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New Iowa City grassroots organization holds protest on jail, marijuana, rent

BY HILLARY ROSENCRANTS | MAY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The meeting of a new Iowa City grass-roots organization on Wednesday night was far from an ordinary meeting.

The Iowa City People’s Association held one of its first events at the corner of Gilbert and College Streets in the form of a protest against recent city proposals. Despite the new May heat, members stood in the parking lot holding signs, playing music, and holding discussions.

The association chose May 1 as their day of protest for a variety of reasons — most notably because of its historical ties with protest, but also because May 1 is halfway between the equinox and the solstice, which has caused it to become a day to celebrate the Earth.

Similarly, the vote for the proposed new justice center takes place on May 7, and local advocates are attempting to make their voices heard now more than ever.

“We’re out here today because we’re the 99 percent,” said Rebecca Rosenbaum, event organizer and group member. “Having lived in this town for too long, I think it’s become increasingly segregated between rich and poor.”

Sean Curtin, newly inducted member of the association and field director of Vote No New Jail, was attracted to the group while walking home from a day of campaigning against the proposed jail.

“[The association] is a group of people who are finding themselves saying ‘no’ to these kinds of proposals for the first time,” Curtin said. “We’re finding power in realizing that it’s OK to say no to the government.”

The group’s interests lie within a variety of issues. These issues vary from their opposition to the new jail to the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana to rent control.

The group’s main problems with the proposed jail are the issues of spending as well as the ability of staff to keep up with the amount of inmates.

“We need to explore the option of writing as many citations as possible,” Curtin said. “Building a 200-bed jail is not going to encourage anybody to reform the policies that we have, so it’s OK to say no.”

Johnson County officials also met on Wednesday to discuss concerns over the future of the jail depending on the outcome of the May 7 vote. Initial “guess numbers” predict the county could pay up to $4 million over the next five to ten years.“The best-case scenario is the justice center passes and we make decision to Band-Aid [jail concerns] for three years,” Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said. “The worst case scenario is [the bond issue] fails, and we have to do the same thing and figure out the best way to handle it.”

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committees also began the initial steps for hosting a “big meeting” or “summit” on the disproportionate number of minorities in jail.

Members of the People’s Association say a few of the group’s most important goals also include achieving unity and justice, primarily in conjunction with Iowa City Law Enforcement.

Reporter Brent Griffiths contributed to this article.


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