To President Harreld and all University of Iowa administrators,
My name is Isabella Senno and I am a recent UI graduate. I’m writing today to demand that the UI cease contractual agreements with the Iowa City Police Department, and end its affiliation with the Iowa State Patrol and the Coralville Police Department.
On June 3, these authoritative bodies disrupted peaceful protests by throwing tear gas and flash-bang grenades at participants. UI students now have burns on their bodies from tear gas canisters. They are dealing with the after-effects of tear gas during a respiratory-based pandemic. One person was hospitalized due to a seizure — how many more will be hurt by a militarized police force before you do something beyond placation?
As reported by The Daily Iowan, Mayor Bruce Teague stated that he was “not OK” with the use of tear gas, but that it was deployed by ICPD to prevent protesters from entering I-80, a situation which would have been unsafe for marchers and motorists alike.
However, as covered by ProPublica, a New York-based investigative journalism nonprofit, using tear gas to disperse crowds carries heavy risks, including increasing the spread of COVID-19. Tear gas is a “riot control agent,” but the June 3 marchers were not violent against the police. There was no riot to control.
From the ICPD mission statement, its duty is to “protect with courage and compassion.” Where was this compassion on June 3 when protesters yelling “Medic!” continued to be tear gassed?
On June 4, as reported by The Daily Iowan, law enforcement took a less volatile approach when protesters again approached I-80, rerouting traffic so participants could rally. These actions demonstrate that there are other methods of crowd control available beyond tear gas. Why was this management tactic not used on June 3?
In a joint statement released June 5 by the City of Iowa City and the UI, with “better preparations,” tear gas could have been avoided. Protests have been taking place nationwide for the past week and in Iowa City since June 1. Considering this, and that police officers are trained to maintain “peace and order,” law enforcement should have already prepared non-violent crowd management strategies.
Iowa City isn’t the exception when it comes to systemic racism. According to the Des Moines Register Data Central, Black people in Iowa City are arrested at a rate 5.6 times that of people of other races. As shown in the 2018 Disproportionate Minority Contact Study, ICPD is more likely to arrest and to initiate probable search causes for minority drivers. While charges decreased across all races from 2014 to 2018, as seen in the 2019 Racial Equity Report Card published by the city, traffic stops for Black males increased by 26 percent.
These statistics reflect a statewide trend in policing. According to The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based decarceration research center, Iowa is third in the nation for the disproportionate incarceration of Black individuals.
We need to reconsider whether more police mean a more protected community. In the June 5 statement, Mayor Teague committed to reviewing the #8CantWait Project developed by Campaign Zero, an initiative associated with Black Lives Matter activists. This project itself outlines how divestment from police is part of eradicating police brutality.
The UI Department of Public Safety’s May 31 statement ends with “we will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for people of all backgrounds.” To follow through on this promise, the UI must divest itself of ICPD, State Patrol and CPD.
Our university is known for its leadership in research, public service, and more — let us be leaders here, too. Follow the path laid out by your peers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and sever the UI’s ties with ICPD, State Patrol and CPD. Listen to UISG leaders and to the 10,000 people, and counting, who have signed the Change.org petition demanding divestment.
I am not Black, but I am trying to use my privilege to insist upon action. To all current students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members, I urge you to do the same.