Public Safety

Iowa City protest leader arrested on 'unlawful assembly' count

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IOWA CITY — A leader of the Iowa City group that calls itself the Iowa Freedom Riders and has been organizing protests across the community over the last week was arrested Sunday evening on counts of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct, according to the Johnson County Jail, where he’s being held.

Iowa City police arrested Mazin Mohamedali, 20, at 6:45 p.m. on three charges, including unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and a probation violation. He’s scheduled Monday morning to face a judge for a bail hearing.

An Iowa City police sergeant did not immediately return a call Sunday evening from The Gazette.

According to Iowa City police criminal complaints, Mohamedali’s arrest stems from the incidents during the protest on June 3.

Police said Mohamedal — along with hundreds of other protesters — blocked multiple roadways including Dubuque Street and Foster Road, preventing their use. Police said protesters also vandalized property including roadways, street signs and buildings.

Both unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct — obstruct public way are simple misdemeanors.

Mohamedali has called himself a leader of the group that has organized the numerous protests in Iowa City over the last week that start on the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest and migrate to Interstate 80.

The demonstrations have remained mostly peaceful, although officers clashed with protesters Wednesday night when authorities met demands from the crowd to get onto I-80 with flash-bang grenades and tear gas.

Authorities on subsequent nights proactively shut down the interstate, and University of Iowa and Iowa City officials apologized for the use of those deterrents — vowing to review department policies and procedures.

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Saturday night, the Freedom Riders and those protesting in concert went west toward Kinnick Stadium, where they spray painted the historic stadium along with the Nile Kinnick statue, and the UI Hospitals and Clinics including the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Mohamedali and the group then headed toward Highway 1, where they were met with a line of law enforcement and decided to turn around. Back on the Pentacrest, according to reporting from the Daily Iowan, Mohamedali said through a megaphone they opted not to face the police line because they weren’t prepared.

But he promised the group would gather again Monday and be more prepared, according to the Daily Iowan.

“Tell your friends if they care about you they’ll be here on Monday,” he said, according to the campus newspaper. “They will help you on Monday. They’ll be ready for war Monday.”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported following the late Saturday-early Sunday protests that Mohamedali and other members criticized the Hawkeye football program for reports from former players of racism within the program.

“If people want to put institutions — values on items, stadiums, buildings, hospitals — over the lives inside them — the lives that run them, the lives that keep them thriving — then we don’t need a society anymore,” Mohamedali told the Press-Citizen in an interview Sunday. “Because lives are more important than things.”

Mohamedali was arrested on an alleged controlled substance violation in January for having two plastic bags of marijuana, according to a police complaint. That case remains open.

Officers on May 29 executed a warrant to search Mohamedali’s phone in association with that case, according to court records.

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The Iowa Freedom Riders over the last week has issued a list of demands, including cutting the Iowa City police budget by 25 percent and redirecting the money to social services; giving the police citizens review board more power; dropping charges against protesters; and decriminalizing the use and possession of marijuana less than 40 grams. The list also demands a reduction in the probation time for marijuana violations.

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