Activist group meets to talk police brutality

BY BEN MARKS | AUGUST 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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A lawyer, social worker, and ex-military personnel were just a few of the people meeting to express concern about the same issue: reducing the culture of fear surrounding the police and creating a positive dialogue with those they serve.

Following the slaying of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri, topics of police brutality and over-militarization have been brought to national attention.

In response, people have formed protests and groups to combat what they perceive as a growing issue.

In Iowa City, a group of around 35 people met at the public library on Aug. 25 to bring these issues closer to home and discuss problems they see surrounding the Iowa City Police Department.

“We were born out of grumblings on Facebook, backyard conversations, and people saying, ‘This is ridiculous, this is crazy,’ ” said Einna Ollutnev, the group’s organizer. “So I said, ‘You know what, instead of complaining, why don’t we do something about it?’ ”

Although Ollutnev organized the group’s first ever meeting, she said she is not the leader. Rather, the group will be led collectively with every member making decisions.

“This is the first meeting, so we’re going to address what our group is and what our group wants to see out of this,” she said.

Among the various issues raised during the meeting, police accountability, police militarization, and the pros and cons of police body cams were discussed.

Additional issues included the disproportionate rates of arrests for minorities and better citizen right’s education as well as Johnson County’s recent acquisition of a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle.

However, one of the biggest issues raised was the importance of opening a dialogue between residents and police.

Iowa City police Lt. Kevin Heick was not in attendance, but he said he shares this belief.

“Open discussions are always beneficial, but there should always be someone on the other side,” he said.

Currently, the police are near the final stages of selecting a body-cam vendor to outfit their officers.

Because the various topics the group wants to tackle are broad, Ollutnev hopes the next meeting will establish smaller groups with members who share the same interests and expertise.

“I’ve been involved in issues of police practice for 30 years, and I was a member of the City Council for seven years,” said Carol deProsse, an Iowa City resident. “Since the war on drugs under Nixon, I’ve seen police tactics become increasingly oppressive, and I’m here to change that.”

Rather than being involved for many years, one member of the group said she has become more interested in recent weeks.

“I’m a white girl from Iowa who has never really been affected by the police,” said Iowa City resident Kelsey Carr. “But I’m here because I wanted to learn more about the issues I saw on social media.”

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