“Back the Blue” demonstrators encourage increasing law enforcement funds

A march held by Turning Point USA featured people carrying American flags in support of law enforcement officers. The group marched to the Old Capitol building where speakers discussed their agenda to advocate for an increase in funds for police departments.


Tate Hildyard

Des Moines citizen Gary Leffler leads the Back the Blue march from his tractor on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Citizens marched through downtown Iowa City to show solidarity with the local police force. (Tate Hildyard/The Daily Iowan)

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

A “Back the Blue” march hosted by Turning Point USA was held Friday in an effort to show support for police officers amid Black Lives Matter protests and vigils in Iowa City.

The march started at College Green Park where people gathered with American flags and pro-police posters with messages such as “Defend the Police” on them. The group took off following an American flag clad tractor and a man playing the bagpipes.

The event was co-hosted by The Leadership Institute, America Backs the Blue: Iowa Chapter, and Blexit. Blexit, short for “Black exit” is a group founded by conservative commentator Candace Owens to promote conservatism among minority communities.

National assistant director of Blexit Arielle Chambers said she was raised to respect law enforcement officers, and she said young people have lost those principles. She argued they should be fighting for those who risk their lives to protect them.

“Black Lives Matter? No lives matter until all lives matter,” Chambers said.

The term “all lives matter” has been met with disdain from Black Lives Matter supporters, saying the term misses the point of what BLM is advocating for — bringing awareness to America’s long history of systemic racism and to push for equity.

An attendee marches through downtown Iowa City as part of the the Back the Blue protest on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Citizens marched through downtown Iowa City to show solidarity with the local police force. (Tate Hildyard/The Daily Iowan) (Tate Hildyard)

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the Iowa Freedom Riders, a group that has been leading protests in Iowa City since June, has made several demands of the city council to defund and restructure the police department. Their most recent demands include creating a community wellness and accountability architecture by January with response teams staffed to handle mental health emergencies, like social workers, EMTs, and nurses to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls for assistance.

The city council passed a 17-point resolution committing to police reform and addressing racial injustice in the city, including having a plan to restructure the police department.

Chambers said the group feels obligated to march and be present because of the culture of hatred toward law enforcement that the nation is currently experiencing.

“The media wants to tell you that we have a race problem, we don’t. What we have is a culture problem. There is no respect for lives anymore,” Chambers said.

Once the group reached the Old Capitol building, Chambers took time to acknowledge the deaths of Makeda Scott, who the crowd stood in a moment of silence for, and Breonna Taylor.

But, she did not acknowledge racial disparities in arrests or the fact that Black people are disproportionately killed by police.

Iowa ranks fifth in the nation for racial disparities in arrests for marijuana. Black people make up 4 percent of Iowa’s population yet they are 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Iowans even though both groups use at similar rates, according to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. Black Iowans were also 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Iowans in 2016.

Iowa Chapter Leader for America Backs the Blue, Robert Gamble, said that while Black Lives Matter protesters continue to fight for the defunding of the Iowa City police department, he believes the police need an increase in funding and pay raises for all officers.

He said that he will be encouraging the Iowa Legislature to pass bills to help police departments, and citizens, across the state.

“How can we honestly say that the police can do more with less funds. In order to retain the police force, and get new officers there needs to be a refunding of the department and a pay raise for the officers, with an increase in funds for training and mental health,” Gamble said.

Other proposals Gamble said the Back the Blue group was going to make were increasing the penalties of assaulting law enforcement and to make doxing an official crime.

The Iowa City Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The march was met with contention as Black Lives Matter protestors marched behind them with their own signs yelling counter-chants, such as “Defund the Police”.

University of Iowa sophomore Alex Robinson, a protest bystander, questioned the actions of the group and what they were protesting for.

Robinson said it was confusing and upsetting that the Back the Blue march was going through downtown Iowa City. He questioned why they are supporting ‘Blue Lives’ when being a police officer is a job and other people cannot choose their race like police officers choose their job.

“What are they protesting right now? The only issue worth protesting right now is that a Black woman got murdered and nothing happened. They claim to be America first, but do not take Americans first,” Robinson said.

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