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Iowa Freedom Riders return to the streets of Iowa City demanding more action from the city council and justice for Makeda Scott


Protesters marching in Iowa City, Aug. 21, 2020. Anjali Huynh/Little Village

On Friday night, the Iowa Freedom Riders led marchers through the streets of Iowa City in their first protest since early July. IFR organizers — joined by five members of Des Moines Black Lives Matter, who had been in Cedar Rapids earlier to deliver donated items to help people affected by the derecho — led a group of more than 200 protesters wearing face coverings in the march.

While the protesters gathered in a circle at the intersection of Gilbert and Burlington streets, a car drove through the marchers, hitting several of them.

It was one of two incidents during the march in which someone drove into the gathered protesters. There were no serious injuries reported in either incident.

On Saturday, the Iowa City Police Department released a statement saying it had identified the person who was caught on video driving into the protesters. ICPD asked for anyone struck by the car to contact the investigating officer.

Since protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer began, there have been multiple occasions in which vehicles were deliberately driven into marches, striking protesters, but this has been the first time it has happened in Iowa City.

IFR held the protest on Friday to update the community on the progress that’s been made on enacting the demands the group presented to the Iowa City Council in June, and to share its call for justice for Makeda Scott, a recent University of Iowa graduate who died at Lake Macbride in June.

IFR’s demands formed the basis for the 17-point resolution passed unanimously by the city council on June 17.

Organizers said they were dissatisfied with the city council’s lack of initiative in defunding the police. They said the council, who voted in the 17-point resolution to have a plan to restructure the police presented to them by Dec. 15, “made a commitment to defund the police, [and] they’re still funding them.” Speakers urged the protesters to contact city council members and press for faster action.

IFR is also demanding the city publicly release a video that reportedly shows what the police did on June 3. On that night, ICPD officers and Iowa State Patrol officers used flash bang grenades, pepper spray and tear gas to break up a peaceful protest march led by IFR.

People gather on the Pentacrest before the IFR protest march on Aug. 21, 2020. Anjali Huynh/Little Village

The 17-point resolution mandated an investigation into what ICPD officers did on June 3. According to the city, the investigation has been delayed due to problems finding an independent party to conduct it. During the Aug. 18 city council meeting, Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro Temp Mazahir Salih referenced a video of events that night they said would answer the public’s questions about what happened.

Teague said the video showed it was the Iowa State Patrol that was in command on June 3, and ordered the use of tear gas. The video has not been made public.

“We demand that the video be released to us because it’s our right to know what happened,” an IFR organizer said on Friday night.

The other major focus of the night was on how the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office behaved during its investigation of the death Makeda Scott.

Scott graduated from UI in May. On June 7, the 21-year-old went with a coworker to Lake Macbride, where she drowned. The sheriff’s office immediately classified Scott’s death as accidental.

Scott’s family and friends believe the investigation was rushed and incomplete, pointing to what they say are inconsistencies in the coworker’s account of what happened and to evidence the investigators did not examine.

“[Scott’s] mother, as you all can imagine, is shattered,” UI Professor Lina Murillo told the protesters gathered on the Pentacrest before the march. “All she wants is a fair and just investigation for her baby. This is an epidemic in this country: violence against women.”

Murillo, a professor of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, said she felt the need to speak up after talking with many students who knew Scott, as well as talking to her family.

Justice for Makeda sign left at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Aug. 21, 2020. Anjali Huynh/Little Village

For IFR, it is both important that Scott receives justice and her death be properly investigated, and to shine a light on how the concerns of Black people are often dismissed by law enforcement.

Friday night’s march stopped in front the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, where protesters chanted “Free them all.” Organizers also called out “Say her name,” to which the marchers responded, “Makeda Scott.”

An IFR leader told the marchers they had stopped at the sheriff’s office to call out its “failed actions to the Black community.”

“They’ve shown countless times for countless years why the system is corrupt and why we need to be doing what we’re doing right now,” another IFR leader said. “Justice for Makeda has not been served, even though they have every right and reason to do so.”

A “Justice for Makeda” sign was left on the front door of the sheriff’s office as the marchers departed.

As the 90-minute march was drawing to an end and protesters headed back to the Pentacrest, they chanted, “Out of the bars, into the streets,” as they passed people waiting to get into bars.

“If people have time to go downtown and drink and sit in restaurants and bars but can’t show up to support their community, it’s really telling about the kind of people they are,” Olivia Dachtler, a UI student and one of the marchers, told Little Village. “The movement is happening now, and if they don’t want to be a part of it, they’re going to have to explain why they were on the wrong side of history someday in the future.”

IFR organizers have announced plans for protests every night from Aug. 28 to 31, before the next meeting of the city council on Sept. 1.

Protesters gather in a circle during the IFR-led protest march on Aug. 21, 2020. — Anjali Huynh/Little Village

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