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Activists demand equal treatment

BY ALLIE BISCUPSKI | JULY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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Activists gathered in front of Iowa City City Hall on a humid Monday night before the City Council’s work session was set to begin.

Event organizers passed around posters and signs with such slogans as “No Trauma,” and “Policy is no excuse,” written on them, and children shared their stories of casual racism.

After the half-hour rally, around 30 people packed into Harvat Hall and petitioned the councilors to require further de-escalation training for police officers and to allocate human and financial resources for this training.

Iowa City resident and social worker Tabitha Wiggins read off the list of demands at the meeting.

“We, black community members, need our children to be seen as children and not criminals,” Wiggins said. “We need them to be treated and provided the same opportunities as white children.”

The rally was held in response to the events of June 17, when Iowa City law enforcement responded to a complaint at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center.

A 15-year-old African-American youth was asked to leave and was subsequently tackled and restrained by a white police officer. He was then arrested and charged with trespass and interference with official acts.

A video of the event, shared on Facebook, had received more than 39,000 views and 800 shares as of Monday night and sparked a change.org petition, which has more than 875 supporters.

The petition details demands including intensive retraining of all police officers and revision of current policy to ensure the rights of all citizens.

LaTasha DeLoach, a local African-American social worker and participant in the rally, said the programs would help foster a better relationship between police and black youth.

“We want all black children to feel welcome here and not feel like just because they’re hanging out and playing that they’re doing some criminal activity,” she said.

However, she said, while the event at the Recreation Center helped spur this movement, it is not an isolated incident.

“I would call it an illustration of other things that are happening in the community, she said. “I think the difference is this is a situation that specifically got caught on video. It’s really hard to argue with. It showed this is happening in Iowa City.”

Okey Ukah, a Hawkeye senior basketball player, also spoke about his encounters with police in Iowa City at the meeting.

“I have been followed, escorted out of shopping malls, rec center, just like the kids a few weeks ago,” he said. “Telling you this shouldn’t be necessary. I shouldn’t have to appeal to you and convince you that these are children being stripped of their childhood.”

On July 24, the Iowa City police changed their policy, putting a stronger emphasis on the verbal de-escalation process, police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said.

DeLoach said that while policy changes are important, they are not always implemented as thoroughly are intended.

“Our community is looking for action. It’s one thing to put it on paper,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said that after any policy is implemented, police and citizens need to make changes work.

 “No matter how we try, we have to understand that [having biases] is a part of all of us. It is in understanding those issues that we all need more training,” she said.

As for DeLoach, she said she would like to see Iowa City live up to the standards it puts forth for itself.

“I would like to see Iowa City hold up to our mission statement of being progressive, of being liberal, welcoming, and inclusive,” she said. “Does your action match up with your philosophy? Because philosophy is just talk. I’m looking for action.”


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