Hundreds of people gathered on the Pentacrest Saturday to rally against police brutality and in honor of George Floyd as days of protests, some violent, have taken place across the United States.
Local leaders and protest organizers took turns speaking before the crowd, donned in masks and face shields to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The rally was organized by sisters Lujayn Hamad, 18, and Raneem Hamad, 20. Lujayn Hamad said they wanted to create a safe space for people to express their grievances with police violence and create a dialogue.
“We’re trying to raise awareness, we’re trying to put our foot down,” Lujayn Hamad said. “Because we’re in Iowa City, and people think we’re in such a liberated city, and we’re really not. Because we have encounters, black folk in Iowa City have encounters with police every single day.”
Protests have been erupting across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes. Video of the incident shows Floyd pleading with the officer and repeating, “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.
Speakers at the rally included Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, Mayor Pro-Tem Mazahir Salih, Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, and North Liberty City Councilor RaQuishia Harrington.
Teague said that Iowa City still faces challenges with racial disparity and the police department, but he applauded the city for electing people of color, such as himself, to positions of power.
“The work is not done, it’s far from being done,” he said. “But we should be proud that we have leadership that look like the community.”
Royceann Porter, the first black woman elected as a Johnson County supervisor, spoke about the need to remedy racial inequities in policing, housing, and education. She said the black community in Iowa City is listened to and working to address these issues, but problems still remain.
“A lot of our kids graduate, can’t even read, how about that?” she said. “They just push them right through. We’re working with the school district, we’re working with the police.”
Porter also addressed the calls to curb the violent protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere. A speaker with Veterans for Peace earlier in the rally was booed by the audience after saying people should not respond to police violence with more violence.
“And all these people out here talking about the riots. If that’s what it takes, if that’s what’s going to get your attention, if that’s what’s going to bring charges, then dammit, we’ll tear it down,” she said.
The Pentacrest rally followed a night of protesting that turned violent in Des Moines, where some protesters threw bricks and water bottles at police and police used tear gas on protesters.
Lujayn Hamad said the organizers contacted Iowa City police and told them they didn’t want officers near the protest in order to avoid a confrontation.
City staff placed roadblocks closing off sections of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue, and the protest remained peaceful throughout.
“We wanted to make a safe space, because people are angry,” Hamad said. “And when anger is boiled up with nonchalantness, frustration will start to happen and people will start to react. And we can’t go around blaming fingers and putting blame on anyone, we just got to take the right precautions from the first place. No police.”
Meghan Malachi, 25, an Iowa City resident and University of Iowa alum who attended the protest, said seeing Iowa City leaders supporting the demonstration was encouraging. She said she thought Teague’s comments stood out and he didn’t shy away from his support for the protesters.
“A lot of cities that are protesting don’t have the support of their leaders, so it’s nice to know that we have some of that here in Iowa City,” she said.