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Editorial: IC ‘de-escalation techniques’ shortsighted

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa City City Manager Tom Markus addressed the City Council on July 23 in a memo regarding the controversial arrest last month of a 15-year-old African American male at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, in which a police officer appears to use excessive force in the detaining of the juvenile. The incident on June 17 stemmed from a call to the police, which authorities have released as “juveniles causing problems and not listening to staff.”

In cell-phone footage that captured the arrest, police Officer Travis Graves wrestles the young man on the floor, pressuring from atop and demanding the individual “put his hands behind his back.”

The individual was ultimately arrested on the grounds of trespassing and interference with official acts. He was later released to a guardian after the approval of his mother.

Markus, in his memo, contends that this use of force was within the parameters of Iowa City law-enforcement code, but the department has now issued an amendment on current policies, emphasizing “de-escalation techniques” before using physical force, such as seen in the video.

Furthermore, Markus reportedly told the Press-Citizen that Graves will undergo additional training pertaining to juveniles; Police Chief Sam Hagardine declined to release information on any disciplinary actions regarding Graves.

“What the cell-phone footage doesn’t reflect is the conduct prior to the arrest,” Hargadine said to the Press-Citizen.

The incident has resulted in an online petition aiming to receive 1,000 signatures addressed to the City Council to “end discrimination against black youth in Iowa City and its public spaces.” As a result, the petition called for security footage of the facility to be released covering prior to, during, and after the incident.

Assistant Johnson County prosecutor Patricia Weir analyzed the footage, concluding that Graves had grounds for pressing both charges, according to City Council correspondence between Markus and Weir. She wrote: “Police training is an issue here. This was an inexperienced officer who was by himself, and [juvenile’s name redacted] had an audience.”

Hagardine disputed that it was a racially charged case to the Press-Citizen regarding Graves’s actions, despite the growing reporting of white police officers overreacting  against African Americans nationwide.     If the local jurisdiction decides that the measures used by Graves are within the code of conduct, officials should acknowledge that. However, because public officials see a need to modify current policies, this challenges the standard training procedure as well as officer interpretation of the codes of conduct.

This isn’t an isolated case of white-on-black controversy in Iowa City. Last year, an independent study conducted by St. Ambrose University found a significant disparity between traffic stops of African-American individuals as opposed to whites, concluding that black drivers were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested during a traffic stop and 3.45 times more likely to have their vehicle searched by an officer. The racial statistics expand further.

A similar St. Ambrose study discovered that though African-American Iowans composed 10 percent of the population of eastern Iowa communities, they accounted for 29 percent of all traffic stops. According to an American Civil Liberties Union study in 2013, which ranked our state as the worst in the nation, black Iowans were eight times more likely to be arrested for small quantities of marijuana possession than whites, despite nearly the same use rate. Additionally, USA Today and the Des Moines Register found last year that African Americans were 10 times more likely to be arrested in dozens of Iowa communities and towns.

Law enforcement is meant to be an institution that protects the people it represents, abiding by standards set in law. As an extension of those standards, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes under the current local climate, the culture of police-civilian interactions is disproportionately influenced by race.

“De-escalation techniques” are not the solution. In order to rectify a local standard, withholding all notions of race, police procedure and interactions must be redeveloped to reflect the so-called open-minded nature of Iowa City, or “the People’s Republic of Johnson County.”


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