Leslie Neely, Tamara Marcus and Nicole LeGrand organized last Saturday’s protest in Cedar Rapids, which more than 2,000 people attended. The women didn’t expect to be in this position — organizing another protest for this upcoming Saturday, meeting with city leaders to discuss reforms, fielding questions from reporters — but they are ready to see change in Cedar Rapids.
“We didn’t expect it, but we are so thankful, and it has been truly beautiful watching the community come together on so many different levels,” LeGrand said.
“I wasn’t expecting Cedar Rapids to show up the way it did, and I think just seeing how they responded to this movement gives me hope that we can make lasting change not only for police reform but many other issues that need to be addressed,” Marcus said.
The June 6 peaceful protest included various speakers and a march through downtown Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman, Mayor Brad Hart and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker were among the featured speakers.
During his remarks, Jerman said the Cedar Rapids Police Department has begun to strengthen the policies involving use of force. The change will require officers to intervene when they witness a use of force that is unnecessary or unlawful.
“This change in our policy is just a start and I am committing to continue to have these conversations to enhance change so we never have another senseless loss of life such as the murder of George Floyd,” the chief said.
Jerman said he is embracing the call for change and will engage in conversation with “anyone that will help bring about this change.” Hart also said that the Cedar Rapids City Council is listening and will work to make the necessary changes.
Neely, along with Cedar Rapids resident Jorel Robinson, listed seven specific demands they and other organizers want city officials to implement and address.
Discussions and negotiations began on Tuesday. The organizers, along with Walker, met with Hart, Jerman and city councilmembers Dale Todd and Ashley Vanorny.
During the 90 minutes of discussion, the group discussed the first two demands: forming an independent citizen’s review board and making significant investments in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Jerman said he would be open to a discussion about a citizen’s review board but mentioned there are confidentiality policies that would need to be looked at, the Gazette’s Grace King reported.
“Having some sort of citizen participation in a review I think makes sense. Having a panel that’s all citizens — I don’t think that makes sense,” Hart said. He also mentioned it would be “troubling” for people not trained in law enforcement to judge law enforcement, King reported.
Hart also brought up the possibility of creating a task force and using procedures already in place to continue these conversations, but that’s not something the organizers are looking for.
“I don’t think that the things that they have in place at this time are working,” Neely said on Wednesday. “That’s why we’re here. So I don’t think them going back and looking at what they have in place will help us. I think we need to just move forward and figure out how we can change the system in general.”
Overall, the three organizers were pleased with how the first meeting went and that officials are having this conversation with them. They are meeting with city and police leaders again on Friday morning.
The goal is to get answers from city leaders on each of the demands by Juneteenth — June 19, the anniversary the day in 1865 when the news that slavery had been abolished reached formerly enslaved people in Texas. Marcus said that it’s not only them who are expecting answers, but the community at large.
“Right now, it looks like we haven’t gotten confirmation that we’re going to be hitting that deadline, so that’s something we wish we can achieve,” LeGrand said. “We’re pushing to continue these meetings regularly to really work through them and address all of the demands and get them to agree to commit to them in a timely manner.”
“I also think it’s important to have a plan in place going forward past the Juneteenth deadline,” Neely added. “So what it would look like for us to be able to get these policies in place and when they think that we would be able to do that.”
The women have been sharing how the negotiations are going and future plans for protests on a Facebook page — Advocates for Social Justice.
The next protest is scheduled for Saturday, June 13, at Bever Park. It’s expected to begin at 5 p.m. with speakers, followed by a march and open mic. Neely said a big goal of this protest is to get city councilmembers to publicly state if they are in favor or against each of the seven demands.
“It’s very important that we keep things moving, that we move in a positive direction and that these things are taken seriously,” Neely said, adding that she wants her two young sons to feel safe in Cedar Rapids.
“These protests are not just for us,” Marcus said. “The community wants them. The community is ready to make its voice heard.”