When it comes to racial justice, it seems the initial strategy of our city was shoot, ready, aim.
In the face of an inspiring global movement for change, the Cedar Rapids City Council shot first by resisting the efforts of local leaders of color. After public condemnation, they then readied themselves to listen, only to cut off talks shortly after. Eventually, they found a target at which to aim, but only after heeding the original recommendations of Black leaders. We lost valuable time and momentum. And, we are still working to ensure the aim is robust enough to yield meaningful results.
Whether it was pride, misunderstanding or ignorance, this false start by the city significantly delayed the process of progress. Nevertheless, the Advocates for Social Justice — one of the largest coalitions of leaders of color to ever be assembled in this city — persisted. What this community experienced throughout this slog was a perfect example of institutional resistance to necessary social change; a visceral illustration of what the larger movement for Black liberation faces across the country.
Our policymakers view themselves as defenders of institutions, whether it is the institution of law enforcement or that of local government. While a natural default to preservation is understandable, the institutions in this case were the heaviest hands of oppression.
The ASJ not only brought our lived experiences to the table, but we engaged with national experts, speaking with members of citizen review boards and civil rights scholars in many different states. In addition, the Advocates engaged with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), and with their expertise, crafted a research brief that served as the starting point for negotiations. In the spirit of transparency, we made all of this work available to city officials and the general public to provide a road map; a target at which to aim.
After more than 10 constructive meetings with Jennifer Pratt and Bill Micheel, who negotiated the terms of the citizen review board on behalf of the city, we arrived at a framework for moving forward, using the ASJ research brief as the basis. While this framework reflects some of what ASJ hoped to achieve, it has been widely recognized as woefully insufficient.
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Without the inclusion of two foundational provisions — the ability to request records and information, and the ability to issue non-binding recommendations for disciplinary action — the citizen review board in its current iteration is little more than a rubber stamp for investigations into police misconduct; investigations that are conducted by other police officers. Granting the power to recommend disciplinary action represents a concession from ASJ’s original call for binding disciplinary action.
Cedar Rapids’ citizen review board as proposed does not rise to the standard of meaningful public accountability. And if it cannot meet this standard, the credibility of this entity is obliterated.
Luckily for all of us, there still is time on the clock to improve the framework by including the two aforementioned provisions.
As we move forward, we should keep in mind that this was all made possible by Black leaders in this community. These leaders represent a range of generational, professional and family backgrounds. This wealth of knowledge is an invaluable resource for our community. It is our hope that the city will continue to work with ASJ, as there remain six additional items to be addressed from the original list of seven demands. Working with us right out of the gate and taking our advice to heart would make for a ready, aim, fire approach to racial justice.
We firmly believe that moving forward in this way, will help us hit the target in the end.
This guest column is co-authored by members of the Advocates for Social Justice’s citizen review board subcommittee: Amara Andrews, Anthony Arrington, Anne Harris Carter, Tamara Marcus and Stacey Walker.