More than 2,000 people showed up at Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids late Saturday afternoon to peacefully protest police violence, racism and the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
“You want to know why black people are angry?” Ture Morrow asked the crowd.
“We are angry because we can’t be handcuffed and put in a car unless we are dead — George Floyd. … We can’t go jogging — Ahmaud Arbery. We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes — Atatiana Jefferson. We can’t ask for help after being in a car crash — Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride. We can’t have a cell phone — Stephon Clark,” said Morrow, who spent two minutes listing names of just some of the black women and men who have been killed.
Speakers at Saturday’s protest — one of hundreds across the country and the world — made it clear they wanted to see change in Cedar Rapids and Iowa. Many of the speakers encouraged people in the crowd to vote, and to make that easier, there were voter registration booths set up at the protest. Organizers also brought snacks and free bottles of water to help people cope with the heat, as well as face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Louise Johnson said the protest “is about everyone who has lost their lives because of racism and hatred.”
“I am not just starting in this fight,” Johnson said. “I’ve been in this fight since I was 18 years old. I know what it’s like to be mistreated. I know what it’s like to have to go through the back doors of a hotel or a doctor’s office or drink from a fountain that says ‘white’ or ‘black.’ I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I’ve been fighting this race for a long time. It’s time to stop. It’s time to speak up.”
“It’s time to continue to fight for justice.”
Johnson also spoke about her son, Jerime “Danky” Mitchell, who was shot by Cedar Rapids officer Lucas Jones during a traffic stop in November 2016. Mitchell is now paralyzed from the neck down. Jones is still on the force.
Mitchell didn’t plan on speaking during Saturday’s protest but said hearing and seeing the crowd gave him strength.
“I know policing is a hard job, but if you feel like you fear for your life every time you open your door to go to work then maybe you shouldn’t be a police officer, because I fear for my life, too,” Mitchell said. “I fear for my life. George Floyd feared for his life. Mike Brown feared for his life. Breonna Taylor feared for her life. Walter Scott feared for his life. Ahmaud Arbery feared for his life. We fear for our lives too, and our lives matter.”
After about an hour and a half of hearing from speakers, the protesters took to the streets to march, starting on Third Avenue. Chants of “No justice, no peace,” “George Floyd,” “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” filled the city’s downtown streets as people marched.
At one point, protesters laid down on First Avenue with their hands behind their backs for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee pinned down on Floyd’s neck. The street was silent except for a few people with megaphones counting the seconds.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman was one of the featured speakers at the protest in Greene Square. He described the killing of Floyd as “murder” and said policing still has a “long, long way to go.”
During his remarks, Jerman said he is embracing the call for change and will engage in conversation with “anyone that will help bring about this change.” Mayor Brad Hart also said that the Cedar Rapids City Council is listening and will work to make the necessary changes. Both Jerman and Hart marched during Saturday’s protest.
Jerman said the Cedar Rapids Police Department has begun to strengthen the policies involving use of force. The change will require officers to intervene when they witness a use of force that is unnecessary or unlawful.
“This change in our policy is just a start and I am committing to continue to have these conversations to enhance change so we never have another senseless loss of life such as the murder of George Floyd,” the chief said.
But protesters want more from the police department and city officials. Cedar Rapids residents Jorel Robinson and Leslie Neely listed specific demands they and other organizers want city officials to implement and address, including:
• Establishing a citizens’ review board to investigate and review instances where excessive force is used by an officer or whenever an officer’s firearm is discharged
• Investing in diversity, equity and inclusion hiring and training efforts
• Training in evidence-based policing practices on de-escalation, crisis intervention and community policing, with details made public
• Banning the use of chokeholds, knee to the neck and other potentially lethal restraining techniques
• Decriminalizing minor marijuana crimes and other low-level offenses
• Imposing strict body camera provisions that require officers to never turn off or tamper with the camera during their shift. If the officer fails to comply, they should immediately be terminated.
• Abolishing qualified immunity for police officers
“We expect these negotiations to begin on Monday,” Neely said.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said it means a lot that Jerman was at the protest, but that it will mean even more when he and other public officials agree to move forward with “bold police reforms.”
Walker also mentioned that he will send a formal letter to police chiefs across the state asking them to ban the use of chemical agents against peaceful protesters. This has not happened in Cedar Rapids but police in Iowa City and Des Moines have used chemical irritants on protesters.
“I want to thank all of you here today: the young, the old, black and white, people of diverse faith backgrounds. We’re all here today, together in solidarity, in recognition of our shared humanity, to loudly proclaim for the whole world to hear that black lives matter.”
“Now, the main thing I hope you all realize is this: You are all now part of a movement — a part of living history.”