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'We are all created equal, but we're not all treated equal' Protesters march for second Saturday in a row in Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — Thousands of protesters laid face-down with their hands behind their backs on First Avenue E for the second Saturday in a row, this time calling out “Momma” at the seven minute and 30 second mark like George Floyd did before he died.

The protest was organized by a grassroots group called Advocates for Social Justice, which is making seven demands for police reform including enacting a citizens’ review board of the police and stricter rules on officer body cameras.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said Friday the city would create a citizens’ board, but the details of its makeup and powers were not determined.

Saturday’s protest was one of hundreds across the United States that sprang up after Floyd, a black man, was killed on Memorial Day in Minneapolis when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, cutting off his airway.

The protesters Saturday called for Cedar Rapids police Officer Lucas Jones to be fired. Jones, a white officer, shot Jerime Mitchell, a black man, in 2016 during a traffic stop, paralyzing him. A police video showed Mitchell driving away from the traffic stop with Jones caught in the door of the moving pickup truck. A grand jury declined to indict Jones, but the family later filed suit.

That case has yet to go to trial, and Jerman declined last week in an interview with The Gazette to discuss Jones while the lawsuit was pending.

Louise Mitchell, Jerime Mitchell’s mother, said in an interview Saturday she wants to see justice for all because “it doesn’t matter who you are, what color you are, nobody deserves to be mistreated.”

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“I’m just here to make sure justice prevails,” Mitchell said. “And a lot of things go on in this world that are overlooked, and it shouldn’t be, because we are all created equal, but we’re not all treated equal. And that’s why I’m here again. I’ll be here the next time fighting for justice.”

She spoke June 6 to a crowd in Greene Square to call for justice. She did not speak to Saturday’s gathering, but said she wanted to see the city act on the protesters’ demands for police reform.

“We need a lot of change in this town,” Mitchell said. “We need a lot of change in this world — it’s too much hate and not enough love. And we need to see the City Council, the mayor, and all the chiefs and everybody who sits up in these high positions — we need to see them do their jobs, not uphold people when they do wrong.”

Saturday’s protest began at Bever Park, where the crowd heard from several speakers including one of the protest organizers, Antonio Chalmers; Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd; and state Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids.

As people began showing up, they were given the opportunity to register to vote.

The reason President Donald Trump is in the White House is because “we didn’t vote,” Todd said. “I’m here today because these are serious times ... George Floyd will be this generation’s defining moment.”

Chalmers said when he was asked to take the stage and speak his initial reaction was no.

“I’m not in a good mental place with everything going on,” he said. “I looked at the crowd, and I see all these people out here that are joining for a cause that’s much bigger than myself.

Chalmers read a poem he wrote, calling for police reform and for officers to live in the neighborhoods they police:

“Police these neighborhoods with people from these neighborhoods instead of you sending in the one’s afraid of us that hated us.

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“The same cop these kids of dreaming when they grow up, killed a father within minutes of showing up,” he recited.

After the speakers concluded, protesters marched on Bever Avenue SE, stopping on the corner of 19th Street SE to chalk “Black Lives Matter.” Protesters filled in an outline with different colors of chalk and wrote sayings such as “The system isn’t broken. It was built this way.”

Tyre Walker, 26, who led the demonstration on First Avenue, said he wanted protesters to try to feel what Floyd felt.

He said he is worried for his life and for his four children who are ages 7, 6, 4 and 2.

“Without change of systemic oppression I feel I or my kids or someone else in my family will fall,” Walker said between leading chants.

”Walker asked protesters to look to their left and to their right.

“That’s your neighbor,” he said. “If you see them get pulled over by the police, you stop.”

After sitting on First Avenue at the corner of 15th Street E for about 15 minutes, protesters marched four blocks to 19th Street before heading back to Bever Park.

Marsean Williams, 30, marched with his three children, ages 10, 9 and 5.

Williams was hesitant to bring them to the protest for fear it would turn unruly, but after witnessing a peaceful protest in Cedar Rapids the week before he wanted them to be a part of it.

“I don’t want them to miss out on something that revolves around them and their future.”

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Williams was glad to see people of all colors protesting alongside each other, but he isn’t sure everyone fully understands the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter isn’t about black versus white or black versus the police, he said.

“It’s about undoing an American culture that has existed for decades, centuries even,” Williams said. “The message isn’t ‘We want to get rid of the police.’ We want better police that works for all.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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