Public Safety

Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission backs call for police reform

City Council to meet Friday to discuss protesters' priorities

Anthony Arrington, a Cedar Rapids businessman and member of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, speaks June 6 at a
Anthony Arrington, a Cedar Rapids businessman and member of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, speaks June 6 at a Black Lives Matter protest in Greene Square in Cedar Rapids. The civil rights commission this week wrote the Cedar Rapids City Council and police chief, asking for quick action on seven demands put forward for police reform. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission has written the Cedar Rapids City Council and the police chief, asking that they act quickly on the seven demands for police reform put forward by local Black Lives Matter protest leaders.

“As we have seen in demonstrations across our country, and in our own community, clear directives have arisen: systemic reform is essential, and we must act now,” the letter, sent Thursday, said.

The letter was signed by Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven, executive director of the commission.

The seven-member commission voted Wednesday to support the Cedar Rapids Advocates for Social Justice protest group’s calls for reform, which include forming an independent police citizen’s review board, significantly investing in diversity, equity and inclusion, and banning chokeholds.

Other points urge the city to decriminalize minor marijuana crimes, impose strict body camera provisions, make negotiations between law enforcement and municipal representatives public and abolish qualified immunity for police officers.

Commission member Anthony Arrington, who helped craft the demands and has been in talks with city leaders, said the advocates pared a long list of demands to seven items the group felt are “low-hanging fruit” for city action.

“The community is very adamant, as every community around the country is, that police reform must happen,” said Arrington, who abstained from the commission’s vote, given his involvement,

The city council is slated to discuss a resolution of support for the priorities at 1 p.m. Friday.

“It is appropriate for them to weigh in on these issues of civil rights, reform and social justice because we will need their help in making the systemic changes to a system that many of us know is flawed and can be greatly improved,” City Council member Dale Todd said of the commission’s letter.

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Since an initial meeting June 9 with the advocacy group, Mayor Brad Hart and police Chief Wayne Jerman have said they are dedicated to creating a police citizens’ review board but must research which types are the right fit for Cedar Rapids.

How such panels operate varies across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Some empower civilians to investigate allegations and reporting findings to the chief or sheriff, or police officers look into findings for citizens to review. In another model, auditors investigate the process by which authorities investigated complaints.

Reform efforts have advanced at the state level, as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last week signed into law a bipartisan police reform package that lawmakers fast-tracked to passage.

The new law did not address marijuana possession, but it does limit chokeholds to life-or-death situations and requires de-escalation training for officers.

The council’s plans to consider the protesters’ priorities Friday coincides with Juneteenth, which commemorates the day the last slaves were freed on June 19, 1865, in the United States.

Munsterman-Scriven said the commission didn’t have a timeline for when the council should implement the seven steps toward reform but hoped city officials act urgently without getting too wrapped up in bureaucracy.

Protest leaders previously indicated they hoped to see the city draft a plan for acting on their demands by Juneteenth, but Munsterman-Scriven said she understands items need further research.

“I do hope that there is a strong sense of support for the black community members, understanding (the meeting will address) not only this important holiday that frankly so many people do not know,” she said. “And I think it’s such an important way to potentially get that out into the limelight and make sure that we’re supporting our communities of color.”

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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