Iowa Freedom Riders protest in Washington, where Gov. Reynolds was reportedly staying the night

A call to action posted by Des Moines Black Lives Matter and Iowa Freedom Riders on Instagram.

After the Iowa Freedom Riders’ success in getting the Iowa City Council to address their city-level demands last week, IFR turned their attention to their state-level demands and Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday. Following a march in Iowa City, which attracted more than 150 people, a group of approximately 50 protesters drove to Washington, Iowa, where Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg were spending the night.

The officer in charge of the state troopers and local law enforcement officers in front of Dodici Night Suites in downtown Washington would not confirm the governor was inside when asked by Hillary Ojeda of the Press-Citizen. Local Washington radio station KCII confirmed the governor and lieutenant governor were staying there, following their meeting with the staff of Cafe Dodici on Monday evening.

The group led by IFR arrived in Washington around 10 p.m. Protesters gathered across the street from the hotel, chanting and calling on the governor to come out and talk to them. An IFR leader read out the group’s four demands for Reynolds.

IFR has those demands posted on its Instagram account.

1. Iowa State Legislature decriminalizes cannabis (40 grams and under) across the state of Iowa AND expunges the records of all those charged with cannabis-related offenses.

2. Reduction of probation length for ex-convicts, and no drug testing via marijuana.

3. Passing of an executive order IMMEDIATELY reinstating the voting rights of all Iowans with felony charges who have served their sentences.

4. Iowa State Legislature ends juvenile detention AND reallocates resources into education and public mental health services.

In its Instagram post, IFR said it wants the governor to sign the executive order restoring voting rights to those convicted of felonies by July 4. Last week, Reynolds said she would sign such an order before the November general election.

Iowa is the only state that still automatically disenfranchises all ex-felons.

The protest was peaceful. At 11:30, protesters laid down on the street. About 10 minutes later, an Iowa State Patrol officer ordered the protesters to disperse, and they did. The governor never made an appearance.

Back in Iowa City, state troopers gathered on North Dubuque Street, ready to stop protesters from marching onto I-80, as IFR said they would earlier in the day in an Instagram post. Protesters did not arrive, and IFR poked fun at the troopers in a follow-up post featuring clown emojis and calling the I-80 post a “decoy.”

Monday night’s protests were part of a unified effort between IFR, Des Moines Black Lives Mater and protest groups in other Iowa cities to push for state-level changes.

While the IFR protest in Washington and the march in Iowa City before it both happened without any altercation between law enforcement officers and protesters, things ended differently in Des Moines.

The protests in Des Moines on Monday night started with a march of more than 200 protesters down Merle Hay Road towards the junction of I-80 and I-35. Marchers were blocked by law enforcement officers in riot gear from reaching the interstate. The marchers returned to their starting point, and Des Moines BLM organizers announced there would be a second march later that night in the city’s East Village area. That march began at 10:30, and about 100 protesters participated.

There was a heavy police presence at this second march, and officers wearing riot gear took up positions in front of and behind the marchers, Andrea May Sahouri of the Des Moines Register reported.

“Police advanced toward the crowd as protesters began walking on sidewalks throughout eastern neighborhoods in Des Moines,” Sahouri reported. “They continued to follow protesters until they got back to their cars in the East High School parking lot. Along the way, protesters were pepper-sprayed and some were arrested.”

Protesters said they were trying to comply with an order to disperse from the police, but officers were blocking them from leaving. Eighteen protesters were arrested.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Iowa released a statement calling for city leaders in Des Moines to hold the police department accountable for the actions of its officers during the protest.

“We are in communication with eyewitnesses to the police actions last night,” Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a written statement. “There are credible accounts of police action in violation of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, including ‘kettling’ and the use of excessive force on nonviolent protesters including a child, media, and a legal observer.”

Earlier on Monday night, the Des Moines City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting racial profiling by the police. The ordinance was first proposed almost two years ago, but was stalled before protests began in Des Moines following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. The city council also approved a resolution creating a task force to examine what changes would need to be made in state and local law in order to decriminalize marijuana in Des Moines.

Ean Mills raises his fist on the University of Iowa Pentacrest on Saturday, June 20, during the Iowa City’s Juneteenth celebrations. — courtesy of Melanie Hester

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