People gathered in front of the Coralville Police Department on Monday to protest racism and police violence, and express solidarity with others around the country moved to action following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Some held signs, some chanted, some chalked messages on the sidewalk. Even though the protest was peaceful, it had a strict time limit, because the mayor of Coralville had imposed an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew on the city earlier that day.
The curfew was announced following a confrontation between a crowd and police near Coral Ridge Mall on Sunday night, in which officers were punched and hit with rocks, as well as vandalism at some small businesses and a break-in at the city’s Walmart.
According to Coralville Police Chief Steve Kron, the crowd at Coral Ridge Mall on Sunday night was not related to any planned protest.
Police and some businesses in Coralville prepared for unrest on Monday — for example, Walmart barricaded its entrances, and the Lantern Park Plaza Hy-Vee parked vehicles in front of its doors — but the night passed peacefully.
There had been vague rumors spread on social media on Monday, some of which used racist language, that out-of-state groups were planning large-scale rioting and looting in not only Coralville, but also Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Nothing of the sort happened.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department addressed the social media rumors in a post on its Facebook page.
“The Police Department is aware of posts on social media regarding threats of looting and home invasions in Cedar Rapids,” the department said. “These posts and threats are being investigated, however at this time we do not believe there is any credible threat.”
In Iowa City, messages were chalked on sidewalks and protesters marched through downtown, stopping at the Pentacrest, City Hall and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. A glass panel in a door at the Iowa City Police Department was broken during the protest, the Daily Iowan reported, but otherwise the protest was peaceful.
There was violence elsewhere in Iowa, including Waterloo and Des Moines.
“Molotov cocktails in Corona beer bottles were tossed at the Dollar General Store on West Fifth Street and launched into the roadway on Broadway Street, according to officials at Waterloo Fire Rescue,” the Courier reported. “No actual damage was reported from the fire bombs.”
In Des Moines, the most startling act of violence was committed by a member of the Des Moines Police Department.
The city has a 9 p.m. curfew, but a group of about 200 remained in front of the steps of the State Capitol Building until after 11 p.m. They chanted phrases including “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and asked police officers to take off their riot gear and join the protest. That didn’t happen, and at approximately 11:30 p.m., the police threw flash-bang grenades and shot canisters of tear gas to disperse to the crowd.
Des Moines Register reporter Katie Akin was pepper-sprayed as she was covering the protest. Akin was following police instruction to leave the area, and identified herself clearly as a reporter both verbally and by holding up her ID. A Des Moines Police officer walked up to Akin and fired his pepper spray directly into her face.
Here’s me getting pepper sprayed. pic.twitter.com/YlDnLezPLR
— Katie Akin (@katie_akin) June 2, 2020
During Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Tuesday morning press conference at the Capitol, Iowa Public Safety Department Commissioner Stephan Bayans was asked about the incident.
“I’m not here to second-guess the actions that they felt it was necessary to take at that point in time,” Bayans replied. “As I said, these are very fluid and dynamic circumstances, they are chaotic by nature.”
Gov. Reynolds expressed a similar opinion, and said she was sure the police wouldn’t intentionally target or injure anyone.
It was the second incident in which a DMPD officer pepper-sprayed a Register reporter since protests began on Friday night. On Sunday, Andrea Sahouri was pepper-sprayed after repeatedly identifying herself as a Register reporter. Sahouri was then arrested on charges of failure to disperse and interfering with official acts. She spent several hours in jail, before the charges were dropped.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie was asked about the incident at press conference on Monday. Like Bayans and the governor on Tuesday, Cownie dismissed the incident as an understandable mistake.
“We can’t check credentials of everybody to see who they are or what they are,” Cownie said. “The point is, are they obeying the orders of our public safety officials, and how do we get everybody out of harm’s way and make the right thing happen?”