Public Safety

These are the Iowa Freedom Riders' demands in Iowa City and the status of each

Protesters read an updated set of demands June 8 from the steps of the Old Capitol during a protest for racial justice i
Protesters read an updated set of demands June 8 from the steps of the Old Capitol during a protest for racial justice in Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

IOWA CITY — In June, the Iowa Freedom Riders presented a wide-ranging list of a dozen demands to the Iowa City Council, including beefing up a community review board of police and reforming its police force from scratch.

The City Council endorsed the issues — and added more of its own.

• In Cedar Rapids: Seven demands for city leaders

• In Marion: Six demands from organizers

Here is a look at those issues and where things stand on all of them:

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.”

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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.

“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.

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

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.

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.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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