Public, police meet to discuss shooting

BY SCOTT RAYNOR | JULY 30, 2009 7:11 AM

Motivated by frustration and memories of discrimination, broken hearts and lost friends, more than 40 citizens — including many Sudanese refugees — gathered at the Iowa City Public Library to remember John Deng, the 26-year-old Sudanese refugee killed in a confrontation with law enforcement on July 24.

“We are the people with the most teeth and power to effect some change,” said Vershawn Young, a UI associate professor of rhetoric, addressing the group’s frustrations and attempting to channel them into a constructive discussion.

The group told stories of confrontations with police, ones they alleged were based more on ethnicity than the crime committed.

An hour into the discussion, one member suggested they take the discussion to officials at the police department.

Diane Finnerty, the coordinator of faculty development programs in the UI Provost’s Office, described the group as “a multi-racial group of people wanting to create a safer Iowa City.”

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So the group members got up from their seats and calmly walked a few blocks from the Public Library to the police station.

After briefly waiting outside, the entire crowd was invited in to a large conference room, where Iowa City police Lt. Doug Hart, a 17-year veteran of the force, spent more than an hour patiently answering questions.

“I am glad you guys came down, and maybe we can answer some of your questions,” he said. “The Police Department has nothing to hide.”

Hart described police procedures and told the group members when they could expect to learn more information.

When issues of possible discriminations were raised, he addressed them as well.

“I am not stupid enough to think [ethnic profiling] it is not going on,” he said, then adamantly noting that he does not think it happens in Iowa City.

Pastor Anthony Smith of the New Creations International Church, who came to support a member of his parish who knew Deng, also wished to address ethnic issues.

“I myself have been pulled over for no reason, just because I was in what they consider to be the wrong part of town,” he said.

Hart disagreed with his story.

“I can guarantee you that never happened,” he said, evoking sounds of skepticism from the crowd.

This was among a wide variety of grievances voiced by people, including media coverage of the incident. Mohammed Ahmed, a Sudanese refugee who is now a U.S. resident in Davenport, was frustrated with the label “homeless” that was attributed to Deng.

“The article that was written, the way you use the language, affects the way people see things,” he said. He said he was hopeful the interpretations could change.

Young contend that there was the need for another public meeting with police, and he spoke with Hart after the crowd left.

Ten-year-old Mulhi Hasib, who attended the event with his mother, said he realized the issue at hand was relevant.

“I thought [racism] ended 50 years ago, but I don’t know,” he said. “I think this is not good for Iowa. It is making the cops look bad.”

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