Raneem Hamad: “Anger was all I had.”
October 19, 2021
Raneem Hamad did not think she would make it out of the protests of summer 2020 alive.
“We really thought our lives were in danger,” she said.
The last time the Iowa Freedom Riders hosted a protest was September 2020.
Hamad, a founder of the Iowa Freedom Riders, attributed the pause in protests to safety, after Gov. Kim Reynolds passed the Back the Blue act on June 17 — laws that provided extra protection for police and more limitations for protesters.
Hamad said as a Black woman in a leadership role, she felt like she had a target on her back. She said she would come home from protests to find police stationed outside her home.
“I’d come home back from the protests and there was just a cop car waiting outside my house,” she recalled. “It just drives away once I start looking at him and taking pictures of the license plate. Cops would follow my car everywhere I drove downtown.”
The fear Hamad felt began long before the first vigil to honor Floyd’s death in May 2020. To this day, she said she still cannot completely watch the horrific video.
She said she and Mohamed were with friends when the news of Floyd’s death broke.
Hamad remembered feeling anger but also numbness, and she asked herself why things like this continued to happen with no consequences.
“I feel like every other emotion I had already felt before, I already went through before,” she said. “Anger was all I had.”
All the anger Hamad and others felt was channeled into the protests and gatherings. However, she said, the creation of the Iowa Freedom Riders was organic.
“It’s beautiful and remarkable and it says something that a lot of the leaders of this movement were primarily Black women, young Black women,” she said. “That in itself says a lot. Black women, we bear the brunt of a lot of the work, the transformational change in our communities.”
Looking back over the last year, she said the biggest shock to her was the disconnect between Black youth and older Black leadership in Iowa City.
She said it was difficult to hear patronizing comments, whether from city council leaders or older Black activists, about the Iowa Freedom Riders’ lack of knowledge when the group’s leaders would suggest changes to local government or police policies.
Of the many requests the Iowa Freedom Riders advocated for in their list of demands to the city council, abolition — defunding and dismantling the police system — and diverting resources from the police to local community organizations were two main goals.
“I was consistently dealing with this, like ‘Your ideas aren’t good because you don’t know anything. You don’t know how the government works or how the city works,’” Hamad said. “We’ve lived in Iowa City all our lives, we grew up in this system, we know how sh— happens inside day in and day out.”
One of the most significant challenges she faced, she said, was feeling as though there was a lack of support from Black leadership.
“The sad thing is I started my journey into activism with Royceann Porter,” Hamad said. Porter is a Johnson County Supervisor and founder of the Black Voices Project. “She kind of helped me get into this stuff, and just realizing that, you know, there’s a saying that we have, that ‘Not all skin folk are kinfolk.’ So not every Black person is actually going to be truly, truly for Black causes at all times.”
The Daily Iowan reached out to Porter for comment, but she declined.
Hamad was one of the original supporters of the city’s Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a commission created to address racial disparities within the city that came out of a 17-point racial justice resolution passed by the city.
Passed in June 2020 after weeks of protest, the resolution was touted as a landmark for the city, outlining its commitment to addressing police disparities and racial inequity in the city.
Eventually, she became a commissioner herself, but Hamad said she is happy she resigned after issues arose between the commission and the council and among the commissioners themselves.
“I tried so hard to get so many community stakeholders to work together to make this something that was transformational in our community,” she said. “It’s kind of sad the leadership in our community doesn’t trust the people of Iowa City that what they want is good for them.”
At the end of all of this, Hamad said what she came to understand is that change is incremental. She said Mohamed’s idea of building power within the people is something she chooses to focus on moving forward.
The existence of the People’s Truth and Reckoning Commission, a community-driven committee created by the Iowa Freedom Riders in April to address racial injustice in response to perceived failures of the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, spoke volumes to Hamad on how the community can come together for support.
“All we would do is just come together in a park and talk about our issues in that moment and brainstorm ideas of how to solve them,” she said. “And somehow, that was doing more and effecting more change in our community.”
The group paused the committee in July, saying in a statement the meetings had veered off from their original goal and “become a place for white people to come and discuss their issues.”
Summer 2020 took a huge emotional toll on Hamad, she said.
“Looking back, would I … put myself through that again?” she said, tearing up. “The answer is yes, I would do it all again. I really love my community … I love fighting for my community and every single Black person in Iowa City deserves a better life than what we have now.”
While Hamad distrusts city institutions to enact bold change, she hasn’t given up on the people.
“I think our people power can do so much, and it has done so much,” she said. “We’ve changed the conversation, we’ve changed the dialogue, and that in itself is powerful.”
She added that she discovered how to know when to step back and focus on what is best for her.
“Learning sometimes to call it quits and put my energy toward other things, and making sure that me, as a Black woman in this world, I am doing OK and I am being successful, whether it’s emotionally, physically, or mentally,” Hamad said. “That in itself is fighting the good fight.”