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Thousands pour into in Iowa City for 'long road ahead' to racial justice

Daytime protesters 'amplify the voices of our black community'

Teacher Tre Lathan speaks Saturday during a demonstration and march around Iowa City. Thousands of people gathered to sh
Teacher Tre Lathan speaks Saturday during a demonstration and march around Iowa City. Thousands of people gathered to share stories and educate others about racism before marching around downtown Iowa City and observing a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Thirty-eight weeks pregnant, Chelsey Montgomery-Gusta said she has been scared to speak out because people have been getting hurt in protests and there hadn’t been “enough of this … good stuff” like Saturday’s outpouring in Iowa City.

The daytime protest, which drew as many as 4,000 people, was a welcome change, said Montgomery-Gusta, of Parnell, from Wednesday night when authorities fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades at protesters as they approached Interstate 80.

No such incidents at all occurred Saturday afternoon as thousands gathered on the downtown Iowa City Pedestrian Mall to listen to speakers talk about their experiences and to encourage everyone to speak out about racial injustice.

The crowd also marched through downtown, chanting “Black Lives Matter, “Hands up. Don’t shoot,” and “Say his name — George Floyd.” Vehicles stopped for the crowd and honked their horns in support of the protesters.

Montgomery-Gusta’s husband, Dillon Gusta, who organized the event, had a city permit for the protest. There was no obvious Iowa City police presence at the rally or during the march downtown. None was needed.

Montgomery-Gusta, who trains service dogs and owns Knallhart Kennels Training, told the crowd she didn’t decide to come until Saturday morning because of her fear — but she was happy she did.

She talked about being worried at first about teaching their child, who will be biracial, about speaking up for himself. But he should be able to stand up and express his anger or concern about a situation, she said she came to realize, just like any white child might.

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Two teachers spoke during the rally, asking parents to have conversations with their kids about racial issues, as well as sexuality and any other important issues.

One of those teachers, Tre Lathan, who teaches in North Liberty, said discussions about racial injustice need to start at home to be effective.

“This isn’t just for black people. White people also need to talk to your kids,” Lathan said. “Black and white students are watching you — the educators.”

Lathan, saying that trauma and racial injustice are directly related, shared a trauma from her past that has affected her entire life. When she was 4, her 2-year-old brother had severe asthma and died of respiratory failure. The doctor had given him the wrong medicine, she said, but the family had no recourse because they were “poor and black.”

His death affected her ability to form relationships. She doesn’t trust people and has had a fear of “letting them in.” Lathan said she is usually shy, but participated in the protest because “I love your kids.”

Another speaker, Joel Kline, a pulmonary critical care doctor, said he knows protesters might ask what can he share as a white man, but he wanted to talk about how “unacceptable” it was for police to use tear gas on protesters as they had.

“Tear gas is a weapon used to torture people,” Kline said. “It’s made up of several dangerous chemical compounds. It’s used for enemy forces, not used for protesters.”

Other speakers told the crowd they were tired of “watching black people getting murdered” and weren’t here to “just survive, but to live.”

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The scheduled protest ended with eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to convey how long a white Minnesota police officer had pinned George Floyd, 46, to the ground by kneeling on his neck, as Floyd pleaded he couldn’t breathe and eventually died.

Dillon Gusta, after the protest ended, said he had “loosely” organized the event but wasn’t a leader. His goal was to support and “amplify the voices of our black community.”

“The leaders of this event were the black men and women I met today that shared their stories, led chants and led the march through the streets. It’s a long road ahead, a marathon. I believe white allies need to continue to support and amplify the voices of our black neighbors.”

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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