Public Safety

Advocates decry Cedar Rapids plan to advance police review panel

'It feels like a slap in the face to unilaterally decide'

Amara Andrews of Cedar Rapids listens June 9 as members of the Cedar Rapids City Council and police department meet with
Amara Andrews of Cedar Rapids listens June 9 as members of the Cedar Rapids City Council and police department meet with protest organizers at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. Organizers presented a list of demands to ensure more transparency in local policing and government and racial equity within the city. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Black Lives Matter advocacy group says its voice is being squelched by Cedar Rapids city officials in the process of creating a citizens’ review board of the police force.

In a Zoom meeting recorded Friday, and shared with The Gazette by Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, members of the Advocates for Social Justice clashed with Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and City Council member Dale Todd over how the city intends to implement the review panel.

Hart said the council will select up to 18 residents for a task force to explore, research, develop and make a recommendation for a citizens’ review board. The task force would include some members from the Advocates for Social Justice, but city representatives were unable to say who or how many. Hart said, though, the advocates “will have more representation than any other group” on the task force.

Members of the Advocates for Social Justice, who have opposed creating a task force, said they feel like the decision to do so was made in secret.

“You have a group of people already looking into citizens’ review boards and outlining what we think it should look like in Cedar Rapids,” said Amara Andrews, a member of the advocates group. “It feels like a slap in the face to unilaterally decide who’s going to be on this task force when you have a group of people already willing to do the work and already working on it.”

The Advocates for Social Justice formed following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer.

The group of Cedar Rapids residents has been meeting with city officials for the past month to make progress on seven demands for police reform.

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The demands include the citizens’ review board, investment in diversity, equity and inclusion training, banning the use of chokeholds and imposing stricter body camera provisions.

The City Council unanimously backed a resolution earlier this month supporting the seven demands.

Walker, however, said a citizens’ review board is “the most important goal that was put forward by this group,” but the city was making decisions “without seeking the group’s input into how to do that.”

“What we are all trying to do here gets at the root of systemic oppression that’s been faced by people of color, specifically Black people, in this country,” Walker said. “You have a group representing Black leaders in this community trying to engage in a process that will result in meaningful police reform, and this group comprised of Black people is begging and pleading to be part of that.”

Andrews said the conversation with the city officials was “demeaning.”

“It feels like being disenfranchised, having your power taken away from you and not being allowed a voice,” Andrews said. “As I sit here, it hurts. We’ve been doing all this work and the only reason we are here today is because of the work we have been doing for weeks now. This is the root of systemic racism.”

The city isn’t getting credit for trying to move forward on police reforms the advocates have prioritized, Todd said.

Todd said the task force will be gender balanced, generational and predominantly African American. City officials said the task force would have 45 to 90 days to make recommendation to the City Council.

Pomeranz said he is listening and trying to learn from the advocates.

“We do not want to be part of any systemic racism,” Pomeranz said. “No one can deny it is in our culture and in our society. We want to be a part of the solution, and we want to do the right thing.”

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After Friday’s meeting, the advocates published a fundraiser to their Facebook page asking for $150,000. They said the funds would support the organization of future rallies and protests in a safe and peaceful manner; personal protective equipment for organizers and attendees; bail for arrested protesters; and artist compensation for the completion of a Black Lives Movement mural on 19th Street SE and Bever Avenue. As of Monday afternoon, the fundraiser had raised more than $5,500.

A protest is being planned for 2 p.m. Friday but the location hasn’t yet been determined.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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