Protests fill Iowa City streets ahead of Tuesday city council meeting

Protest organizers want action from local government on items pertaining to police funding and racial justice.


Katie Goodale

Protesters walk downtown during a Black Lives Matter protest organized by the Iowa Freedom Riders on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. This protest, a part of a four day protest streak, included a memorial for UI student Makeda Scott. Mourners left flowers and candles in front of the Old Capitol Building.

Caleb McCullough, Politics Editor

Protesters have their eyes set on the Iowa City City Council as demonstrations began again this weekend after continuing sparsely throughout late June and July.

Hundreds of protesters filled the streets Friday through Sunday, and a final protest is planned for Monday as well. Protesters marched through downtown and to the Johnson County Jail. On Friday, protesters spray painted the jail and the Old Capitol, as well as several buildings and intersections downtown. Saturday, UIPD officers and Johnson County Sheriff’s officers stood behind a barricade to dissuade protesters from tagging the buildings.

Saturday night, fences were set up around the Old Capitol and the jail, and police officers stood outside the buildings.

The weekend was planned around the upcoming Tuesday City Council meeting, and organizers have three main objectives they want from the council.

First, there is the video showing the events of the June 3 protest. Iowa State Patrol and Iowa City Police Department officers used tear gas and flash-bangs on peaceful protesters ahead of Interstate 80, which protesters want to see released to the public.

The council is currently weighing whether to conduct an internal review of the events of June 3, or move forward on a contract for an external review from OIR Group, a California-based consulting firm.

Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said at the Aug. 18 council work session that they had reviewed a video of the incident which shows the Iowa State Patrol making the call to use the tear gas, and an external review isn’t necessary to answer that question.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Salih said she wants to see the video released to the public, and would be open to a review after that if the video opens more questions.

“It can be clear to see that from the video, that the state made the call,” Salih said. “But maybe that will lead to more questions by the public.”

Some councilors said the independent investigation will provide transparency and answer more questions than simply who gave the directive to use the tear gas.

Councilor Laura Bergus, who pushed for moving forward with the contract, said the focus on the single video viewed by Teague and Salih is not as important as reviewing all the available documents and evidence from the night. This would include footage from body cameras and police vehicles.

“The independent investigation isn’t just about releasing the video,” the councilor said. “It would be to provide context. There’s a whole universe of information that exists relating to the June 3 incident, and in my opinion, that entire universe is public record.”

Another hot agenda item on Tuesday will be the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which the council is working to create to address the history of racial injustice in Iowa City. Iowa Freedom Riders organizer Raneem Hamad said the group has offered amendments to the proposed commission, though those haven’t been made publicly available yet.

“If they don’t engage with them at least and talk about adding them to the resolution, the IFR is probably not going to proceed with the TRC commission because it’s not really fulfilling the mandates that we all talked about,” Hamad said.

Bergus said the amendments would be discussed during the Tuesday meeting, when the council will be seeking public input on the structure of the commission.

The third item on the table is the city’s plan to replace tasers for the Iowa City Police Department. Iowa Freedom Riders organizers said goes against the council’s commitment to defund the police department, as the purchase would cost $230,000 over five years.

“They don’t have funding for social services, they don’t have funding for COVID, they don’t have funding for housing,” Hamad said at the Friday protest. “But they want to spend $300,000 and give it to the police department, even though council already said they were committed to defunding ICPD.”

Bergus and Salih both said they want to defer the purchase for the time being. Salih said she didn’t want to make the purchase while the council was deliberating on how to restructure the city police. Bergus said the council is waiting for a report on military-grade equipment in the department.

“I don’t even want to consider it until we have that broader context,” Bergus said.

The death of University of Iowa graduate Makeda Scott has also been a central focus of the protests, and protesters held a vigil for Scott on Saturday. Protesters, including Scott’s family, have said they want to see more transparency in the investigation of her death, which they said has been lacking in effort.

Scott’s body was recovered from Lake MacBride on June 8. She was last seen in the water near a boat but did not resurface, according to a report from the Johnson County Sheriff’s office. Scott’s death remains under investigation.