Rally protests police violence

BY BEN MARKS | MAY 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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Despite worries about rain, around 130 people gathered on the Pentacrest Monday for a solidarity protest for Mya Hall, Rekia Boyd, and Freddie Gray — three African Americans killed by police in the United States.

With signs bearing such slogans as #blacklivesmatter, #blackspring, and “We can’t forget about our sisters,” the protesters began the march by reading the names of 35 African Americans killed by police in the last five years.

The list included several African American trans women, which the organizers emphasized were at a greater risk for police violence.

“We wanted to focus on individuals who are often left out of the greater movement,” said University of Iowa sophomore Yasmin Elgaali, a co-organizer of the rally and media representative for Black Hawkeyes. “So far, the Black Lives Matter movement has been spearheaded by black women, but at the front of the movement are black men, and oftentimes, people forget black transgender individuals face increasingly disproportionate amounts of state-sanctioned violence.”

According to the National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs, transgender women and transgender people of color were between two and three times as likely to experience police violence as white cisgender people.

Gray was the most recent death of the three when he died in the custody of Baltimore police on April 19.  Hall, a transgender woman, was also killed in Maryland when, on March 30 she took a wrong turn into a restricted entrance of the headquarters of the NSA and was shot by security guards.

Boyd was killed in March 2012 by an off-duty Chicago police detective Dante Servin when he fired numerous shots into a crowd, striking her in the back of the head.

After the names were read and the mike was opened for people to share their experiences with racism, the protesters began their march to the Iowa City City Hall, where they gathered and continued chanting.

UI junior Michelle Piekarski, a co-organizer of the protest, said the group had planned the event since April 30 and she thought it went well.

“I feel like our message was sent to people walking by,” she said. “There was a lot of solidarity, there was a lot of support going on.”

However, she said, she believes the march not only helped to raise awareness about police brutality but also provided a safe space.

“Black people being killed by police officers takes a mental toll on the black students here,” she said. “It makes a lot of us sad, depressed, and angry. So this gives us a safe space to come out and be with people who agree with us instead of being defensive of these issues.”

UI Senior Mikael Mulugeta, who also attended the event, said he was there to raise awareness of police brutality toward African Americans and systematic racism.

“Hopefully, for anyone who passes by and sticks around a moment — maybe we’ll spark an interest to educate themselves and learn more about it,” he said.

After around 30 minutes in front of the City Hall, the organizers provided the crowd with names of local and national organizations dedicated to equality and eliminating police violence, and encouraged the crowd to join or donate, something Elgaali said she thought was helpful.

“These rallies are great and everything, but their main purpose of them is to raise awareness,” Elgaali said. “But now that we’ve raised awareness, what’s the next step?”

Hundreds of groups gathered around the country in various cities over the past week, and a similar protest occurred in Des Moines on Monday.

Ultimately, as the protest dissipated and a downpour began, Elgaali said black transgender lives aren’t the only ones pushed to the side during such movements.

“Black disabled lives, black Muslim lives, and black women’s lives are often forgotten in the conversation,” she said. “It’s time to bring these names forward, and speak these names, and make sure they’re included in the narrative.”

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