Black Lives Matter protesters took their case to the state Capitol this week. One of the organizers, Matt Bruce, told Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau reporter Erin Murphy that he felt like the group was “being fed lip service” as they urged lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff to take action now on a list of racial justice policy demands.
But this is a time for urgency, not lip service. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis has sparked a nationwide push to purge the nation’s criminal justice system of the systemic racism that’s destroyed or taken too many black lives. Inaction on these issues is no longer acceptable.
And the protesters’ demands are reasonable and achievable if the Legislature and governor can shed old, misguided thinking about criminal justice in Iowa and embrace this moment of change.
Protesters asked lawmakers to take up a trio of proposals introduced by legislative Democrats, including a ban on the use of chokeholds by police, a ban on the hiring of police officers who were previously fired for misconduct and a measure giving the attorney general the power to investigate police misconduct.
Beyond those proposals, the protesters also urged lawmakers to decriminalize cannabis and expunge cannabis-related convictions from criminal records, end juvenile detention and stop a bill that would bar the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot request forms to all voters. They also want the governor to issue an executive order restoring the voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who met with protesters, told them he believes there will be action on the trio of Democratic proposals. If he’s right, that’s a good start.
But lawmakers also have time to make real progress on reforming Iowa’s marijuana laws. And there’s no valid reason for punishing the secretary of state for taking actions that led to record turnout in the June 2 primary election. We’ve repeatedly opined that Reynolds should take executive action to restore voting rights, rather than wait years for a constitutional amendment.
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If lawmakers run out of time in the shortened 2020 session to address the more complex issues surrounding Iowa’s flawed juvenile detention system, legislators should, at the very least, lay groundwork for action when they return in 2021.
We need state leadership on these and other racial justice issues. Listening and discussion are important. But lawmakers and the governor must deliver real results before the session ends.
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