‘It’s not the end’ Iowa Freedom Riders demand quicker action from city council

In the first protest since July, the Iowa Freedom Riders marched through Iowa City to call for quicker action from the Iowa City City Council on racial justice demands. At least two cars drove into a crowd of protesters, though no one was seriously injured.


Hannah Kinson

A bicyclist directs traffic away from the protest while a police car passes with its lights flashing on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. Protesters marched to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and throughout downtown Iowa City demanding justice for the death of Makeda Scott and countless others, while encouraging observers to join the march against the inequality and discrimination that the Black community faces. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan)

Sarah Watson, Executive Editor

At an Iowa Freedom Riders protest on Friday night, organizers demanded city councilors release a video of police teargassing protesters on June 3 and called for more transparency in a Johnson County Sheriff’s investigation into the death of a former University of Iowa student.

In the group’s first protest since July, protesters marched through downtown Iowa City, and to the Johnson County Jail, where chants of “Black Lives Matter”, and “no justice, no peace” echoed through the streets of downtown.

At about 8:30 p.m., when protesters stood in a circle at the intersection of Gilbert and Burlington streets, a car accelerated into protesters, hitting at least two people and sped away.

Organizers asked anyone who was injured to see a medic. According to several protesters interviewed by The Daily Iowan, no one was seriously injured.

Iowa Freedom Riders organizer Raneem Hamad said at least two people were hit by the car, and although no one was seriously injured, the incident was scary.

“That’s the first time something like that has happened,” she said.

The protest came after Iowa City city councilors on Tuesday reversed course on whether to conduct an independent review of police actions the night of June 3, when police teargassed protesters, one of the Iowa Freedom Riders’ demands. At a city council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said an investigation wasn’t needed because footage from a video showed the Iowa State Patrol giving the order to use tear gas on protesters, not the Iowa City Police Department.

The Iowa Freedom Riders say the video should be released.

“IFR is asking that you all reach out to city council, and demand that the video, the police video, be released to the public,”Hamad said to the crowd of about 200 people gathered on the Pentacrest. “We have a right to know what happened that night.”

The Iowa Freedom Riders, which began holding near-daily protests in May after the killing of George Floyd, released updated demands to the city council on social media Aug. 6, which included the city manager releasing a detailed account of what happened June 3. Also included in the demands is creating a community wellness and accountability architecture by January with five response teams staffed with mental health professionals, social workers, EMTs, and nurses to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls for assistance.

The group will hold back-to-back protests Aug. 28, 29, 30, and 31 leading up to the Sept. 1 city council meeting, and held a letter-writing campaign to city officials on Thursday.

During the protest, calls for “Justice for Makeda,” also rang through the air.

Family and friends of Makeda Scott, 21, a former University of Iowa student, are demanding that the Sheriff’s office examine her death further after ruling it an accidental drowning in June. According to releases by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Scott was reported to have been in the water near a watercraft at Lake McBride, when she didn’t resurface. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office identified Scott June 9. According to an initial release by the office in June, an investigation is ongoing. The Johnson County Sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Lina Murillo, a UI professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies, spoke at the protest. She wanted to speak after hearing from her students, who knew her well.

“All she wants is a fair and just investigation for her baby,” Murillo told the crowd of Scott’s mother.

“My students who were here friends and had classes with her, just trying trying to figure out what happened to her,” she said. “She went on a boat with a young man who no one knows much about, a healthy brilliant vibrant young woman, and then she never came back…So we want to be able to support Makeda’s mother to learn as much as possible in getting some answers as to what happened to her daughter.”

Protesters chalked the sidewalk, writing “Justice for Makeda,” and “Black Lives Matter.”

At least five Black Lives Matter organizers from Des Moines helped lead the protest after dropping off supplies in Cedar Rapids, including Des Moines activist Matthew Bruce. In Des Moines, lawyers and advocates have criticized Des Moines Police response to unarmed protesters, including engaging in a controversial practice called ‘kettling’, where officers corral protesters before making arrests. In Iowa City Friday night, no police were present, which Bruce noted was a change from Des Moines, but shouldn’t dampen calls for justice.

Bruce recalled storming then-president Sally Mason’s office during his time as a student at the UI after the police shot Michael Brown in Fergusen, Missouri in 2014.

“This is the same moment,” Bruce said.

Kayesha Duke, a junior transfer student at the UI this year, said that she has been participating in various protests in Des Moines over the past few months, and that she hopes taking action will bring forth positive change and reform oppressive systems within the country.

“I’ve been partaking in some of the Des Moines BLM protests and I’ve been doing it to fight for my people and to fight for all of our rights, because I believe that Black people have been oppressed for over so many centuries and so many years and it’s just something unfair, and we need to change the oppressive system,” Duke said.

DI reporter Claire Benson contributed to this report.

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