Speak Up, Speak Out at Wetherby Park
Wednesday, June 3 at 6 p.m.
Mayor Bruce Teague began the Iowa City Council meeting on Tuesday night by addressing the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, and the protests that have followed.
Teague, who spoke at a protest over Floyd’s killing and the problems of racism and police violence, talked about “shock and horror” people felt watching the video of Floyd dying while people standing nearby were begging the police to show mercy.
“We are a nation in mourning,” Teague said. ”We’re devastated, frustrated and outraged.”
“There’s a lot to be done,” the mayor continued. “And we don’t — at all — condone any acts of violence of any kind. We respect the freedom of speech and the peaceful protests. Now is the time to take a look around and know that every single one of us can make a difference and be a part of the change that this country is so desperately in need of.”
Teague then turned over the Zoom meeting to Interim Iowa City Police Chief Bill Campbell to discuss relations between the police and the community.
“This last Friday, I issued a public statement regarding the murder of Mr. George Floyd,” Campbell began.
His language on Tuesday night was stronger than it was in the written statement on Friday. Instead of calling it a murder, in the statement, Campbell referred to the “death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer,” before going on to condemn the actions of the officers involved.
Campbell said on Tuesday night, “we’re not a perfect organization, I think we all know that. We understand the importance of holding our officers accountable for their actions. This comes in many forms.”
ICPD Officer Andy Cash, who serves as president of the Iowa City Police Union, also stressed the need for holding law enforcement officers accountable, when he spoke to the council meeting following Campbell.
Cash started by saying it was important that justice be done for George Floyd and Floyd’s family, before turning to what ICPD officers will do.
“We also vow to the public that we will not be complicit if an act of police brutality by one of our own members or by members of another department or office is witnessed,” Cash said. “As a union, we will not defend actions of brutality in our community.”
Cash said the officers he represents “want to thank the demonstrators who have poured out their hearts peacefully. And we want you to know that we do support you.”
Campbell had already spoken at length about the importance of the relationship between ICPD and the community.
The interim chief said ICPD relies on “our community to help us determine and to let us see what our strengths and what our weaknesses are.”
“We have a long history of working with our Police Citizens Review Board in reviewing policy and also handling of complaints. We have more recently collaborated with the NAACP in identifying and addressing issues before they become problems.”
Campbell also discussed the sort of training ICPD officers regularly undergo, including training in social justice issues, recognizing unconscious bias and implicit bias, proper crisis intervention, techniques to de-escalate potentially violent situations and improving cultural competency.
“Those last three — the crisis intervention, de-escalation, cultural competency — those are a regular part of the diet of what officers are receiving in the department,” Campbell said. “And this isn’t something that came up last month or last year. This has been going on for the last several years.”
That training would have been important on Tuesday, as protesters rallied in Iowa City for a second night.
Protesters had already been active in Coralville before that city’s nighttime curfew took effect on Tuesday. They blocked traffic on some streets, occasionally laying down in the road.
And just before 8 p.m., a longtime social justice activist wrote on social media, “Hundreds of Pissed off youth marching down coralville strip towards IC.”
There was a harder edge to the protest on Tuesday night compared to the one in Iowa City on Monday. Instead of using chalk to leave messages, some protesters used spray-paint. Other acts of vandalism were committed.
There was a caravan of honking cars threw downtown Iowa City, accompanied by marchers on the sidewalk. People chanted, “I can’t breathe,” which George Floyd said repeatedly to the police officer kneeling on his neck. They also chanted, “Fuck the police.” Protesters stopped at the Pentacrest, the Ped Mall and City Hall. But it was at the Johnson County Courthouse that one of the most significant interaction between protesters and law enforcement took place.
There was a prolonged standoff at the courthouse, where protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and other slogans at officers dressed in riot gear who were stationed in front of the building.
At the urging of the crowd, one officer removed his riot gear, leading to loud cheers. The crowd then began chanting, “Take it off, take it off,” to the other officers. Some of them did, and each time the crowd cheered.
Most of the officers kept their riot gear on, but the ones who removed it stepped forward to talk to members of the crowd and shake hands.
Eventually, part of the crowd walked down Clinton Street to the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building. Another stand-off with law enforcement occurred when they arrived.
A person with a bat broke one of the building’s widows. As Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies were arresting him, members of the crowd threw rocks and water bottles, hitting the officers. Someone fired pepper-spray at the officers, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies pepper-sprayed the people surrounding them. No other arrests were made.
As the events of Tuesday night wound down, some of the protesters said they would be back on Wednesday night. At the beginning of the Iowa City Council meeting, Mayor Teague talked about an initiative to turn the protests into a dialogue between city leaders and the community.
Teague called protests “opportunities for people to come and express themselves.”
“I think it’s very meaningful for a lot people to gather in a setting where they can just come and have an outlet to free themselves, to voice their concern, to voice their frustration.”
“I, along with other community leaders, am hosting an event throughout our neighborhoods, ‘Speak up, Speak out,’” Teague said.
There will be three sessions held around Iowa City to discuss the issues surrounding the killing George Floyd. The first session will be held on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr.
“We’re asking people to come and join, while our brothers and sisters within the black community, but also our nation, is grieving,” Teague said. “Let us grieve together, let us come out and speak up and speak out.”