Cedar Rapids officials ‘do not plan’ to hold more meetings with Advocates for Social Justice to discuss police reform

People marching down Pioneer Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on July 3, 2020. — Michael Schodin/Little Village

Cedar Rapids officials “do not plan to be part of any additional negotiation meetings” with the Advocates for Social Justice (ASJ), Mayor Brad Hart wrote in an email sent to the group on Friday morning. ASJ members expressed concerns and disappointment over the decision, but said they are not giving up on their efforts.

The grassroots group has been meeting with city officials — including Hart, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, Police Chief Wayne Jerman and Councilmember Dale Todd — since early June to discuss their seven demands for police reform. During a special Cedar Rapids City Council meeting on June 19, the council unanimously backed these seven demands, adding language that outlined future steps to address the demands.

The resolution cites efforts the city and Cedar Rapids Police Department have already started to meet four of the priorities and requires a report from city staff to the council within two months on the council’s legal authority to meet the other three. Those three are decriminalizing marijuana and other low-level offenses; making negotiations between law enforcement and municipal representatives public; and abolishing qualified immunity.

The seven demands organizers and community members want city and police leaders to respond to. — courtesy of Advocates for Social Justice Facebook page

Hart told Little Village the intent of the meetings was to understand the demands and share information. ASJ members led a march to Hart’s house on July 3.

“We’ve been meeting with members of ASJ to fully understand the seven demands, and to let them know in cases what we were already doing,” Hart said. “We’ve now done that. We’ve met … three or four times. We understand their demands. Several of them have been or are being handled, and we’ve told them what we’re doing with the rest of them, so there’s nothing really more to negotiate right now.” Hart added that the city “didn’t halt or call off negotiations.”

One of the group’s most important demands is for the city to form an independent citizens review board. Chief Jerman and Mayor Hart announced last month the city is working on establishing a review board and figuring out details.

At first there were plans to have a task force to provide input and research, which was discussed during a contentious June 26 meeting between ASJ and the city, but now the process is going to be open to the public.

In the email, which was reviewed by Little Village, Hart said the city’s Community Development Department will be leading the public input process. The department will “facilitate discussion, record and compile research and to assist in navigating required policies and procedures.”

There is currently an online form that residents can fill out with their input and ideas. Hart told Little Village more information will be shared in the coming week about additional ways residents can weigh in, including focus groups, surveys and meetings. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hart said the city will be doing things online more than normal, which he hopes won’t deter people from participating.

“We absolutely need the citizens,” Hart said. “We need it to be inclusive and really public and give everyone a chance to weigh in so that we don’t have somebody saying, ‘I didn’t even get a chance to provide any input. I didn’t know what was going on. This was done behind closed doors.’”

“The thing is we all have the same goal — we all want a CRB that’s effective and that the community can have faith in,” Hart said. The city expects a citizens review board to be established within three months.

In addition to leaving signs outside Mayor Brad Hart’s house, people also left a banner with messages and various chalk messages. July 3, 2020. — Michael Schodin/Little Village

During that June 26 meeting, ASJ members expressed feeling silenced and left out of the process — a similar sentiment was expressed Friday afternoon during a Zoom press conference.

“This is very upsetting that from day one, since we even started these negotiation meetings, we’ve had to fight, even to get this far and now we have been completely shut out,” ASJ co-founder Leslie Hauskins said.

“The only reason we’re talking about these issues as a city is because ASJ, a coalition of Black leaders and allies, came together after George Floyd was murdered to demand change in this community. … Now we’re at the point where we have brought these issues up — a group of black folks, people who have been historically oppressed in this country for centuries — we brought these issues to their doorstep,” Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said during the press conference.

ASJ member Anthony Arrington said there are “absolute parallels” between discussions now and discussions after Jerime Mitchell was shot and paralyzed by CRPD officer Lucas Jones.

“There are parallels to the speed, to the logistics, to the organization and to the spirit of the effort,” Arrington said.

ASJ member Amara Andrews said during Friday’s call that the group will continue protesting and researching citizens review boards across the country. Walker added that ASJ’s research committee has been looking at effective practices for citizens review boards across the country and has consulted various experts on the matter.

“We can move a lot faster [on establishing a citizens review board], and we have to because, the fact of the matter is, this is about Black lives,” Walker said. “And our reality is if we don’t get this right, we could be jeopardizing the lives of Black and brown people in the future, and we have a responsibility to them.”

The next protest led by ASJ is currently scheduled for Saturday, July 18.

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