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Cedar Rapids racial injustice vigil stirs call for action

Speakers urge voters to consider if elected officials are 'complacent' in systemic racism

CEDAR RAPIDS — Local activists seeking to end racial injustice united around the power of the polls as the Nov. 3 election looms, urging people who gathered Monday at a candlelight vigil honoring victims of police violence to use their voices and their votes.

The Advocates for Social Justice held a vigil at the NewBo City Market to honor Breonna Taylor and other Black lives lost to police brutality. Several speakers urged the 100 or so people in attendance to vote and be the change they seek in all levels of government to end systemic racism.

Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse from Louisville, Ky., was fatally shot in March by city police after they broke down the door to her apartment while executing a late-night “no-knock” warrant in a narcotics investigation.

The city of Louisville last week settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with Taylor’s family for $12 million and agreed to institute sweeping police reforms.

“This settlement does not mean justice has been served,” said Tamara Marcus, an Advocates for Social Justice co-founder. “ ... Delayed justice is injustice.”

Protesters have demanded that the three officers at the scene face criminal charges or convictions for her death. One has lost his job and is appealing his firing, and no one has been charged.

Calls for justice in her death and in George Floyd’s death in by Minneapolis police custody have prompted widespread protests across the United States, including Cedar Rapids, as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Coe College student Harold Walehwa spoke of the emotional toll of repeated exposure to news of violence against people of color.

While it can be numbing, Walehwa said, there is an opportunity in this movement for a safer, more equitable life for people of color — “a movement that demands more than just 90 days” and two surveys to be called action, referring to the city of Cedar Rapids’ process of engaging the public to form a citizens’ police review board.

“I’m tired of seeing these horrific stories of violence toward Black and brown bodies in this country,” Walehwa said. “I’m tired of folks in power dragging their feet and being a hurdle for change.”

Racism clearly still exists, Walehwa said, pointing to the recent death of Michael Williams, 44, a Black man from Grinnell.

Williams’ body was found after authorities extinguished a fire in a ditch near Kellogg last Wednesday and have since declared his death a homicide.

Some in the community fear Williams may have been targeted because of his race. Authorities have not yet shared details surrounding his death.

Angelina Ramirez, another Coe College student, said the coming election poses a question: How are you individually practicing complacency?

Local officials generally do not acknowledge the suffering of Black and brown community members, said Ramirez, who is biracial with a Chicano father and white mother.

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Even having grown up with what she described as “clashing lenses,” Ramirez said it took her until the 2016 election to think about how policies affect others, and not only the personal impact.

Ramirez said a true act of patriotism is when people think beyond themselves when they cast their ballots.

“They’re absolutely fine with the way things are going as it is,” Ramirez said of elected leaders. “They don’t need a change. They don’t see a need for reform. They are complacent, and their complacency should no longer be tolerated.”

Jorel Robinson, who ran for mayor in 2017 and for City Council in 2019, said people need to prioritize voting in and engaging with local politics as much as national politics. He said the community needs the energy of those who are active on social media.

“This is what they’re afraid of, because we then get to be the change we seek,” Robinson said.

The vigil ended with the crowd lighting candles and placing flowers down before a display honoring Black victims of police violence.

Ana Clymer, 47, a member of the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, attended the vigil with her children Monday night. Clymer said it is important to improve representation of historically marginalized communities in office and to empower people to vote as well as run for office.

“We need to give voice to those that can carry forward that message into action — and not just what’s right at the moment, but what’s right for our nation, what’s right for our city, what’s right for our county at any given time,” Clymer said. “Honestly. It can’t continue to be status quo.”

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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