Staff Columnist

When the world isn't nice and safe

People march up Fifth Street SE as they take part in a June 6 protest in Greene Square against racial injustice. Thousan
People march up Fifth Street SE as they take part in a June 6 protest in Greene Square against racial injustice. Thousands gathered for the event, which began at Greene Square before a march through downtown Cedar Rapids, to protest racism, police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Every month, I have a chance to write a column, expressing my thoughts about something, commenting on the state of the world in these pages.

I’m a journalist, so this is often an uncomfortable undertaking; I am supposed to not show bias, to keep my opinions to myself, to not let them influence my reporting.

So for this space I usually try to pick topics that are fairly innocuous. I talk about my garden a lot. Gardens are nice and safe, right?

But the times we are living in are not nice and safe. Really, they never have been for everyone, but for me and other white Iowans, they mostly were and so we could carry on as if that were the reality for everyone.

Oh, we have all the normal fears for our safety that come with living in this world. There are the worries about tragedies like car crashes or cancer diagnoses or heart attacks. Women have the added worry of living in a world rife with sexual and gender-based violence.

But I don’t worry what will happen to me if I’m pulled over but the police. I don’t worry for the men in my family, that they might be perceived as a threat when they walk into the world.

If I should ever have a son, and he looked like me, I would not have to have “the talk” with him that parents of black children know all too well, about how to react should they encounter police, a talk meant to keep them alive, though it too often does not. If I was ever in trouble, I would not be hesitant to call the police for help in fear they might mistake me for the perpetrator instead of the victim.

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Some people, some white people, never having experienced these fears, have trouble believing they are real, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite statistics and anecdotes alike.

Black people have been shouting these truths for decades. Video after video, from dash cameras and body cameras and bystanders with cellphones, have flooded our airwaves and the internet with images of black people being killed by the police. Their names have become hashtags, protest signs, cries in the street.

A journalist’s job is to share facts, and to share the voices of the people we meet as we do our reporting.

At the June 6 protest in Greene Square, I talked with several protesters about why they were there. Many told me they or someone they loved has firsthand experience being harassed by police.

Others, like Taylor Scudder, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Northwest Junior High in Coralville, said the issue goes deeper than policing.

She said her students, at a majority-minority school, don’t see enough teachers that look like them. She wants the district to work harder not just to recruit but maintain teachers of color like her. She said many of her students can’t afford to participate in community activities like sports. She pointed out students of color are more likely to be recommended for special education and less likely to be recommended for talented and gifted programs than their white peers.

Aliyah Allers, 17, and Neveah Noye, 17, both of Cedar Rapids, will be seniors at Jefferson High School in the fall. Neither had been to a protest before but said they were inspired to continue activism in the future.

“I feel like this is going to be a big impact on the whole nation,” Allers said. “I just want justice for all. Everybody should be treated equally.”

If that’s a controversial opinion, I don’t really want to know why.

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I’m still a journalist, and I’ll keep my opinions to myself on what policy changes and methods should be employed to get us there.

But to say it’s what we should all be working toward? That is unassailable.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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