The Power of Community

Posted on June 30, 2020

Protest image

It was barely a month ago when the video of George Floyd dying by the hands of a Minneapolis police officer surfaced. Not long after, people all over the nation took their voices to the streets in protests. The group that I have actively spent the most time with, and seems to be the most prevalent in Iowa City, is the Iowa Freedom Riders. On the first nights of protests our group was pretty small, maybe 100 people or less. Our group consisted of mostly younger individuals, some high school or younger, and was in all honesty mostly white, but as the protests went on and gained traction and attention from the community the group became much larger. Nearing 1000 peaceful protestors, including the Mayor and city council, the protestors become noticeably more diverse in both age and ethnicity (resembling a positive unification in the community), and we became much more organized.

The Iowa Freedom Riders inevitably became more organized and out of that organization a concise letter of demand was drafted. This letter contains 18 points of dissatisfaction and it demands change from the city council, the local school board, and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. The Iowa Freedom Riders collaborated with other similar movements across Iowa when figuring out how best to get organized, what demands are important to us and to who do we send them.

Some of the most notable demands are;

– a strong statement from the Iowa City Police Department in favor of the protests

– businesses and institutions must implement an equity tool kit (waiting for more on this subject),

– a clear and sensible plan for affordable housing (the demand goes on to call for accountability for those who are in charge of the local Affordable Housing Commission if change is not made),

-a plan to restructure the Iowa City Police Department toward community policing

– reforming the Iowa City Community Police Review Board so that it has real power, including but not limited to the ability to subpoena officers. The reformed board must also have the ability to enact and enforce measure able consequences when the board recommendations are not followed or implemented

– Iowa City Police Department divestment from, and removal of, military grade equipment and contracts from Federal Government

– A more diverse school board that is representative of the members of the community, – the complete removal of SRO (School Resources Officers) from public schools

– And, a reduction of probation length for ex-convicts and no marijuana drug testing.

A full comprehensive list can be found here, at the Iowa Freedom Riders account website

After the city council met and failed to immediately pass any substantive change, the protests began marching to council member’s homes and demanding change from there. It wasn’t long after that the Iowa City City Council released a list of actions and steps which it says it will take to address the systemic racism and police policies, here are all of those:

  1. By Dec. 15, 2020, have a preliminary plan to restructure the Iowa City Police Department towards community policing. 
  2. Allocate $1,000,000 in City funds to promote racial equity and social justice.
  3. Expanding efforts to increase the number of minorities employed by the City.
  4. Receive a report by Aug. 1, 2020, from the City Manager’s office on the ICPD’s involvement in the use of gas and flash-bang devices during the protest in Iowa City on June 3, 2020.
  5. Create an ad hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission to carry out restorative justice on racial injustice in the City by Oct. 1, 2020. 
  6. Change 2021 City Council’s legislative priorities to advocate for more criminal justice reform and enhance the authority of the Community Police Review Board.
  7. Expand use of City’s racial equity toolkit to City Council and local business partners.
  8. By Jan. 1, 2021, receive a report and recommendations on changes to the Community Police Review Board. 
  9. Provide a detailed expenditure summary of the police budget on the City’s website.
  10. Support divestment of Johnson County Sheriff Office’s MRAP vehicle and obtain a report on military grade equipment owned by ICPD. 
  11. Direct City Manager to ban any use of chokeholds by police. 
  12. Direct City Manager to ensure officers working in Iowa City have not committed serious misconduct.
  13. Review and revise ICPD’s Body Worn Cameras and In-Car Recorder systems. 
  14. Revise ICPD’s general orders to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force. 
  15. Work with Public Art Advisory Committee and Black artists to provide opportunities for artistic expression by the Black Lives Matter movement and communities of color. 
  16. Prohibit the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bangs against peaceful protesters.
  17. Beginning in 2021, Juneteenth, June 19, shall be a City holiday.

In wake of the demonstrations and amid a global pandemic the Iowa City community came together during three Speak Up, Speak Out events (all of which social distancing was encouraged and masks and water were handed out). These community events were organized by the city council and they encouraged members of the community to show up and speak out about what issues they’ve had with the police, issues they’ve had with individual businesses, or just issues they’ve generally had because of the color of their skin.

I personally could not speak on such issues – I’ve never been harassed or picked on because of the color of my skin, or the side of town which I live – however, this did not stop me from standing up and speaking to my community at each of these events. Between the three speeches that I gave, I asked my community members to contact their members of congress, their city council, and their governor to demand these changes. I spoke about the power of community and how important it is to get to know your neighbors and not to rely so heavily upon the police when dealing with small inconveniences or conflicts.

The most important thing I spoke about was getting involved in the community, how volunteering is important and brings the community together. It’s relevant and incredibly important to mention Geoff Fruin, the Iowa City City Manager committed to enacting change, as the superior to the police chief Mr. Fruin has the capabilities to enact the changes brought forward by this amazing community.

Zach Slocum headshot

My name is Zachary Slocum, I’m a senior at the University of Iowa studying Political Science. I’m fascinated by policy and I intend on having a career in local government. If you have any comments or questions about “The Power of Community” you can reach me at my email, thanks!

Close window