Guest Opinion | Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting harmed the community

The informal meeting that was held Aug. 19 hurt communities of color and people who struggle with mental illness.


Grace Colton

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is seen at a public forum for the 2020 fiscal year budget at the Johnson County Administration Building on Wednesday February 27 2019.

We the people have some reflections about the informal meeting of the Johnson County board of supervisors on Aug. 19, where Johnson County sheriff Brad Kunkel requested funds to purchase a Lenco BearCat.

From this meeting, after being subjected to inappropriate remarks, we demand that Supervisor Royceann Porter apologize and take steps to repair the harm her comments have inflicted on the BIPOC community and folks living with mental illness in Johnson County and Iowa.

During the meeting, Supervisors Pat Heiden and Porter presented false information about gun violence and mental illness to support the purchase of the BearCat. Both raised their voices at a member of the public, making direct eye contact with him while clearly expressing agitation about his earlier statements.

As the time for public comment had passed, the resident was not allowed to respond to Heiden’s direct address. Porter also directly addressed two members of the public by name at a time when these people were not in a position to be able to respond.

Porter made damaging remarks claiming that individuals having a mental health crisis are a danger to officers, and said officers are justified in using any force necessary as a result. She stated that responding with an armored vehicle is necessary to protect officers from those in crisis. This assertion flies in the face of countless studies that have shown that the officer is much more likely to be a danger to an individual in crisis.

Hearing an elected official reinforce this dangerous lie is a blow to individuals who worry that they or their loved ones could be victimized by law enforcement while in crisis.

Beyond the behavior of these supervisors that must be addressed and repaired, the topic of the meeting must also be considered as its consequences will directly affect the public.

The arguments that Heiden and Porter made about gun violence are false. One of the most repellent arguments is Porter’s use of the lie of “Black on Black violence.” We live in a geographically segregated society due to systemic racism shaping our neighborhoods. When people commit crimes, it is usually against people they live near. This is not a phenomenon unique to Black communities and it is being used to silence and redirect the conversation.

A BearCat will not protect residents from harm. Even if police could respond in a timely enough manner to appear on the scene while shots were being fired, an armored vehicle would do nothing to protect people outside of the vehicle.

A BearCat will not protect officers either. If police are responding to an emergency, they will be exiting the vehicle. The repeated argument that an armored vehicle is necessary to get officers home safe to their families is an insult to our intelligence. There is nothing a BearCat can realistically do in an active crisis situation that a regular police car cannot do at a significantly lower expense.

There is a wealth of research on why militarizing the police is ineffective for public safety which must be taken seriously in making an informed decision.

Clinging to false talking points as a reason to bring a tool of combat into Johnson County ignores facts and fails to justify spending money on this unwelcome vehicle. The consequences of acquiring the BearCat will echo long past the current board’s terms in office.

It isn’t too late for this board to avoid being responsible for this costly piece of equipment and the harm it will do.

-Ioannis Alexakis, Vice chair of the Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amel Ali, Amy Blessing, Holly Bombei, Merric Bower (in solidarity), Tori Brade, Gail Brashers-Krug, Roxanne Calderwood, Brittany Carlson, Samantha Caster, Emily Collins, Justin Comer, Sarah P. Dirks, Becerra Dreier, Laurie Dreier, Luke Dreier, David Drustrup, Liam Dutcher, Kit Eginton, Brandon Engmark, Annie Gudenkauf, Meredith Hamlyn, Martha Hampel, Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Eric Harris, Hannah Helms, Stephany Hoffelt, Bryanna Houston, Nagwa Ibrahim, Allison Jaynes, Braeden Jones, Dan Kauble, Taylor Kohn, Jen Lee, Iowa City Human Rights Commissioner Ashley Lindley, Rachel Maller, Saira Martínez, Latisha McDaniel-Grife, Tara McGovern, Kelso Messerschmitt, Isaac Moel, Joy Moel Ph.D. Psychologist, Kendall Motl, Musab Mohamed, Sikowis Nobiss, Noah Petersen, Tammy Nyden, Felicia Pieper, Marcos Pinchente, Kevo Rivera, Renee Ross, Jessie Shaw, Loulwa Soweid, Renee Speh, Catherine Staib, Barb Stanerson, David Sterling, Nicholas Theisen, and Jessie Witherell; Great Plains Action Society, Prairielands Freedom Fund, Iowa City Mutual Aid Collective (ICMA), SEIU Local 199,Corridor Community Action Network (CCAN), Mothers On The Frontline, Iowa City Autism Community, Mental Health, Special Education and Disability Advocacy Group

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