IOWA CITY — Law enforcement officers used tear gas, flash-bangs and a line of officers late Wednesday to keep hundreds of protesters from Interstate 80.
The march that started shortly after 6 p.m., with nearly 1,000 protesters marching through the city for hours, ended within a quarter-mile of the on-ramps to I-80, where police used multiple rounds of tear gas and flash grenades to keep protesters off the freeway.
People ran from the gas and some were treated for injuries by the Johnson County Ambulance Service, even as others were yelling for more protesters to go to the front. People handed out water, encouraging others to douse their masks with it to help with the fumes.
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, who is black and has supported those protesting against police brutality, said Wednesday he was “heartbroken” that officers with the Iowa State Patrol and Iowa City Police Department used chemical agents against the protesters attempting to block I-80.
He said the patrol made a determination that protesters had to be blocked from the interstate because the risk of fatalities were too high.
But addressing the city’s police department, he said later that “we are not OK with the use of agents” against peaceful protesters. He said the city was reviewing its police policies but did not elaborate.
One of the first times a large group of protesters entered I-80 was in November 2016 — after President Donald Trump won the general election — when a school walkout and protest in Iowa City ended up on the interstate.
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The incident was dangerous and blocked traffic on the state’s major east-west thoroughfare for about 10 minutes. It raised the ire of Republican lawmakers, who proposed legislation that would have made it a felony to intentionally block a highway.
Wednesday night’s march in Iowa City — the third in as many nights — had more than tripled the size of the group that gathered Monday. The first few hours were largely non-violent, with protesters moving around the city center, chanting and spray painting streets and buildings.
One protester was arrested late Tuesday night, accused of vandalizing and breaking a window at the Johnson County Health and Human Services building. Sheriff’s deputies used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
The University of Iowa condemned police brutality in a Twitter message and said that it was reviewing the use of chemical agents against some of its students.
The school faced calls on social media to cut ties with the Iowa City Police Department, even though the mayor said the state patrol made the call on the use of munitions.
Neither the police department nor state patrol responded to requests for comment Thursday.
Teague delivered a lengthy speech broadcast on Facebook and local television that sought to diffuse tensions.
He called on protesters to refrain from property damage and violence and the city’s white residents to listen and work for change.
“Right now black lives are on fire, and we need you to come and assist to get this fire out,” Teague said.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.