Letter to the editor: The power of Black Lives Matter protests and graffiti in Iowa City

Protesters left graffiti on the Pentacrest and other Iowa City/University of Iowa landmarks on Tuesday, June 3. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

By Mike Fallon, Iowa City

Last night my white, 15-year-old daughter and friends joined the Black Lives Matter protest in Iowa City. My wife and I stipulated that she return home before dark. As the sun set and evening loomed, she texted us asking to stay at the protest until 9 p.m. Knowing that protests often “heat up” at night, I was nervous about granting her permission to remain at the protest for an additional hour. After she wrote: “It’s important that I stay a little while longer,” we granted her extra time. My wife and I agreed that it is important the she witness arguably the most important civil protests since the 1960s.

This morning, I walked through downtown Iowa City, by way of the President’s Mansion (University of Iowa) on Church Street. The building had been tagged with graffiti condemning police violence and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Approximately six white maintenance crew had begun cleaning the graffiti from the building and sidewalk. Continuing south on North Clinton Street, I walked to the Old Capitol Building and Museum, where it was clear protesters had tagged many UI buildings with graffiti condemning police violence and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Again, a small army of white maintenance crew and others had begun cleaning the graffiti from the building and sidewalk. I observed a recently hired fencing company in the beginning to install temporary fencing around university buildings. Continuing east on Iowa Avenue, then south on South Dubuque Street, I observed many white shop people busy removing spray paint from sidewalks and buildings where the stench of strong solvents (chemicals) was in the air. Some white people looked visibly upset and frustrated; it was going to take quite some time to remove the spray paint. I realized the white people removing the spray paint had a long morning ahead of them.

It was then that I recognized the power of the protests, firsthand. By forcing mostly, if not all, business owners, maintenance crews, university employees, long-time residents of Iowa City and others to stare at and work hard to remove words of rage, protesters had made an indelible statement to the powers that be and maintainers of the status quo. At this point in time, the protesters have forced the powers that be and maintainers of the status quo to address racial disparities through the power of their actions, words and deeds. While I’m not happy that taxpayer dollars are being spent removing spray paint — I’d much rather the money be spent on improving black and brown lives — I accept that graffiti makes a point and spurs action. I cannot think of another way black- and brown-skinned people can grab white people’s attention.

Graffiti at the Old Capitol Building following the Tuesday night’s protest, June 3, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

In the end, I support the protests and protesters. I want them to get the rage out of their system. I want them to grab white peoples’ attention. I want change for people of color. White people need to shut up and listen. White people need to work hard to end discrimination and racial inequality. It is clear to me that Thomas Jefferson was NOT thinking of black and brown people when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” America is not a meritocracy. It is country rife with hypocrisy and its white people are steeped in racism and privilege. In the end, I wish to express my solidarity with black and brown people. Racial inequities and injustices must end.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” — Sam Cooke.

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