Iowa Freedom Riders lead a march to Coralville, peacefully encounter state troopers blocking access to I-80

Protesters and law enforcement officers face each other over concrete barricades in Coralville, June 11, 2020. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

What didn’t happen during the protest led by the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR) on Thursday night was almost as important as what did.

More than 200 people marched to Coralville from the Pentacrest, and they encountered no resistance when they entered the city, even though the crowd was blocking all lanes of the Coralville strip.

Coralville only lifted the eight-day-long nighttime curfew , imposed by Mayor John Lundell on June 1 over concerns that protests could get out of hand, on Tuesday, but the city’s police kept their distance as protesters marched. The police stayed at least two blocks away from the march as they rerouted traffic to accommodate it.

The march — which featured the same discussions of systemic racism and personal stories of encounters with the police as previous marches — eventually proceeded up 1st Avenue/Hayden Fry Way toward I-80, but was stopped short of the highway by a line of approximately 100 officers from the Iowa State Patrol (ISP) and other law enforcement agencies, who were standing behind concrete barricades that stretched across the road.

Marchers enter Coralville during the June 11, 2020 IFR protest. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Unlike the protest in Iowa City on June 3, where officers under the command of the ISP used flash-bang grenades and tear gas on protesters trying to reach I-80 from Dubuque Street, there were no weapons used on Thursday. The officers never even issued a dispersal order to the protesters.

Instead, the officers waited behind the concrete barricades as the protesters chanted and shouted questions and taunts. After a little more than an hour, the protesters turned around and marched the three miles back to the Pentacrest. Again, the police kept their distance.

As the march headed back to Iowa City, news broke that the Iowa legislature had just passed a bill aimed at curbing police violence, which included restrictions on the use of chokeholds and empowers the Iowa Attorney General to investigate deaths caused by law enforcement officers. Des Moines Black Lives Matter, the group leading protests in that city, had been working with legislators during the past 10 days on the reforms covered in the bill.

Protesters march on 1st Avenue in Coralville, Thursday, June 11, 2020. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Members of Des Moines Black Lives Matter were in the State Capitol Building, watching as the bill was unanimously approved by both chambers of the legislature just over two hours after it was introduced on Thursday evening.

IFR has presented its own list of demands for change to the Iowa City Council. On Tuesday, the city council held a special work session to begin discussing how to address the issues underlying those demands.

A member of IFR spoke at the meeting, which was held online via Zoom, like all city council meetings since March 24 due to COVID-19. The IFR representative did not give her name or appear on camera during the meeting.

In addition to the list of demands IFR had already published, the speaker said there were “emergency actions that the city council can take right now.”

Law enforcement officers in riot gear block protesters attempting to reach I-80 on Hayden Fry Way, June 11, 2020. — Paul Brennan/Little village

“For example, city parks, such as Wetherby Park, should be named after Black Live Matter,” she said. “Another demand that we have is the Jazz Fest be made a festival that is a celebration of black culture.”

The speaker said jazz “has roots in black culture and that needs to be the basis of that [the Iowa City Jazz Fest] as well.”

“One other demand that we request the council to start working on immediately is a reparation or restitution process,” the speaker added. “We want a commitment to creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that can work on these ideas for our community, and that commission be led by people of color.”

The speaker exited the meeting after 20 minutes — Mayor Bruce Teague explained she had a prior commitment — and the council spent the rest of the meeting discussing how to best address the issues the protests in Iowa City, and around the country, have brought to the forefront.

The city council will discuss the next steps it intends to take at its meeting on Tuesday night. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page, starting at 7 p.m. Information about how to participate in the meeting via Zoom is available on the city’s website.

A driver meets up with protesters on their march down 1st Avenue in Coralville, Thursday, June 11, 2020. — Jason Smith/Little Village

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