Approximately 300 people marched in the heat on Friday afternoon from Monroe Park to Mayor Brad Hart’s house. The group kept up constant chants throughout the walk, including “this is what democracy looks like,” “Black lives matter” and “Black voices matter.”
Friday’s march was the fourth event organized by the group Advocates for Social Justice (ASJ), and it was the first one since a contentious meeting between ASJ members and city officials last week. ASJ members have been meeting with city officials for the last few weeks to discuss their seven demands for police reform. The Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously backed the seven demands during a special meeting on June 19.
One of the group’s most important demands is for the city to form an independent citizens review board. Police Chief Wayne Jerman and Mayor Hart announced last month the city is working on establishing a review board and ironing out details.
During a Zoom meeting on June 26, Hart said he expects the city council to establish a community task force “to research and develop and make a recommendation for the policy and structure for a citizens review board.”
ASJ members repeatedly asked to be part of the selection process of who would be on the task force, and requested city leaders tell them who they are recruiting. The members said they felt decisions were being made in secret, without their input, and that officials were repeating planning and research for the task force ASJ had already done.
“You have a group of people who represent the community and who are certainly dedicated to these issues and want to work together on getting this done,” Amara Andrews said during the Zoom meeting on June 26. “So, it feels a little bit like a slap in the face to, as I said, sort of unilaterally decide who’s going to be on this task force when you have a group of people who are already willing to do the work and who are working on it.”
During the Zoom meeting, Hart said the task force announcement would come on Tuesday, but it never did — the city is no longer moving forward with a task force. Instead, the city will hear from people during council meetings, through resident surveys, focus groups, community meetings and online feedback forms, the Gazette reported on Thursday.
Councilmember Dale Todd told the Gazette the list of proposed task force members from ASJ and the city were similar, but there was an impasse over including Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker in the task force. Todd said ASJ considered it important to include Walker, but the city council “was clear that we didn’t want to have elected officials.”
ASJ member Anthony Arrington spoke for a couple of minutes before the group started marching on Friday, reminding people why they were there.
“I think it’s important to understand what this movement is really about,” Arrington said during the Black Freedom Rally. “This movement is about equality [and] equity. … We are not seeing equity in our own community, and I want you to understand that. I want you to understand that this group is trying to work with the city. This group is trying to do the best we can with the city, but the city’s not listening.”
Arrington asked people to call their city officials, write letters and continue to vote. Just like at the three previous ASJ events, there was a table set up where people could register to vote prior to marching. People were also able to get water, snacks and free food that was donated by Cheddar’s.
After marching a little more than a mile, the group got to Mayor Hart’s house. People were given chalk to write messages and were told to only use the chalk on public property. The group also kneeled and stayed silent for two minutes.
ASJ members Leslie Neely, Tamara Marcus and Nicole LeGrand went up to Hart’s front door and knocked. It was unclear if Hart was home or not, but no one came to the door, even though the mayor knew marchers were planning to visit his house. He told the Gazette on Thursday that he understood they were coming to his residence, but that he would not be present at Friday’s rally.
The group left signs and a large Black Lives Matter banner with messages from community members on Hart’s lawn before starting to march back to Monroe Park. Before leaving, the group chanted: “Brad Hart, have a heart. Let Black leaders do their part.”