Members of the community gathered in Mercer Park on Saturday to have their voices, ideas, and frustrations heard at the final “Speak Up, Speak Out,” listening session held by Mayor Bruce Teague and other Iowa City leaders.
The event followed two prior sessions held on Wednesday and Friday in different parts of the community. According to a Tuesday press release, the sessions were intended for the community to speak directly to city leaders and fellow community members after protests have swept the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter and Mayor Teague kicked off the event by addressing recent events in Iowa City and the country. Iowa City completed a full week of protests against racial injustice and police brutality Saturday.
“We are tired, we are worn, we are frustrated, we are angry, we are mad as hell,” Porter said to the crowd. “This has been a very long week. A very, very long and tiresome week. For us, our phones have been ringing off the hook.”
Teague expressed his disapproval of Iowa City protesters marching to Interstate 80, following a Wednesday night clash with Iowa City police and the Iowa State Patrol in which protesters were met with tear gas, pepper spray, and flash-bangs to keep them from blocking traffic.
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Law enforcement have since rerouted traffic and allowed protesters onto I-80 without incident on Thursday and Friday, but Teague said that he does not want it happening anymore.
“That’s not what we need, because the message is getting distorted, because people are focusing on the illegal acts,” he said.
As the community was invited to come up to speak, the afternoon filled with personal stories of experiences with racism and negative experiences with police. Many speakers were parents or teachers from the area who urged for policy or internal changes within school systems, justice systems, and law enforcement to combat institutional racism.
Iowa City resident Arianna Aron, a member of United Action for Youth, spoke to the crowd about being a black mother while holding one of her sons.
“As a black woman of two black boys I get no break. There is no break for me, there is no break for them,” Aron said. “My kids have been raised with hearing conversations from me, from their grandmother, from their aunts, from their uncles, from their cousins of how to survive walking down the street. How to keep other people comfortable so they come home.”
Teague invited his mother up to share her experiences as well. Mary Teague finished by leading the crowd in a song that led into a rendition of “Lean On Me.”
The afternoon ended with Porter reading off a long list of names to the crowd of black victims of police brutality, in which the crowd repeated each of their names. Brief remarks were given by State Sen. Joe Bolkum and State Rep. Mary Mascher.