes, not calls involving mental health crises or domestic issues.

“We don’t want the police system we have now,” Smith said.

The City Council in its resolution has committed to having a preliminary plan to restructure the police department toward community policing by Dec. 15.

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11. Issue: Reform the Iowa City Community Police Review Board.

The demand is to reform the board so it has real power, including — but not limited to — the ability to subpoena officers. The reformed review board must also have the ability to enact and enforce measurable consequences when the board recommendations are not followed or implemented.

Status: Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih has said the review board has too little authority.

“It’s powerless,” Salih, a former member of the board, previously told The Gazette.

Salih said the police department currently investigates allegations of misconduct internally and provides its findings to the board. The police chief typically sides with his own officers, Salih said. Additionally, in the event of a founded complaint, the board has no authority to have an officer be disciplined or undergo more training.

The City Council’s resolution includes advocating for criminal justice reform and enhancing the authority of the review board one of its 2021 legislative priorities.

12. Issue: Iowa City Police Department divest from military grade equipment and contracts with the federal government.

“That kind of stuff needs to go,” Smith said. “I refuse to believe we need it.”

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague sent Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek a letter June 17 asking for the sheriff’s office to divest itself from the county’s Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, an armored transport that has no offensive capabilities.

On Friday, Pulkrabek told The Gazette he intends to keep the MRAP in Johnson County for its intended purpose: rescue and recovery operations during high-risk situations. The MRAP is shared by area law enforcement agencies through an intergovernmental agreement.

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Iowa City staff also is to deliver reports to the council on military grade equipment used by the police department and existing federal contracts.

• Additional issues

In addition to responding to the group’s original 12 demands, the City Council’s resolution also calls for the creation of a truth-and-reconciliation commission to “carry out restorative justice on racial injustice”; an independent review on the June 3 use of tear gas and flash-bangs against protesters; a ban on police choke holds; a ban on the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bangs against peaceful protesters; making sure officers currently employed by the city have not committed any serious misconduct; a review of the police department’s body camera and in-car recorder system policies; developing artistic opportunities for the Black Lives Matter movement and making Juneteenth a city holiday beginning in 2021.

MARION

 

1. Issue: Establish a citizens’ police review board.

Status: Organizers say establishing a board of citizens to review police conduct in events of use of force could reduce racial profiling.

While only 2.5 percent of Marion’s population is Black, Black people account for 16 percent of police use of force incidents.

“We’re talking about an enormous disproportion there,” said Sophia Joseph, 37, of Marion, an alliance organizer. “The police chief will talk about how they haven’t had a lot of complaints of excessive force used, but it’s because people just move away. Racial profiling is running them out of town, whether that’s the intent or not.”

Last month, Marion Police Chief Mike Kitsmiller told the City Council he didn’t see the need for a review board, but would consider it if there was significant demand from residents.

Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said there is “definitely interest” from the Civil Rights Commission in creating a citizens’ review board that has a clear mission and “contributes to making things better,” although it is a decision left up to the council.

2. Issue: Decriminalize marijuana.

Status: In marijuana possession cases, a Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely than a white person to be arrested, according to an ACLU study of national law enforcement data.

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While the City Council does not have the authority to decriminalize marijuana, Pluckhahn said the council could vote to support changes at the state level.

“It might be something added to an advocacy campaign or lobbying platform,” he said.

3. Issue: Make city departments more inclusive and diverse.

Joseph, whose husband is a Black man, said Black people are “not treated with the same respect and consideration” as white people when trying to navigate city departments.

“They don’t feel like it’s their job to help you,” she said of the employees. “It’s so deeply rooted, I’m not sure they know it’s happening.”

The alliance wants the city to invest in eight hours of internal bias training for everyone who works there.

Investing in implicit bias training would be fairly easy, Pluckhahn said. Through the Marion Public Library, the city has access to a “tremendous amount” of training materials at no cost, he said.

“Then you’re just talking about staff time.”

4. Issue: Open doorways to make voting easier.

Status: Accessibility to voting is a “huge concern” for protesters, Joseph said. Joseph said they would like Marion to support a demand at the state level to make it possible to vote online.

Absentee ballots are not enough, Joseph said.

While Pluckhahn said this demand seems aimed at the state and federal government, he would be interested in addressing other barriers to voting, like transportation.

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“Transportation is an issue,” Pluckhahn said. “The public transportation system traditionally shuts down at a certain time of night, and if someone works late and is dependent on public transportation to go vote, they may not be able to.”

5. Issue: Mental health liaison with police for crises calls.

The alliance wants a mental health liaison to respond to calls with the Marion police officers — someone who is not in uniform or a trained officer — to de-escalate mental health crisis calls.

The Marion Police Department currently is in negotiations with Foundation 2, a nonprofit human services agency that offers mobile crisis services, to add a 24/7 mobile crisis unit to the department, Kitsmiller announced last month.

While no formal agreement has been drafted, Pluckhahn said this could cost the department $65,000 a year.

6. Issue: Linn County Attorney must resign.

Joseph said County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden is “not ready to solve the problems he’s created,” which is why the alliance has called for him to step down or not run for reelection.

Last Monday in an email to The Gazette, Vander Sanden said he could not respond to this demand because he had not been contacted by protesters about it.

Joseph said it would not be productive if the group called him and asked him to resign.

“Racial disparities have occurred on his watch,” she said. “When he’s addressed about it, he blames Black people ... It’s inherently racist to blame the victims.”

The demand is an “intensely political issue,” Pluckhahn said, which is outside the city’s control.

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“I don’t have a sense of how the City Council would come down on that,” he said.

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