Letter to the editor: A response to Janice Weiner and Laura Bergus

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People gather on the steps of the Old State Capitol Building prior to the Iowa Freedom Riders protest on Thursday, June 11, 2020 — Paul Brennan/Little Village

By Gloria Hartley, Iowa City

I am a resident of Iowa City, a mother of two young boys. I do not intend to speak on behalf of any protesters, IFR [Iowa Freedom Riders] leaders or members of the BIPOC community, but I would like to respond to the statements made by Janice Weiner and Laura Bergus regarding the spray paint downtown that is part of the protests.

When I saw the spray paint this summer on the Old Capitol and around downtown it was shocking. I’ve never seen Iowa City like that. It was uncomfortable and unsettling. And then I realized: that’s the point.

It bothers you. That’s the point. It’s inconvenient. That’s the point. It takes time and money and resources to remove. That’s the point. Because, unfortunately, for many allies, community members and people in government, the spray paint lasts longer than our commitment to correcting racial injustice. I have heard more complaints over spray paint than the unlawful arrest of peaceful protesters; I have heard more outrage over buildings being defaced than the unjustified use of tear gas on citizens enacting their civil rights. And I have heard — and grown tired of hearing — words of condemnation for those who perpetrated a small act of vandalism and no words spoken against the drivers who willingly and intentionally sought to harm peaceful protesters by driving their vehicles into crowds of unarmed people. Not the least of which was our own governor Kim Reynolds’ driver, whom she hastily excused by stating that he “acted appropriately,” potentially emboldening others already inclined to act violently toward protesters.

So please, Ms. Weiner and Ms. Bergus, as well as all of us who look at the spray paint with disappointment, before we open our mouths to condemn graffiti, let’s all think for a moment about the last time we opened our mouths to speak out against racism and inequality. Let us sit for a moment with our discomfort and ask ourselves, “Am I this uncomfortable with racism? Or does it only bother us when protesters make it inconvenient to ignore?”

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