Iowa City protesters march to City Councilor John Thomas’s home

Protesters in Iowa City asked City Councilor John Thomas to commit to their demands after marching to his house on Saturday.


Jake Maish

John Thomas, a member of the Iowa City City Council, stands outside his home and in front of a crowd of protesters on Saturday, June 13. The crowd was participating in a march to support the Black Lives Matter movement and congregated outside Thomas' house to ask what he is doing as a member of the city council to address their demands.

Caleb McCullough, Summer Editor

Protesters made their way to Iowa City City Councilor John Thomas’s house on Saturday in their second night visiting city officials to demand changes to the city’s police department and other departments. 

Protesters gathered on the Pentacrest at 7 p.m., and marching began around 8 p.m. The marching, which usually has snaked through Iowa City and downtown, headed directly for the Northside and eventually Thomas’s house. 

Thomas was standing on his front lawn when the group arrived, and organizers with megaphones asked Thomas whether he would commit to having their demands met. 

The Iowa Freedom Riders have posted their demands on their Instagram page, and they include dropping charges against protesters, the full publication of the Iowa City Police Department budget, and a plan to restructure the ICPD toward community policing.

Thomas first said he would commit to looking at the demands, and protesters argued that that was not enough and they wanted a commitment to seeing them through.

An organizer for a march to support the Black Lives Matter movement stands atop a vehicle and raises a fist in the air in the middle of the intersection of Dodge Street and Burlington Street on Saturday, June 13 in Iowa City. The crowd of protesters gathered at the intersection to chant and give impromptu speeches before continuing the march by heading west on Burlington Street. (Jake Maish/The Daily Iowan)

“One of the key ones, the one that’s getting the most attention nationally, is, how do we reimagine our police force?” Thomas said to the protesters.

Protesters argued that was not enough, and that the police should be defunded and the funds should go to community resources and social services.

After about half an hour of conversation between Thomas and the protesters, he said he would commit to their demands, and the crowd applauded. 

Wyl Smith, a Black activist who works with the Iowa Freedom Riders, said the group has gone to city councilors’ homes to encourage them directly to endorse the group’s demands, and the group plans to visit more councilors in the future. 

Editor’s note: Wyl Smith is a former columnist for The Daily Iowan.

“We want to apply pressure because this is important to us,” he said. “We don’t want this to sit in the water and not go anywhere.”

Smith said he doesn’t want to see the action the group is pushing for stall as city policymakers deliberate. He acknowledged that some of the group’s demands will take longer than others, but he said Mayor Bruce Teague has told the group there are immediate things that can be done.

“We know it’s going to take a while to do things like radical police reform, but it does not take long to say, ‘we’re doing that,’” he said. “It does not take long to vote on that and say, ‘we want that done.’”

In an interview with reporters, Thomas said the council is seriously considering the group’s demands, but he said he is very deliberative in his decision-making and some of the demands will take longer than others.

“With respect to this whole question of defunding the police, I have spent — since that issue came up — most of my time trying to understand what that concept means and how that might apply to Iowa City,” he said.

As a group of protesters participating in a march to support the Black Lives Matter movement traveled through downtown Iowa City, many people watched from the patio areas of local bars and restaurants while the protesters urged these onlookers to join the march. Here, a woman sitting in the patio area of the Field House shows support to protesters by raising her fist in the air. One protester from the crowd told her that she could take an hour out of her day to join them instead of watching. (Jake Maish/The Daily Iowan)

City staff drew up a report for the upcoming June 16 city council meeting that addresses each of the group’s 13 demands and what powers the city has to respond to them. 

Thomas noted that there are some things that the council can do immediately, like dropping charges against protesters. 

The city’s report on the demands lists 15 people that have charges against them related to Iowa City protesting between May 30 and June 3. According to the report, the council can make a request to drop the charges. 

“There are responses from staff to their demands…and some of them may be answered to their satisfaction,” he said. “But I think one of the key issues was dropping the charges, so we’ll see where the council lands on that.”

Here is what journalists for The Daily Iowan reported during events Saturday evening.

10:00 p.m. – The protest dispands. Organizers tell protesters to go home in groups and plan to return Sunday at 6 p.m.

9:45 p.m. – Protest organizers give remarks on the steps of the Old Capitol. 

An organizer says the visit to City Councilor John Thomas’s house was successful, and she says the protests will be visiting other city councilors’ houses in the coming days.

9:30 p.m. – The crowd enters the Iowa City Ped Mall, where bargoers sit on patios outside of Brother’s and other bars. 

Protesters chant “white silence is violence” in the direction of the people dining in the Ped Mall.

The crowd heads through downtown toward the Pentacrest continuing the chant. 

The protest has grown throughout the night, with around 400 people in attendance as the march returns to the Old Capitol.

9:25 p.m. – Protesters begin marching again, heading west on Burlington Street toward the University of Iowa campus.

9:10 p.m. – The crowd stops at the intersection of Dodge Street and Burlington Street, forming a circle around the intersection. 

Cars following behind honk repeatedly as organizers lead chants. 

The crowd chants “no justice no peace” and “if we can’t get no justice then y’all can’t get no sleep” while people hold signs and dance in the center of the circle.

8:30 p.m. – Protesters arrive outside Councilor John Thomas’s house where he stands on the front lawn. 

Protesters ask Thomas what his commitment to their demands are. 

Thomas says he’s committed to looking at the Iowa Freedom Riders’ demands, but protesters challenge him, saying they want immediate action. 

Thomas said the council now has more information than they had in the special city council work session on Tuesday, and points to a report city staff developed that responds to each of the group’s demands. 

“We didn’t have the background information,” he says. “Your demands have to be understood within the framework of government.” 

Thomas says he wants to look at reimagining the police force, but protesters push back, saying that ICPD needs to be defunded. 

Protesters and Thomas continue to argue about how to meet their demands and to what extent they should be met. 

After about thirty minutes, the crowd begins to chant “Black lives matter.”

Protesters hold a megaphone out to Thomas, who joins in the chanting. The crowd then continues north on Gilbert Street away from Thomas’ house.

8:20 p.m. – Protesters continue north on Gilbert Street, entering a residential neighborhood. 

“If we don’t get no justice, then y’all don’t get no sleep,” they chant as they turn east on Brown Street. 

A line of cars follows behind. Drivers honk horns and some people sit on top of cars holding signs.

8:00 p.m. – Marching begins, heading east on Iowa Avenue. 

An organizer says to the crowd they plan to go to another city councilor’s house tonight. The protesters visited Bruce Teague’s house Friday.

7:45 p.m. – Organizers announce new demands for the Iowa City School Board:

  • Iowa City schools must cut ties with ICPD and not call the department to act as security resource officers 
  • Require that Iowa City schools put Afro studies and race relations in their curriculum 

This is updated from the most recent list of demands of the school board:

  • An alternative school review board process for students who are being sent to alternative schools
  • A more diverse school board that is representative of members of the community
  • The complete removal of security resource officers from public schools
  • An actively anti-racists curriculum

7:40 p.m. – An organizer says the group went to Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague’s house yesterday to push him to meet their demands. 

She says he has power but has not been as firm on their demands as they have liked.

7:30 p.m. – As people gather on the Pentacrest, protest organizers hand out Gumby’s pizza, water, and other snacks. 

Some people sit on the steps of the Old Capitol, where music plays from a speaker. About 250 people are sitting in the grass in front of the building.

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