Our community is in the midst of a renewed and needed debate about policing, law enforcement and the impact it has on underrepresented communities, particularly BIPOC individuals. This debate often focuses on two absolute and polarizing positions.
I hear those who say, “There is no such thing as fair and just law enforcement.” I’ve read the statistics. I get it. We have a lot of progress to make.
Others will say “All Lives Matter”, and totally miss the point that Black Lives have and continue to bear undue risk. However, I believe that supporting Black Lives Matter AND fair and just Law Enforcement are not mutually exclusive.
To that end, I wanted to address two community groups who are the heart of this debate.
To the Iowa Freedom Riders
This debate would not have the urgency it does without your passion, energy and insistence on action. It awakened and energized our community. Thank you.
On June 16, the council passed a 17-point resolution in support of Black Lives Matter, based largely on your demands. Council members have met with you, connected you with other community members and provided considerable time to speak during council meetings. Council and staff have worked at every meeting, and in between, on these issues. We’ve accomplished some and made progress on many of these points. We believe in the cause. We are engaged. We are committed.
I hear your frustration with the speed of change and skepticism that it is a way to stall progress. While your efforts have been and will be instrumental, these changes must also be community driven. We must involve additional organizations and community members, particularly those who have worked on these issues for years. That takes collaboration, diligence, transparency and yes, time. It is the only way to get this right and have widespread support for the changes.
That’s why the discussion about your tactics and behavior is critical. I can’t tell you how to protest. I can express my disappointment in some of your choices. Those include:
• Targeting officers with eye-damaging lasers. This is indefensible.
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• Marching to the interstate (when you said you wouldn’t), risking your safety and that of drivers.
• Spreading misinformation regarding votes on the budget, and the council’s decision to restructure the police, not defund the department.
• Refusing to get a protest permit that would help ensure your safety and that of other community members
• Throwing full water bottles at community members
• Shouting vulgar and personal insults at community members and law enforcement
• Vandalizing (spray painting) public and private property (again, when you said you wouldn’t) which adds expense to city budgets and impacts community members’ businesses. It’s not about the false choice between lives and buildings, it’s about respecting your neighbors and building community support.
• Distorting information about the availability and use of camera footage by the police.
If you wish to drive valuable and lasting changes to our systems, you need allies and broad support. The behaviors above diminish both. By their own admission, you have alienated faith community leaders and other social justice organizations, who could be potential partners. I urge you to consider your decisions going forward in that context. The changes underway will continue regardless of how you move forward. It is your credibility and influence in that discussion that is at stake.
To members of the Iowa City Police Department
You provide a valuable and essential service to our community. As an organization you represent this city well. Thank you.
Our energy has been focused on what needs to change and the issues that exist nationally and locally. While I have been trying to listen to the voices demanding change these last few months, I know that has been justifiably interpreted as a lack of any real support for the Iowa City Police Department. I apologize.
You do not deserve to be threatened, assaulted or subjected to vulgar and personal insults. You do not deserve to feel unsupported because community and elected officials fail to speak up or, frankly, fear the potential blowback, should they speak up. You do not deserve to be blamed for the history of systemic racism in policing, or in our society. You are bearing the brunt of the criticism for systems that predate you, a complex and sometimes contradictory set of laws and behaviors which are not attributable to most of you, most of the time.
You are being asked to do so much more than in the past, including responding to situations where additional intervention from other trained professionals may provide better long-term outcomes. In spite of that, you have responded with compassion to suicide threats, domestic issues, human trafficking, etc. You have embraced crisis intervention training and many others, to better serve our community.
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All of us, including me, must also improve how we communicate and interact with others. You interact with the public in stressful situations, both for them and often for you. You are the “front window” through which many view our community. That means checking your biases and treating people with respect, compassion and professionalism even when faced with the most difficult situations. Please maintain that high standard. We need you to help us make the system better.
As we “restructure” how we police our community, share your thoughts and suggest investments we can make that would help you serve the community better. I look forward to your input.
Again, thank you to you and your families!
In closing, to the Iowa City community, please help us move forward with respect and compassion for each other. Please contact council with your ideas and input so we can do our best to represent the everyone.
Susan Mims holds the District B seat on the Iowa City City Council.