‘For the people, by the people’: Iowa Freedom Riders, local community supporters kickoff Peoples Truth & Reckoning Commission

After the suspension of Iowa City’s Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, local activist group Iowa Freedom Riders created their own committee as a way to bring solidarity and healing to the Iowa City community


Grace Smith

Raneem Hamad (left) and Ala Mohamed (right) speak to the press before the Peoples Truth and Reckoning Commission meeting at the Chauncey Swan Park in Iowa City on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Rachel Schilke, News Editor

As candles in memory of Breasia Terrell and Daunte Wright flickered in the wind, more than 100 Iowa City community members gathered to launch the Peoples Truth & Reckoning Commission, with the phrase “for the people, by the people” echoing from many speakers.

The Iowa Freedom Riders, along with several community organizations, hosted a meeting at Chauncey Swan Park on Thursday night to begin the People’s Truth & Reckoning Commission under the ideals of solidarity, sharing grievances, and healing. 

The first meeting of the Peoples Truth & Reckoning Committee began at the same time as the joint meeting of the Iowa City City Council and the Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was suspended during a city council meeting March 17 until April 15, after multiple resignations from commissioners. 

Raneem Hamad, an Iowa Freedom Riders organizer, said in a press conference before the meeting that the focus of the committee should not be on the City Council but rather on the people.

“This is the true Truth and Reckoning Commission, this is the real TRC,” Hamad said. “It is for the people, by the people, and will do what the people want to happen. And the City Council’s TRC has proven itself contrary to all of these points. It is not a space where the people’s voices are acknowledged or accepted or embraced.”

Hamad said the City Council’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has proven to be a space that does not serve the people, citing an instance where multiple individuals spoke up during public comment on March 17 in opposition to the commission’s suspension.

The structure of the Peoples Truth & Reckoning Commission is still undecided, Hamad said. She said the first few meetings will be used to create and establish a structure, and wants the people to be as directly involved in the process of building the space as possible.

“This [first] meeting is really a grounding meeting for the people,” she said. “…In a sense that we want to first hold space to make sure we acknowledge all that has happened in the past year, acknowledge what has been happening in the past couple of weeks to the Black community in this country.” 

Ala Mohamed, an Iowa City community member and Iowa Freedom Riders organizer, said feelings of harassment and gaslighting, and what they saw as a lack of accountability from the City Council spurred the idea for the Iowa Freedom Riders to create their own committee. 

“We figured that since we proposed the idea of a TRC, why not create our own,” Mohamed said. “Because we know that we are for the people, we started this organization for the people. So at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the government wants to do, what the system wants to do. We are here and dedicated to do more, and that’s all that matters.”

Hamad opened the meeting with a moment of silence for all individuals lost to police violence in the past weeks and years, and provided the crowd with background information leading up to the formation of the Peoples Truth & Reckoning Commission. She cited the protests held last summer in response to the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and tear gassing from police on June 3.

She added that the actions of city councilors and former Truth and Reconciliation commissioners showed the community that the City Council would not be serving the people and rather “patting themselves on the back” for a historic moment.

She said the council ignored the dozens of public comments when it decided to suspend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in March.

“The public comments which stretched on for hours were articulate, they were powerful, they were beautiful,” Hamad said. “They showed us how much solidarity we have within our communities. And how did council choose to respond to that? They did what they do best: they ignored it all.”

During the meeting, there was a time for grievances, in which community members could bring forth personal experiences or highlight issues they believed should be tackled in Iowa City. Local organizations, such as Iowa City Mutual Aid and Iowa City Tenants Union had representatives speak on their partnership with the Iowa Freedom Riders and what they hope this committee can achieve. 

“We envision a space where the community can raise these grievances and acknowledge them, and then also figure out ways to build direct action around those issues and build power between ourselves as community members to deal with these issues,” Hamad said.

Iowa City resident Gabriel Basile said when watching the City Council meetings, he felt the representatives that were supposed to be assigned to that committee were not being listened to.

“Working outside of those systems is really the only option that I see left to actually empower people,” Basile said. 

He said he was involved in the protests last summer, which gave him a lot of faith in the Iowa Freedom Riders, and that it is hard to stay silent and ignorant during times like these.

“I’ve learned a lot over the last year that I wouldn’t have without their guidance,” he said. “Who to read, who to look out for, just the systemic history of the police in general, and what to be wary of in terms of what’s been reified in local governance. Like I really didn’t give a damn until the last year or so about local proceedings when I should have been paying more attention.”

Hamad and Mohamed said the influx of resources for the Peoples Truth & Reckoning Commission and Iowa Freedom Riders in general shows how the community is in solidarity with them and their goals to pursue justice in the Iowa City community.

“It’s also powerful in the sense that we as a community are rolling up our sleeves and doing the work that our leaders aren’t willing to do,” Hamad said. “…I know from the energy from last summer, and the energy that was on the suspension call with the City Council, that we are in solidarity and we can create a 10 times more beautiful and engaging and just process than what the city council has been trying to do for the past however months now.”

Editor’s note: The cutline on the photo accompanying this story incorrectly spelled Ala Mohamed’s name. It is Ala Mohamed, not Alla Mohamed. The Daily Iowan apologizes for and regrets the error. 

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