Public Safety

Iowa City, University of Iowa commit to police reviews and reforms

'We can do better. We must do better'

Protesters flee as flash grenades are set off late Wednesday on Dubuque Street during a march against racial injustice i
Protesters flee as flash grenades are set off late Wednesday on Dubuque Street during a march against racial injustice in Iowa City. Authorities positioned on Dubuque Street used flash grenades and tear gas in an attempt to stop protesters from entering Interstate 80. “This action is unacceptable and prompted calls from members of our campus community to cut ties with the Iowa City Police Department as well as other area law enforcement agencies,” said a University of Iowa message Friday to the campus. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa City and University of Iowa leaders committed Friday to “open and transparent” reviews of their police departments — including their policies and interactions with communities of color — after law enforcement officers earlier this week deployed flash grenades and tear gas on protesters.

A UI message on how it will respond to protests sparked by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd — a black man who died in the custody of white police officer in Minnesota — committed the campus to working with the Iowa City Community Police Review Board to evaluate that department.

UI leadership also vowed to conduct an audit of its own Department of Public Safety, “including a climate assessment of interactions with communities of color.”

“The university is standing side-by-side with Iowa City Mayor (Bruce) Teague, Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem (Mazahi) Salih and the Iowa City Council in order to actively and expeditiously work toward law enforcement reform,” the UI said in its statement.

But the campus did not promise to cut ties with Iowa City police and the Iowa State Patrol, “especially in the form of economic support,” as its graduate student union demanded after the Wednesday use of force.

And the message did not respond to the union’s call for a “swift disarmament of the Department of Public Safety to ensure that no such abuses of power will occur against students or employees on campus.”

“No institution whose core values include community, diversity, and integrity can sit idly by while their community is suffering,” said a statement from the UI Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, or COGS.

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The university did roundly denounce actions that law enforcement took against protesters late Wednesday who wanted to walk onto Interstate 80 to continue their demonstration — notably by firing flash bangs and chemical agents into the crowd.

“This action is unacceptable and prompted calls from members of our campus community to cut ties with the Iowa City Police Department as well as other area law enforcement agencies,” the UI message said.

In a joint statement, UI and city leaders reiterated their renouncement of what transpired but also committed to continue working together.

“We deeply regret what transpired Wednesday night with the use of gas and flash bang devices and acknowledge that with better preparations and time, we could safely accommodate Interstate 80 access to those that were demonstrating for change in honor of Mr. George Floyd,” according to the statement. “We are committed to working with all of our government and law enforcement partners to ensure the scenario from Wednesday night does not repeat itself.”

Stressing more than half the university’s faculty members live in Iowa City and most of the nearly three-quarters of students who live off campus call Iowa City home, UI leaders noted the value of being “at the table with local law enforcement to create accountability structures that ensure the safety of our community.”

“As you have told us, we can do better. We must do better. We must be the drivers of change,” according to the UI message.

In the joint message, leaders noted the Community Police Review Board will call on the public and student leaders in its review of police “to ensure such review is not unduly influenced by city management.”

Although the university vowed to conduct its own audit of its Public Safety Department, its message did not clarify who would be conducting the audit or how or when it would proceed.

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The message promised to establish “specific training and operational requirements for the (the Department of Public Safety) within the campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan.” And it committed to prioritizing skills and focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice for all public safety employees.

Both the UI and joint statements committed their respective entities to sign on and align with former President Barack Obama’s new “Police Use of Force Project,” which calls for mayors, councils and police oversight bodies to address police use-of-force policies.

“We have a long way to go, but the journey has begun and we need your energy, passion, and voices,” according to the UI message, signed by UI President Bruce Harreld, Provost Montse Fuentes, Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen and others.

The university also Friday hosted a “racial equity and human rights” dialogue focused on activism and healing, where a collection of UI faculty and city leaders shared their thoughts on this moment in time, the protests and how the community can move forward productively.

In an act of solidarity with those calling for justice, hundreds of UI Health Care, College of Medicine and College of Dentistry faculty, staff and students on Friday afternoon walked outside their respective buildings and took a knee as a showing of “white coats for black lives.”

“We condemn the underlying culture of racism and violence in our country that has led us to where we are today,” according to a UIHC social media post showing lawns full of kneeling doctors, nurses and other students and staff. “We remain committed to making our institution diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all our students, faculty, staff, patients, and our community.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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